When size matters, it’s important to pick the right cars to compare. The new VW Jetta is longer and larger than before, and it stacks up against some interesting hardware—some of which may surprise you in their close competition with bigger, more luxurious cars.
At 182.2 inches long, with a 104-inch wheelbase, the new 2011 Jetta sits 2.9 inches longer than previous models. The victim of that growth is…the current VW Passat. The Jetta has a wheelbase two inches shorter but sports just as much front leg room, and more back-seat leg room than its premium sibling. The Jetta’s trunk is larger, too. All of which underscores our reporting last year on VW’s plan to eliminate the Passat from the U.S. market when the company launches its American-made “NMS” sedan in 2012.
Other vehicles that square up nicely against the Jetta include the Kia Forte, which trades a coupe of inches of back-seat room for more front-seat space; the Honda Civic, which has a longer wheelbase but gives up precious back-seat room to its ridiculous sloping windshield; and the Suzuki Kizashi, with back-seat room a couple of inches shy of the Jetta. Moving up a class, the Subaru Legacy and Hyundai Sonata both are much longer in wheelbase, but give up an inch or three in back-seat leg room—and with the Legacy, a cubic foot of trunk space, too.
The new Jetta package erases any notions of cramped interiors, as it was charged to do. In our Sport test car, the sporty vinyl seats in front had impressive bolstering that struck a good balance between grip and give. (Cloth seats are available only on the base Jetta, in case you were wondering.) It’s evident there’s more elbow room, but some of it's wasted: the driver sits somewhat inboard, which means more space on the left side of the seat than on the right. In back, the leg room will allow the Jetta to transport adult pals, though a sunroof will eat into headroom for anyone over 5’ 10”.
Inside the cabin, VW fits a decently sized glovebox, and hides the iPod port inside it—whether you like it there or not. At least it’s somewhat secured from sight. A shallow bin ahead of the shifter can hold other thin items, and the doors have molded-in bottle holders to go with the center console’s large cupholders. The Jetta trunk is spacious, with low liftover and a wide opening, but has gooseneck-style hinges that could pose trouble if you fill it to the brim. The rear seat folds down with a narrow opening to the cabin—and the flip-down controls are pull knobs located inside the trunk itself, just as in the Hyundai Sonata. When you think about it, the location makes better sense—and it’s probably much less expensive to manufacture.