Nearly mid-sized and retuned for American pocketbooks, the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta sedan isn't as street-smart as before, but it's a great family car still, particularly in diesel form.
We're giving it a score of 8 at FamilyCarGuide, because its bigger back seat, high fuel economy potential and fairly nimble handling have proven a hit with car shoppers and crash-testers alike.
For decades, VW insisted that its way was the right way. Plush, rich interiors and an independent rear suspension gave the Jetta a premium feel that even the other more sophisticated compacts, like the Honda Civic, lacked. But it carried a premium price tag, and it suffered from a relatively small back seat.
The 2011 Jetta takes a new stab at the price/value/size equation. It's more than four inches bigger in back-seat room, for starters, and that gives the Jetta almost mid-size dimensions, and plenty of leg and head room for adults and everything smaller. The new room's a revelation; this Jetta actually has more rear-seat space than the 2010 Volkswagen Passat did. Trunk space is ample, too, and the Jetta's rear seat folds down with a pull on levers inside the trunk, opening a big cargo space for randomly-sized errands. Even with an optional sunroof, headroom soars--and the vinyl seats may sound inexpensive, but the molded-in bolsters feel supportive after hours of driving, though adjusting the front seats means mastering a set of levers, bars and roller knobs that aren't always placed conveniently.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the new Jetta an overall four-star rating, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has named it a Top Safety Pick. Stability control and curtain airbags are standard, but the Jetta lacks all of the latest safety options, things like blind-spot detectors and rearview cameras that can be found on the smaller Ford Focus.