The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta is joining the infotainment era, bit by bit, with a newly available system that blends navigation and entertainment features into a single touchscreen-driven system.
It's not as flexible as Ford's SYNC system, or the Kia UVO setup we tested this week in the 2011 Sportage crossover. But VW's new system, with a 5-inch LCD touchscreen, navigation and controls for iPods, SD cards and auxiliary jacks is a first step down the road of ultimate connectivity.
What's it like to use? Like some aftermarket systems, the Jetta's infotainment setup requires a few minutes to learn. The 5-inch LCD screen is among the smaller ones we've used (down there with Nissan's LCD units in some Altimas). It's flanked by buttons for the major controls, and once you're inside those functions, you run the systems with a combination of LCD touchscreen and the four buttons under it--a pushbutton/rotary knob flanked by a pair of redundant buttons, and a back button.The navigation piece is fairly straightforward. Press the button and you get an unmarked set of predictable icons for address book, POIs, and more. The system lets you type in on the screen, rather than use the rotary controller in the maddening way you'd find in some Acura/Honda systems, or the one in the 2011 Buick Regal.
Audio's a different matter, and quicker to understand on first use--but it takes more taps and pushes to work your way around than in some touchscreen systems. To get to a favorite Sirius station, for example, you'd press Band to cycle through AM, FM and Sirius. Then the screen displays an arc of presets; you can touch the screen to select one, use a steering-wheel-mounted rocker switched to flick through the stations one by one, or roll the knob to scroll through channels or stations.
The MP3 player controls are more opaque yet. The screen presents options for choosing playlists, and it's not immediately clear whether you'd use the screen or the rotary knob to set it up. However, once I plugged in my iPhone and selected a playlist and randomized its tracks, the Jetta remembered the settings even when I unplugged for a quick Peet's fix. A nice touch. You'll still have to pay at least $30 or so for the proprietary cable that mates Apple players to the Jetta's sound system, though--and German car makers seem to love to frustrate customers by hiding the iPod port in the glovebox, forcing drivers to put their devices out of arm's reach. (Sure, it sounds safer, but there's a perfectly sized binnacle just in front of the Jetta's shifter.)
The system's entirely missing the Bluetooth connection, so you have to use your hands--not your voice--to run through the entertainment and navigation options. And an SD card slot will let you bring in your own music if you don't want to lug around an MP3 player, but there's no music hard-drive space to store songs semi-permanently.
Still, the Jetta's infotainment system marks an improvement over the decade past at VW, where a blue backlit screen and an auxiliary port were the only nods to the budding car-technology future. Let's hope they're watching Ford and Kia, carefully.
Here's a short video clip that walks you through the basics: