2011 Volkswagen Jetta: First Drive

July 30, 2010

The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta will be significantly updated when it shows up at dealers in October, and VW hopes it's more in tune with what American shoppers need in a compact sedan.

We drove the Jetta last week in San Francisco, and we've just filed our full review--and like many other reviewers, were impressed at how much of the VW driving character has carried over now that the Jetta has a longer body and a less complicated, less sophisticated rear suspension. It succeeds in packaging for sure, with a truly roomy back seat, and it hangs on to the charming VW-style handling.

But the Jetta steps back in some important ways to VW fans--fans who may or may not be replaced by shoppers who equate value with other brands like Honda, Hyundai, Kia or even Ford. Gone are the Jetta's high-cost independent rear suspension, and the richly textured interior trim. You can't get leather on any of the three version of the Jetta VW promises will arrive by the end of the year, and options are severely limited as the company tries to lower prices by reducing the complexity of the cars it builds.

The cockpit is probably the bigger letdown. You won't feel the pinch it in the way the Jetta drives, much, but you'll touch it every time you glance across the dash and door panels. It all looks very Volkswagen, but it feels like the harder times we're all too familiar with.

Interestingly, the Jetta is the beginning of a total realignment in its U.S. product plan. This Jetta will come in four- and five-cylinder versions, with a TDI diesel option, and a turbo GLI, and eventually, a turbocharged and supercharged Hybrid. However, today's Jetta SportWagen will keep the current body style; it's built in Germany alongside the Golf, and it just doesn't make financial sense to change it at this point.

The Jetta's grown so much, the current Passat is on deathwatch. With a bigger back seat and a bigger trunk, the Jetta has elbowed the current car aside. We reported last year that VW will discontinue the Passat in the U.S. next year when the company launches its full-size, Tennessee-built "NMS" sedan late in 2011--we're still not certain, though, if that stop-work order applies to the slinky VW CC, too.

There's bound to be some confusion as VW mixes in American-flavored cars in its reach for 800,000 sales a year in the U.S. The Jetta's a clear step in the new corporate direction. The missing piece of the puzzle? Whether VW's traditional fans will follow along with the trend to larger, less refined VWs, or not.

Read our full review of the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta including photos, related news, and more 

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