2011 VW Jetta Review: Less is More

October 19, 2010

Jetting Coach Class 


During the 1960s, VW plugged its iconic Beetle’s low price and conversely its “pound for pound” cost.  By weight, it claimed its price was “more than…any car.”  The ugly Bug’s most attractive figure: the window sticker’s bottom line.


For 2011, VW draws one’s attention to the left rear window.  The Monroney says the sixth-generation Jetta’s costs less than $16,000.  TV ads depict apoplectic, slack-jawed people dropping buckets or their drinks, when they see VW’s Wal-Mart-style rollback. 


This is part of VW’s “less is more” turnabout.  Less: lower cost.  More: a sales hike.  That’s a big change.  For more than a decade, VW dared to trim its best-selling Jetta with Mercedes-like materials.  You paid more to get more.


Great Car at a Good Car Price?   



This preamble sets the stage for my first 2011 Jetta sighting then driving.  A VW sales rep warned me, “it’s intended for a different kind of buyer.”  At first glance, the car appears smoothly painted, conservatively shaped and neatly assembled.  Open the left-front door; colors and textures look Teutonic.  Examine closely.  Hard-plastics rule:  the dash pad, inner door panels and panel underneath the rear window are now budget-car grade.


The trunk lid lost its articulated hinges.  Now low-grade swan-neck like brackets crunch luggage.  Underneath, VW opted for a rear twist-beam axle with drum brakes.  For power, the base model resorts to VW’s 115-hp I-4.  Items such as power seats, adjustable front-center armrest, cloth-covered pillars and rear face-level vents: absent, even on the top-of-the-line $25,000 SEL.  VW expects most Jettas to sell for about $19,000. 


VW’s public relations specialist Corey Proffitt told me to “drive it!”  I did at the Midwest Automotive Media Association’s Fall Rally.  VW supplied an SEL with the 2.5-liter five-banger and the TDI (diesel).


Seats felt Germanic and the driver’s relationship with the tilt-telescoping, leather-wrapped steering wheel is proper.  The headliner’s material is up-market cloth and elegantly fitted.  Visible mold lines and flashing mar its trim.  Some knobs wobble, when you twist them.  The “infotainment’ setup is intuitive with widely spaced touch points. 


The 2.5-liter and the 2.0-liter diesel are eager.  Despite the added length, VW somehow cut the new Jetta’s weight--less is more!  The result: a refined lively, confident performer that drives smaller than it is.  The rear seating is midsize roomy; your knees don’t poke into the front seat like, say, Chevy’s new Cruze.  However, the five-cylinder engine throbs a bit; the six-speed automatic tranny upshifts early:  a fuel-economy improving trick.  A sport mode permits higher revs.  The engines in both Jettas were less obtrusive noise-wise than the Cruze’s.  The mpg calculator indicated 28 (gas) and 36 (diesel).  If this is accurate, then the new Jetta’s upped EPA estimates 27 overall (2.5-liter with automatic), 34 (diesel) aren’t fiction.  


The new Jetta is roadworthy.  Ride is firm yet resilient.  The hydraulic power steering isn’t as delicious as the former electric-assist unit.  As compacts go, this car ranks above average.  


Although the new Jetta’s buttoned down body metal is tidy, its inner room isn’t as luxurious as VW’s Golf or Jetta SportWagen.  VW still offers padded door inserts and spongy door armrests, but the top-shelf SEL and TDI appear built to a price.  With GM and even Chrysler upgrading their interiors (dashing their penalty box reputations), it’s surprising that VW went the opposite direction. 


VW wants to boost its American sales with a mature-looking compact.  Journalists at the press event where I drove the Jetta had differing opinions.  Some VW enthusiasts lamented VW’s “de-contenting.”  Others were delighted.  They discovered a top-notch roomy, thrifty compact.


Proffitt says the upcoming Jetta GLI will have a turbocharged four-cylinder mill, six-speed manual transmission, four-wheel disc brakes, multi-link rear suspension and performance oriented tires.  This version should reclaim VW’s budget-Bimmer reputation.           


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