There were no Jetta S models available to drive at the press launch, so we can't comment on the 2.0-liter engine, other than to say it's been around in the Jetta for a long time, since 1993 to be exact, and it accelerates from zero to 60 in 10 seconds with manual gearbox, 11 seconds with 6-speed automatic.
For another $2200 you not only get the good 2.5-liter engine, but other things like cruise control and especially the V-Tex leatherette like real leather, and since there's a big boost in performance with no loss in economy, it's a good deal to go for the Jetta SE. With the 6-speed automatic for $1100 and $760 freight, you're at $20,000 and you've got a roomy, elegant, and beautifully engineered compact car that gets 28 mpg.
The five-cylinder, 20-valve 2.5-liter engine is a Volkswagen stalwart, and it provided good power for the needs of the car. It accelerates from zero to 60 in 8.5 seconds with the 6-speed automatic, and powers the Jetta to a top speed of 127 mph, where it's quiet according to Volkswagen, and we'll have to take their word for it.
We drove a silver Jetta SEL with the 6-speed automatic transmission having both sport and manual modes, and a black SEL with the 5-speed manual with sport suspension. We think the automatic is clearly a better choice because it's an excellent transmission. For one thing, the Sport mode while still in Drive is sharp and effective. We used it in city driving, where it responded crisply to the San Francisco hills; and in slow-and-go freeway traffic, up-and-down 15 to 30 mph, where it kept the transmission in 3rd gear rather than upshifting/downshifting all the time. In other words, Sport mode actually made a positive difference you could feel, even or maybe especially in non-sport conditions.
Manual mode can be used for those super-sporty driving times, when you must do the shifting yourself, with the lever; paddle shifters are neither available nor necessary. In those situations, it's responsive and obedient.
The 5-speed manual gearbox is slow, with long throws, and the clutch pedal felt airy with overly light pressure, and the engine doesn't have enough torque to accelerate sharply without downshifting, especially in the tall overdrive 5th gear; however with the 6-speed automatic in Sport mode, it downshifts responsively when needed. In addition, the sport-tuned suspension was firmer than the car required. The standard suspension has just the right amount of firmness, and when we drove it in a sporty manner it was firm enough.
A Jetta GLI sport model for late in 2010, so if it's a sporty Jetta you want, we suggest you wait for the GLI with the 2.0-liter turbo engine (200 hp), accelerating from 0 to 60 in 6.8 seconds with the magical DSG twin-clutch transmission.
A Jetta TDI will also be available with a 2.0-liter turbodiesel direct injection (TDI) Clean Diesel (140 hp) featuring common rail injection with 236 lb-ft of torque. The engine runs as quietly as a gasoline engine, but yields the torque of a sports car achieving 0-60 mph in 8.7 seconds. Fuel economy is estimated to achieve 42 mpg on the highway, according to Volkswagen of America.
The rear suspension has been changed in the 2011 Jetta, backtracked from the previous multi-link to a torsion beam. But again, even if the technology has gone rearward, we didn't notice. Volkswagen is trying to make the Jetta affordable, and felt the multi-link could be sacrificed. The more expensive multi-link design is considered better for handling.
There's little if any functional loss with drum brakes rather than discs in the rear in the S and SE models. They work just as well on the lightweight Jetta. Our SEL had the disc brakes, and felt good, as we used them hard over the winding roads of highway 101 north of San Francisco.
We never got less than 23 mpg, and we got 28.5 mpg on our final combined run of about 140 miles, including a mad dash to the airport.