The Volkswagen Jetta has been redesigned for 2011, and it's a beautiful job. It's 3 inches longer and considerably more shapely, with a classier grille and new elegant lines that make it look expensive, especially with the beautiful optional 17-inch alloy wheels.
But the base price is a mere $15,995 MSRP for the 2011 Jetta S, using a single-overhead-cam 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 115 horsepower, with 5-speed manual transmission standard and 6-speed automatic optional. Excepting the engine, it has all of the engineering and most of the amenities of the other models.
However that engine is somewhat archaic, so a better value is the 2011 Jetta SE for $18,195, which brings the five-cylinder 2.5-liter engine making 170 horsepower and 177 pounds of torque, while getting the same 26 mpg.
The 2011 Jetta TDI, $22,995, uses the latest turbodiesel direct-injected engine, making 140 horsepower with a useful 236 pounds of torque, while getting about 30 city/42 highway mpg.
In order to get the price down, Volkswagen has reverted to some less expensive engineering, such as a rear torsion beam suspension and drum brakes in S and SE models, but a multi-link suspension and rear discs aren't missed. Other cost-cutting, including with interior materials, has been careful and intelligent, and few buyers will notice. The quality is still high, the ride still good, and lovely new styling with more interior room more than makes up for it.
The interior is clean, stylish and comfortable, while being smart, accommodating, and functional. The trim is tasteful, and the standard cloth seats fit well, while the optional V-Tex leatherette upholstery passes easily for real leather. The gauges are pretty, the convenience with such things as cupholders and storage spaces is high. Headroom and rear legroom are outstanding, nearly as much as a BMW 7 Series. Handsome instruments with clean white-on-black numbering are pleasing.
The overall build quality is impressive; the Jetta is quiet at speed and feels solid, like it's 100,000 miles away from its first rattle.
The five-cylinder, 20-valve 2.5-liter engine is a Volkswagen stalwart, and with 170 horsepower and 177 pounds-feet of torque, it provides 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, so there's plenty in reserve. It's EPA rated at a Combined 26 miles per gallon, and we got between 23 and 28 mpg during our two-day test drive of nearly 500 miles in two SEL models, one equipped with the 6-speed automatic transmission having both sport and manual modes, and another with the standard 5-speed manual with sport suspension. We much prefer the automatic, because the transmission is so good, and not the sport suspension, because the standard suspension has just the right amount of firmness; when we drove it in a sporty manner it was firm enough. The overall weight has been reduced by 110 pounds in the transformation, so the handling is still good.
Jetta is planning a 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, accelerating from zero to 60 in 6.8 seconds using the magical DSG twin-clutch transmission.
The sport mode for the optional 6-speed automatic transmission 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, where it kept the transmission in 3rd gear rather than upshifting/downshifting all the time. 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, the transmission is programmed well, responsive and obedient.