The Volkswagen Jetta has clearly been an afterthought since the first day it went on sale. Basically, it was just a Volkswagen Golf with a trunk and a bigger backseat. Yet, it’s been one of the company’s biggest sellers in the United States for thirty years. That being said, it doesn’t come close to the sales of the Honda Civic and the Toyota Corolla, but it was never going to now was it.
The people who buy these Japanese economy cars aren’t like the rest of us. They care more about price than they do European driving ability and build quality. They want interior room to haul their many kids, something which the Germans never thought of when they were in the design room. But this was the old Jetta, and times have changed with their latest creation. The sixth-generation Volkswagen Jetta, like it or not, has grown fatter, gotten cheaper, and now caters to Americans like never before.
The new price of the Jetta comes in at $15,995 for the base S trim, right around the price of the Civic and the Corolla. It would seem like that good old "German quality" will be lost at this new price point, but we’ll just have to drive it to find out.
For the first time ever, the outside metal and all the other goodies that are found on the European spec models are on the American versions. Gone are the gorgeous styling aspects of the old Jetta and say hello to a bisecting bumper and slit headlights. The lower air dam and recessed fog lamps are more subdued and the lip spoiler, which might seem big to some people, fits right in with the car’s overall look.
Buyers will get a choice of 15-, 16-, or 17-inch wheels that fit into fenders that hardly protrude at all. The larger wheel choices look fantastic and can be had in either a multi-spoke option or a ten-spoke variant. Try to avoid the 15-inch wheels if possible, as they look way too small on the sedan.
When you first gaze upon the new 2011 Jetta, there isn’t a whole lot that really stands out. The rear of the car is nice, no doubt about that and it could even pass for an Audi, but it’s not exciting in any way. One can tell that this new Jetta is more basic transportation than anything else, something we aren’t too fond of. Sadly, if there was one word to describe the styling of the new Jetta, it would conservative.
To hit the lower price point, some sacrifices have to be made and that’s clearly the case when you open the door. The first thing you put your hands on, which is usually the steering wheel, is still soft to the touch, but the spoke materials have been cheapened up. The plastics that cover the rest of the dash are a lower grade than what we’ve come to expect from Volkswagen, but after all, the price has been lowered and we must try to keep that in mind.
The climate controls have been reworked and their simple to understand, but they don’t feel like Volkswagen knobs when you operate them. It took us a while to find the start/stop button, as it’s located on the center consol, right by the gear shifter. It doesn’t seem like the smartest place to put it but if you’re trying to be different, we guess it works. Most companies place it to the right of the wheel and we’ve never heard any complaints about that.
Our test SEL model came with a sunroof, 16-inch Sedona - not the Kia minivan - wheels, a six-speaker audio system, iPod integration, Sirius, Bluetooth and Volkswagen’s new five-inch touch screen navigation system. It doesn’t feel any better in this trim level, but at least it looks like a more expensive car.
Powering the Jetta are a multitude of motors, including a base 2.0-liter four-cylinder, a TDI, a 2.0-liter TFSI, and a 2.5-liter MPI five-cylinder. Our test car was fitted with the latter motor and it cranked out 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque.
In the city, which is where most of our driving took place, the new Jetta can achieve 24 miles per gallon. Take the vehicle on the highway and things improve greatly, up to 33 mpg. When connected to a six-speed manual – which we prefer – the 0-60 time comes in at 8.2 seconds, but our test vehicle came with a six-speed automatic and it clocked in at 8.5 seconds.
Helping the Volkswagen get around corners is an all-new platform with a suspension comprised of MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam in the rear. There is an optional Sport pack that will stiffen up the springs, retune the dampers, and provide larger anti-roll bars.
The GLI model will receive a multilink arrangement instead of the cheaper torsion beam. It’s seems odd to us that the base Jetta will get an 18th century suspension setup, but when you cheapen things up and aim them at the American family audience that cares more about cup holders than the overall driving experience, these things happen. It also occurs to us that Volkswagen’s decision to become the largest automaker in the world might be playing a role in this dumb downed Jetta. Not to take a cheap shot at Toyota, as we like most of their products, but Volkswagen should use them as an example here. Sure, the Corolla and Camry sell like hot cakes, but they’re certainly not invigorating or stimulating to any of the five
It’s hard to get upset at these measures taken by the Germans to make the new Volkswagen Jetta more appealing to your average consumer. Most companies are aiming their products at families because, after all, that’s where the money is. Yet, what made Volkswagen great was the fact that they were different.
On the road, the Jetta lacks the steering feel that we’ve come to expect from Volkswagen products. The steering is light and easy to control, similar to the Corolla, with only a slight tightening when you push the car to the limits. Driving around town isn’t nearly as pleasurable as it was in the previous generation model, but it’s not as bad as other products.
Sitting inside of the Jetta is a pleasurable experience. The seats are far better than in the Corolla and the Civic, and the overall look of the car is more visually stimulating. If you opt for the Sport model, the seats get more bolstering and softer cushioning.
Brake feel is fantastic, easy to use and a bit light, but push the pedal down further and you get more feel than on certain sports cars. The 2.5-liter motor is plenty strong enough for around town and it provides enough power for aggressive driving. The transmission shifts smoothly from a standstill and when downshifting.
Of course, the most important thing about this new model is the price, only $15,995. The SE model comes in at $18,195 and with the Convenience package it comes in just below $20,000. The sunroof raised the price up to $20,795. Opt for the SEL and you’ll be paying $21,395 and adding an automatic transmission will add on $1,100.
With the price right in line with the competition, we can only wonder how Americans will take to the new Jetta. Basically, given Volkswagen’s world domination mentality – does that seem ironic to anybody else – the Jetta needs to succeed and we don’t doubt it will. Despite the cheapened feel, it still feels and looks better than the Corolla and the Civic. Yet, with Chevrolet’s launch of the Cruze and the new 2012 Ford Focus arriving next year, Volkswagen might have some serious competition.
Why we like it: The new Volkswagen Jetta has gone through a major overhaul. It still looks pretty good inside and out and it drives better than a few of the other compact sedans on the market.
Why we don’t like it: While it might look good, it certainly doesn’t feel good. The plastics are harder than before and some of the controls feel cheap. The exterior isn’t mind blowing and base models get a cheap suspension setup. If we wanted a cheap sedan we would buy a Corolla. The Jetta should be for those of us who want to haul our kids around, yet enjoy that European handling and refinement, but it seems that is lost with the new Jetta.
Overall Verdict: The new 2011 Volkswagen Jetta is a new approach by the German automaker and it might mean big sales numbers this time next year. That being said, high sales don’t usually translate into exciting products. Just ask Toyota.