2013 Volkswagen Jetta

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2011 Volkswagen Jetta — Review

This 2011 review is representative of model years 2011 to 2014.
By James Tate of MSN Autos
Rating: 7.7

Bottom Line:

The 2011 Jetta has a dirt-cheap price tag to match hardware from Honda and Toyota, but has given up some of its “German-ness” in the process. Rougher material selections and a watered-down drive are part of the package of the concessions. Even so, it’s still a winner.
Pros:
  • Attractive exterior design
  • Longer wheelbase offers more interior room
  • Low price makes for a tempting buy
Cons:
  • Steering not as feelsome as last year’s model
  • More hard plastic inside
  • Softer handling to cater to American buyers

After years of trying to get its compact sedan to dress the part, Volkswagen has finally managed to naturalize the Jetta. The German 4-door now wears a suit that's bound to strike a chord with the notoriously conservative American masses, and carries a price tag that car buyers will find much more appealing, thanks to a slew of cost-saving tricks. But those changes come with a price all their own.

Model Lineup
Volkswagen is offering the 2011 Jetta in four trim levels, from bare-bones to dressed-to-the-nines. Eventually a fifth model, the performance-oriented GLI, will join them on showroom floors. Things get started at S trim, featuring 15-inch wheels and not much else; cloth seats and soul-crushing hard plastic dominate the cabin. Fortunately, stepping up to SE trim takes care of a few of those issues. Stylish 16-inch rollers take the place of the smaller 15-inch wheels, and leatherette seating surfaces show up inside. The interior also receives a small dress-up package in the form of chrome accents around the climate-control knobs.

You can also adorn your Jetta SE with a convenience package that throws in amenities such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a more civilized 6-speaker sound system, though we would be just as likely to opt for the SEL trim. This next step up throws in all of the goodies found in the SE convenience package, but adds hardware such as a fog lights, 17-inch wheels, keyless entry and a navigation system.

At the top of the lineup is the TDI. It's basically a Jetta SE with disc brakes on all four corners and an uberefficient diesel engine.

Under the Hood
Volkswagen has added a new engine to the Jetta lineup for next year. Starting in 2011, you can get your sedan with a 2.0-liter 115-horsepower 4-cylinder engine that produces around 125 lb-ft of torque. The new engine is part of the company's plan to lower the price tag, and it comes bolted to either a 5-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed automatic. While the Environmental Protection Agency hasn't issued fuel-economy figures for the new engine yet, Volkswagen promises somewhere around 24 mpg city/34 mpg highway.

If the little 2.0-liter doesn't serve up quite enough punch for you, Volkswagen is also offering the same 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine found in the previous generation. For next year, buyers will have the choice of the same two gearboxes offered with the 4-cylinder engine. Either way, they can expect the 2.5-liter to churn out a more respectable 170 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque, all while returning just 1 mpg worse on the highway.

The company's endearing 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder diesel engine will also make a return for 2011. It produces 140 horsepower and a ridiculous 236 lb-ft of torque, making it feel significantly larger than its diminutive displacement would suggest. Expect to see around 30 mpg city/42 mpg highway when equipped with either the 6-speed manual or 6-speed direct-shift gearbox.

As we mentioned above, the GLI will likely debut later in the year, featuring the Jetta engine that we've come to love, the 2.0 TFSI.

Inner Space
Volkswagen has proudly proclaimed that the 2011 Jetta was designed to be more in line with American tastes; the company stretched the sedan's wheelbase by 3 inches to add interior room front and rear. Full-grown adults can now comfortably camp out in the back seat without having to fold their shins or collapse a few vertebrae. That doesn't mean things are all sugar and spice in the cabin.

To begin with, the dash has lost the nice soft-touch material of the last generation, in favor of hard plastic in S trim. Why? Volkswagen is looking to do away with the dreaded "European car premium" that U.S. consumers have to pay for its cars. And the cost of this lower price tag is a less-than-savory interior. In this case, the cabin is borderline cheap. The new switches and knobs aren't what we've come to expect from Volkswagen, either. Flipping through the climate controls, we couldn't help but pine for the weighty clicks of the old hardware.

That said, plop your derrière in the leatherette-lined goodness of SEL trim and it's easy to forget about the cost-cutting measures. With the leather-wrapped steering wheel firmly in your palms and a comfy bucket seat beneath you, there's little to complain about inside. Throw in the extra legroom and it's easy to believe that some sacrifices may actually be worth the net savings.

On the Road
We were able to nab some time in the 2011 Jetta SEL, complete with the company's 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine and a 6-speed automatic transmission. In this guise, it's difficult to find fault with the drivetrain. Of course, there shouldn't be one. Volkswagen has had years to perfect this particular concoction, and as a result, you're rewarded with a powertrain that's almost perfect — almost. The 170-horsepower engine provides just enough low-end grunt to dispatch with foes in the right lane without too much heavy breathing. At the same time, torque steer is nonexistent. Despite the uniquely torquey feel of the 5-cylinder, zero to 60 mph shuffles by in 8.6 seconds — not exactly rocket-quick.

Things have gone downhill somewhat on the handling front, though. In another effort to keep the cost down, Volkswagen opted for a torsion-beam rear suspension instead of an expensive, fully independent setup. Whereas the previous-generation car could be coaxed into being entertaining while carving through your favorite mountain passes, the 2011 model is more content to amble from point A to point B.

Volkswagen also swapped the electric power-steering unit from 2010 for a hydraulic system — a move that typically yields greater steering feel. Only instead of getting more feedback from the helm, we're rewarded with much less. It feels electric, and for that matter, the previous car felt hydraulic. Of course, it's important to remember that Volkswagen didn't build this Jetta for enthusiasts. The company designed the car for average American buyers — a group that tends to be more concerned about the number of cupholders than steering feel.

Right for You?
For all of the bellyaching we've done about the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta sedan, the little car holds one massive trump card. It carries a starting price of $15,995 for S trim. That's nearly $2,000 less than the base 2010 version. Start checking off option boxes and the price will rise, however. The Jetta SE will hit your wallet for a much heftier $18,195, while SEL trim starts at $21,395. If you want that silky 6-speed automatic transmission, you'll have to shell out an additional $1,100.

So, for whom did Volkswagen build the 2011 Jetta? Nearly everyone. The car has grown to be perfectly adept at herding small groups of people to work, school or the grocery store without having the cost-adding burden of performance hardware that most drivers wouldn't miss anyway. The 2011 Jetta is now a perfect alternative to your average Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla — for the first time in the car's history.

(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Volkswagen provided MSN with travel and accommodations tofacilitate this report.)

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side asSenior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trendand European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.

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BB04 - 7/22/2014 8:59:31 PM