The Jetta is Volkswagen’s top-seller, so the 2011 version has been substantially redesigned in the face of increasingly stiffer competition.
The new front-drive Jettta sedan is sleeker, longer, roomier, quieter and more refined. Older Jettas have attracted customers across a wide range of age groups, being equally appealing to men and women. Volkswagen has found buyers believe the Jetta costs more than it does. That’s one reason it has lowered the price of the base 2011 model.
The new Jetta was a blast to drive on winding Highway 1 along the winding Pacific coast during a San Francisco-based media preview of the car.
The new compact Jetta looks like a costlier upscale European model. It has an extended wheelbase and is nearly 3 inches longer overall, at 182.2 inches, than its aging predecessor. The added length allows a roomier back seat with legroom now a class-leading 38.l inches for a 2.7-inch gain from the previous model. That one wasn’t known for good rear legroom. Volkswagen says trunk space also is class-leading, at 15.5 cubic feet.
The center of the rear seat is soft enough to be comfortable, which isn’t the case with many cars.
Steering is fairly light, but quick. And my top-line 170-horsepower SEL model hugged the curves much like a sports car. The 65-75 mph passing time was good, and the ride was supple. The brake pedal had a progressive action, and stopping distances were short with the standard anti-lock brakes.
The base Jetta S is approximately $1,700 cheaper than the 2010 base version. But no base Jettas were available for the preview — just the higher-line SEL with an automatic transmission. Its 2.5-liter 5-cylinder with 170 horsepower has been much improved, although it still calls for lots of revs for the best performance.
Jetta model trim lines and complexity have been drastically reduced from 148 to 18, excluding color. Still, potential buyers must do some homework because there still are a variety of models, engines and option packages.
Prices range from $15,995 for the base S to $24,195 for the turbocharged diesel TDI model with a navigation system and such features as push-button engine start and a chrome grille and window trim. (The standard TDI costs $22,995 and gets an estimated 42 mpg on highways.)
All models are covered by Volkwagen’s Carefree Maintenance program.
The S is fairly well-equipped, with air conditioning, AM/FM/CD sound system, power locks with remote keyless entry, four power windows with one-touch automatic up/down, heated power mirrors and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat with trunk releases to enlarge the cargo area.
Next up is the SE, which has the 170-horsepower engine, adds 16-inch (up from 15-inch) wheels, leatherette seat surfaces, front center console with a deep covered front storage bin and two cupholders—and a chrome interior package, besides cruise control.
The SE with a Convenience package adds Sirius satellite radio, heated seats and a six-speaker sound system. Then there’s the SE with the Convenience and Sunroof package with a large tilt/slide sunroof and a premium sound system.
Finally, there’s the SEL line with all SE features. It has the Convenience package, chrome outside trim, polished 17-inch wheels and rear disc brakes instead of drum brakes, which Volkswagen says are just as efficient (under most circumstances) as disc brakes.
Still with me? Well, there’s also an SEL with just a sunroof and also one with a Sport Package with a sport suspension, sport bolstered front seats and aluminum “sport” pedals. I couldn’t tell much difference on fast, winding roads between the SEL with and without the Sport Package.
The TDI diesel-engine model has features of the SE with Convenience and Sunroof packages, all-disc brakes and 16-inch wheels. The TDI also is offered with a navigation system package and more outside chrome, besides keyless access with push-button engine starting. There’s also a touch-screen navigation system.
The Jetta S has a so-so 2-liter, 115-horsepower four-cylinder (0-60 mph in 9.8 seconds, compared with 8.2 seconds for the 2.5-liter 170-horsepower engine.). The smooth, fuel-sipping 2-liter four-cylinder turbocharged diesel TDI model with 140 horsepower has gobs of torque that allows fairly strong acceleration (0-60 mph in 8.7 seconds)..
Coming early next year is a TSI model with a turbocharged 2-liter, 200-horsepower gasoline four-cylinder that is one of Volkswagen’s best engines. Don’t look for a hybrid gas/electric Jetta until 2012.
All Jettas have five-speed manual transmissions as standard, with an optional automatic offered with each engine version. The TDI and TSI can be had with an advanced, super-efficient six-speed DSG automatic. Other Jettas can be ordered with a conventional but responsive sixspeed automatic, which was in my SEL test car.
The Jetta has plenty of safety features, including six air bags and electronic stability control.
Large door handles facilitate entry, and redesigned front seats provide excellent support. There’s a newly designed steering wheel that’s easily gripped and new, intuitive console controls for climate, radio and radio-navigation systems.
Even the rear seats are supportive and can be divided by a fold-down armrest with two cupholders. Backlit gauges can be quickly read. Sound system and climate controls are large. The navigation screen is small, but the system worked fine during the preview’s test drive portion.
The cargo area is significantly increased by flipping forward the rear seatbacks, which sit flat when folded. The pass-through area between the trunk and rear-seat area is large.
There are few signs of cost-cutting, but one is an old-fashioned prop rod that holds open the heavy hood. Hydraulic struts would have added to the car’s cost.
In all, the new, solidly constructed Jetta is good enough to compete with larger above-average sedans — and seems destined to remain Volkswagen’s top-seller.
Dan Jedlicka is the for automotive writer for the Chicago Sun-Times. To read more articles, visit his website: www.danjedlicka.com.