2011 Volkswagen Jetta Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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Published on October 10, 2011

Sales are good and initial customer satisfaction high. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on October 10, 2011

The new 2011 VW Jetta is certainly not hard on the eyes. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on October 10, 2011

With styling cues pulled from VW AG's subsidiary brand Audi, particularly the tail lamps, the new Jetta looks sharp. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on October 10, 2011

Published on October 10, 2011

Published on October 10, 2011

Published on October 10, 2011

VW calls it a semi-independent rear suspension. It rides smoothly, but performance enthusiasts might want to step up to the new Jetta GLI. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on October 10, 2011

Published on October 10, 2011

Published on October 10, 2011

Published on October 10, 2011

Published on October 10, 2011

Interior design is nice, but all-black blandness of base model is a bit austere. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on October 10, 2011

Seats are very good. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on October 10, 2011

Published on October 10, 2011

Published on October 10, 2011

Published on October 10, 2011

Published on October 10, 2011

Published on October 10, 2011

Published on October 10, 2011

Published on October 10, 2011

Trunk space is up to class standards. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on October 10, 2011

Published on October 10, 2011

Published on October 10, 2011

Published on October 10, 2011

Jetta 2.5 interior is worth every penny, as is the added performance. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on October 10, 2011

Published on October 10, 2011

Published on October 10, 2011

Rear seat room is good. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

This morning (11/06/27) while scanning the news I read that Volkswagen was rated number one in Strategic Vision's 2011 Total Quality Index, which frankly was quite a shocker due to the brand regularly wagging the dog from near the tail end of J.D. Power's annual Initial Quality and Vehicle Dependability studies. More so, the new Jetta was tied with Hyundai's much-lauded Sonata for first place within the midsize category.

My first question was, "Why is the Jetta classified as a midsize car when it measures no larger than a Civic, Corolla or any other compact?" It's a tiny bit longer than its C-segment rivals, but it's narrower than some and about mid-pack as far as its wheelbase goes, and practically speaking width and wheelbase are more decisive factors in class size qualification than overall length. The U.S. EPA, which classifies by measuring interior volume, might qualify it as midsize, but they qualify the Hyundai Elantra as midsize too, and the Sonata as a full-size car. So what was Strategic Vision thinking? Who knows? Still, it doesn't negate their findings, that new Jetta buyers really like their cars.

And that's a good thing for VW, of course, as the brand has taken a big risk with core buyers in downgrading their Jetta nameplate in order to drop the price and reach more buyers. I say downgrade because, for one, this is the first Jetta in history not to feature any soft-touch plastics; the premium-grade stuff the older model was replete with causing us to oft compare it to luxury brands. The outgoing Jetta also boasted beautiful aluminum trim, an extra with the new Jetta, but at least available if you move up out of the $15,875 Jetta Trendline basement.

If you're moving into a Jetta from a Corolla or older compact you'll be fine with the materials quality and no doubt like the car's overall interior design, as it's attractive; albeit my tester was austere in all-black plastic with nary a trace of brightwork. The switchgear is good, stereo very good and upscale looking, front seats excellent and fabric-wrapped A-pillars a nice touch. Rear seat room is very good and like the front seats those in back are comfortable, while the trunk is also large and accommodating.

The base powertrain is best left in the subcompact class, however, as there's only 115-horsepower on tap, lowest in the segment by a significant margin. But low power means good fuel economy right? Often this is the case, but another hit against the base 2.0-litre powertrain is the worst fuel economy in the front-drive compact class at 9.1 L/100km in the city and 6.0 on the highway for the 5-speed manual or 9.6 and 6.9 respectively for the 6-speed automatic. Oddly, some of the segment's most powerful entries offer the best fuel economy. This is a seriously competitive market segment.

Of course, the Jetta offers best-in-class fuel economy if you opt for the TDI diesel, but that engine costs a lot more ($23,875 for the base Comfortline TDI) and therefore offsets some of the pump savings. If you want to stick with regular unleaded I'd recommend VW's more powerful 2.5-litre 5-cylinder engine that will hardly cost you more when filling up at an estimated 9.9 L/100km in the city and 6.2 on the highway with the manual or 9.1 and 6.5 with the auto, but delivers a silky-smooth and fully satisfying 170-horsepower, plus it ups all-important torque from 125 to 177 lb-ft. If you upgrade to the 2.5 you'll already be in a Comfortline trim package, which results in a much, much nicer car.

It's not that the Trendline is featureless. Along with the aforementioned items it comes standard with auto up/down windows all-round, tilt and telescopic steering, variable intermittent wipers, an auxiliary input jack for the audio system, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, and VW's cool switchblade keyfob for remotely operating the power locks. The manual remote driver's side mirror was a blast from the past though (I can't remember the last time I saw one of these), and the 15-inch steel rims with plastic covers are par for the course with base compacts.

Spend $1,400 and you can get into a Trendline+ that adds air conditioning and keyless entry. That same $1,400 will get you an automatic too, the price rising to $18,675 if you opt for a Trendline+ auto.

The Jetta includes standard traction and stability control as well, which is the norm for newer models in this class now, but still much appreciated. I didn't experience the need during my various test drives, as it's not the kind of car you push to extremes. The suspension systems of all three Jettas I tested were set up for comfort over performance, and the semi-independent rear system, the only car in the class that doesn't offer a fully-independent suspension, didn't exactly beg me to tackle the curves. It managed bumps effectively though, with a little more tail-hop than class average, but easily manageable.

Just in case you haven't kept up with the latest Jetta news, this is the first Jetta to share little with its Golf sibling. The Golf is a much more upscale car now, priced a bit higher but still delivering a performance-tuned, fully-independent suspension, not to mention class-leading interior quality. The Golf Wagon, previously the Jetta Wagon, rides on the same underpinnings and shares the same interior (ahead of the rear seats) as the Golf, but again it's priced higher than the base Jetta.

If you want to stay under $20k, the Jetta 2.0 Comfortline, at $19,075, gives you 15-inch alloys, heated and powered exterior mirrors with turn signals integrated into their housings, plus heated washer nozzles on the outside, as well as heated seats, fabric door trim, floor mats, illuminated vanity mirrors, cruise control, a front centre armrest with storage, dual rear cupholders, six speakers for the stereo (up from four), and other items.

The 2.5-litre Comfortline, at $21,175, ups wheel size an inch and adds standard air conditioning and the more powerful engine, whereas the 2.5-litre Sportline, at $23,300, ups wheel size another inch to 17s, gives you eight-way manually-adjustable "pleather" seats, fog lights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power sunroof and sport suspension.

The top-line Jetta Highline, at $23,980 for the manual or $25,380 for the automatic, rolls on 16-inch alloy rims with the 2.5-litre and 17-inch alloys when you move up to the $26,655 Highline TDI, plus matte chrome interior trim, proximity sensing entry with pushbutton ignition, a multifunction steering wheel, Sirius satellite radio, iPod interface, a trip computer, and Bluetooth phone connectivity. And yes, I'm guessing that you're thinking what I'm thinking in wishing that VW included Bluetooth further down the feeding chain, but this feature may have been planned before it became illegal to use handheld devices while driving in many jurisdictions. Hopefully they'll make this safety feature standard as some of its competitors are now doing.

Like I said before, that compact competition is now beyond fierce, and with the new Jetta, Volkswagen is finally fully in the game from a price perspective. Did they cut too many corners to get there? Some will say yes, but by the looks of sales, which up are up, and owner satisfaction, which is also appearing positive, a clear majority seems to think the stylish new Jetta is just right.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Volkswagen, VW, 2011, Jetta, $10,000 - $19,999, $20,000 - $29,999, Compact,

Organizations: Volkswagen

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