What's New for 2011
The Volkswagen Jetta sedan has been fully redesigned for 2011 and is now significantly different from the Jetta Sportwagen.
The Volkswagen Jetta has historically bridged a gap between salt-of-the-earth compact cars and Germany's entry-level luxury sedans. In the past, people who bought a Jetta were just as likely to have also considered a BMW 3 Series or a Honda Accord. There was a premium quality to the Jetta that its buyers recognized as worth the extra cost of admission. Even so, Volkswagen believes this price premium also kept more people from considering its compact sedan in the first place, so the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta represents a dramatic shift in philosophy.
For the first time in the car's 30-year history, the 2011 Jetta is not the sedan version of the 2011 VW Golf. On the positive side, the new Jetta has a longer wheelbase for more rear seat room. But we're not fond of the revised steering, standard rear drum brakes and the base model's 2.0-liter engine. Additionally, the Jetta's interior no longer boasts the upscale materials and thoughtful little details that used to give it a premium feel.
So why all these changes, when in most ways they make the Jetta less desirable? The answer is price. The new base model Jetta S costs less than $15,000, and VW points out that it's actually $1,700 cheaper than a 2000 Jetta when you consider inflation. At the same time, the Jetta also boasts more standard features for the money than a Honda Civic. Add this to its big-car interior and you have a super-sized Jetta for American consumers who expect the kind of value you get at Costco.
Simply taken as it is, the 2011 VW Jetta is a solid choice for a small or midsize sedan. With its spacious interior, plenty of standard features and exclusive offering of a fuel-efficient clean-diesel engine, the new Jetta holds its own against other top choices like the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte and Mazda 3. But for every customer who will notice the Jetta's smaller price and bigger size, we think there will be just as many previous VW customers put off by the new car's obvious cost-cutting.
For the Jetta, it's pay less and you get less. And in our opinion, that's a step backwards.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta is a midsize sedan available in Base, S, SE, SEL and TDI trim levels. The Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen is reviewed separately.
The Jetta Base is a stripped-down model that comes with 15-inch steel wheels, power locks and windows, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable front seats, cloth upholstery and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat. The S adds keyless entry, air-conditioning, power/heated mirrors and a four-speaker sound system with CD player and an auxiliary audio jack.
The Jetta SE gets a more powerful engine, 16-inch steel wheels, cruise control, a front center armrest and storage compartment, a rear seat center armrest, a trunk pass-through and premium vinyl upholstery. The SE Convenience package adds 16-inch alloy wheels, heated windshield washer nozzles, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, Bluetooth and a six-speaker sound system with satellite radio and an iPod interface. A sunroof can be added to the Convenience package and with it comes a premium six-speaker sound system with a touchscreen interface, SD memory card reader and a six-CD changer.
The SEL includes all the SE's optional equipment (other than the sunroof, which is a stand-alone option), plus 17-inch alloy wheels, rear disc brakes, foglamps, chrome exterior trim, keyless ignition/entry, manual front seat lumbar adjustment, a trip computer and a navigation system. The SEL Sport package adds the sunroof, a sport-tuned suspension, sport seats and sport pedals.
The Jetta TDI with its turbodiesel engine is equipped similarly to an SE with the Convenience and Sunroof packages. It gets the SEL's rear disc brakes and trip computer as well. When equipped with the optional navigation system, the TDI also gets foglamps, exterior chrome trim, keyless ignition/entry, manual front seat lumbar adjustment and the touchscreen navigation/stereo interface.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta Base and S come with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 115 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is optional. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 23 mpg city/32 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined with the automatic and 24/34/28 with the manual.
The Jetta SE and SEL get a 2.5-liter inline-5 that produces 170 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. It gets the same transmission choices as the 2.0-liter inline-4. Its EPA-estimated fuel economy is actually quite similar, with 24/31/27 with the automatic and 23/33/26 with the manual. In Edmunds performance testing, a manual-equipped 2011 Jetta SEL went from zero to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds -- a good time for a midsize sedan with this type of fuel economy.
The Jetta TDI features a turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel inline-4 that produces 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is standard and Volkswagen's six-speed dual-clutch automated manual gearbox is optional. With either transmission, estimated fuel economy stands at an excellent 30/42/34.
The 2011 VW Jetta comes standard with traction and stability control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. All Jettas have antilock brakes with brake assist; however, the S and SE have rear drums. The SEL and TDI get rear discs. In Edmunds brake testing of an SEL, the Jetta came to a stop from 60 mph in a better-than-average 117 feet.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2011 Jetta has a disappointing interior, something we've never said about a Jetta before. Though build quality is still tight, the high-quality, soft-touch materials of the 2010 Jetta have been replaced by cheap hard surfaces. Also gone are features that used to make the Jetta stand apart from other small sedans, like a height- and length-adjustable center armrest, infinitely adjustable back rests for the front seat, rear-seat air vents and a carpeted trunk lid with struts rather than gooseneck hinges. The Jetta Sportwagen, which continues to be based on the Golf, has these features and is indeed a nicer car.
For all that, the new Jetta is quite roomy. It's easy to find a comfortable seating position, and a full-size adult can sit in the back with room to spare. The 15.5-cubic-foot trunk is actually bigger than those of the Honda Accord and outgoing VW Passat. We're also big fans of the available touchscreen stereo interface, which features a redundant control knob ideal for controlling an iPod.
We have yet to sample a 2011 Volkswagen Jetta with the wheezy 2.0-liter base engine, but we doubt it has gotten any more energetic since it disappeared from the Jetta lineup back in '04. The 2.5-liter five-cylinder is obviously a better choice, and even if it isn't the smoothest or most aurally pleasing engine in its class, it is certainly robust. We've noticed an odd, delayed part-throttle response when this engine is paired with the six-speed automatic, so make sure to step on it during a test-drive to see if you find this quirk as annoying as we have. When the manual transmission is in place, we didn't notice anything amiss. Our pick, however, would be the TDI, as its turbodiesel engine boasts robust torque and frugal fuel economy.
Competent yet unremarkable handling is what we've come to expect from the Jetta, and the new car doesn't disappoint. The switch from an independent rear suspension to a semi-independent torsion beam doesn't seem to adversely affect handling or ride, as this remains a very solid-feeling German car. Though the steering has a small dead spot on-center and a somewhat artificial feel, we have no complaints as far as its actual performance, as it's quick and precise enough when guiding the Jetta through corners.
Read our VW Jetta TDI Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test