Color Is not Cheap - 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Long-Term Road Test

2011 Volkswagen Jetta Long-Term Road Test

2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI: Color Is not Cheap

September 02, 2011

2011_volkswagen_jetta_f34.jpgWe’re always talking about color values around here. It’s a kind of art thing, and we have three guys (Kurt, Mark and Rex) in the editorial department who went to school at the well-known Art Center College of Design and they keep us all talking about art things whether we want to or not.

“Color value” is a notion that speaks to the character and quality of a color itself. I understand it as essentially an authentic reproduction of the color as defined by a kind of abstract scientific quantity — purity rather than dilution. It’s one step up from the paint chips that you get down at Home Depot.

But for me, “color value” is just another way of understanding that color also has another kind of value, which speaks to our terrific and yet terrifically cheap Volkswagen Jetta TDI.


As we’re related in our critiques in both a First Drive and a Full Test, the new Jetta has had a ton of money sucked out of its production cost in an effort by Volkswagen to make the price of the car competitive with other brands. For many of us who are enthusiasts of the Jetta (and Volkswagen), this has seemed like a disaster. If you look closely at the Jetta, you can find evidence of the cost-cutting in little short cuts in the way features have been deleted, materials have been compromised, and manufacturing standards changed.

The overall plainness of the entry-level Jetta is no more than a visual representation of this exercise, which is — to be fair — a matter of financial life and death in a mass-market car company like Volkswagen. After all, you can only produce a level of quality for which people will actually pay, and no one in America really wants to pay a fair price for good quality. (It’s for suckers, which is why we all shop at big box stores that offer cheap goods and terrible customer service.)

For all this, I still enjoy every second I’m in our Jetta TDI. Part of this has to do with the different character a VW has compared to other brands. But part of it also has to do with the excellent color values represented both by the exterior and the interior.

First of all, the red paint has real depth, and it reminds me of the way American and Japanese manufacturers as well as Volkswagen of America itself scrambled to get their red paint to achieve the quality of the Guards Red that Porsche introduced during the 1980s and which became a real fashion trend (along with Pearl White) during that decade.

Second, the character of the black presented by the interior materials is also very good. Though the interior materials are notably less impressive than those of the previous generation car, black covers up the compromises, and this turns out to be a very nice shade of black. It’s is not an easy color to work with, as it can look very, very cheap if it’s not up to standards, which is why a lot of manufacturers no longer work with this color (especially in entry-level cars) unless they’re trying to communicate a message of high performance.

It’s easy to associate the use of color with cheapness, yet cars like the Fiat 500, Mini, and this VW Jetta TDI show us that the use of a good color helps mask the pain of the cost compromises. At the end of the day, you might be shopping for a cheap car, but if you’re careful about choosing a strong color with a good color value, you won’t mind the compromises that you’ll be living with every day.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, @ 10,313 miles.

Leave a Comment

Past Long-Term Road Tests

Have a question? We're here to help!
Chat online with us
Email us at
*Available daily 8AM-5PM Pacific
Call us at 855-782-4711
Text us at ED411