2011 Volkswagen Jetta Long-Term Road Test


2011 VW Jetta TDI: I Don't Like This Car

May 12, 2011

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I don't like the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta. Oh, it's certainly a competitive car amongst the so-called "compact" sedan class. It has lots of room inside and it actually gives you a ton of equipment for the money. During the Jetta's press launch, VW was quite eager to show how much more you got with the Jetta than a comparably priced Honda Civic. It also has that solid German car feeling that the Civic lacks.

So why don't I like it? Because I remember what it used to be. Because I never really considered it a Civic competitor, but rather an alternative you pay a little extra for but get so much more than can be quantified by a spreadsheet of features. Because with the right engine and equipment, it was also an alternative to entry-level European luxury cars.

What's changed exactly? In short, they've cut out a lot of those little details that made the last Jetta (and in some cases, the Jetta before that) more special than the average compact car. Here, let me show you some.

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The center armrest no longer slides or allows you to raise it to your preferred height. It now just sits there on a rather useless downward angle. This was a Jetta (and VW in general) feature that can now be found in other cars in its price range. The Elantra for instance has a sliding armrest. Oh, and the Golf still has the sliding and rising one.

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The Jetta's seat back used to be adjusted with a knob that provided infinite adjustment angles. This knob could be a tad difficult to reach at times, but infinite is better than the normal detent system the car now provides. Actually, in the later years of the previous-generation Jetta, even the base car came with power reclining seats (the other adjustments were manual). Oh, and the Golf still has the knob.

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The Jetta used to have air vents right here. Now it has a rather useless bin and a power door lock button, which is something I guess. I don't know, I'd rather have cool air blowing at me on a hot day. True, this is a rather rare feature amongst compact cars, but that's exactly my point. The Jetta used to go that little extra mile, now it sits back and counts its money. Oh, and guess what the Golf still has?

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The parcel shelf used to be covered in a carpet-like material. Now it's hard plastic.

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The inside of the trunk lid used to be lined in the same fabric that lined the trunk itself -- just as is done in most luxury cars. Gooseneck hinges aren't necessarily a sign of cost cutting (a Mercedes-Benz S-Class has them), but in this case, it certainly looks that way. At least there's a shock in place to dampen the movement of the lid.

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And finally, interior materials. They used to be soft, now they are hard. Dating back to the MKIV Jetta ('99-'04), they used to have a low-reflection finish that became a criterion for what a "high-quality cabin" meant. Now they are shiny. At least the switchgear is still the same high-end buttons and knobs found in the Golf (which still uses the soft and low-reflection stuff), since I suppose it's cheaper to raid the parts bin than come up with special cheap stuff.

I could mention the rear suspension downgrade or the crummy base engine that we thought was scrubbed back in 2005, but I think you get the point. The Jetta just isn't as good as it used to be. Maybe it will sell better because people do want more room and more stuff for their money. Maybe nobody noticed any of those little details in the first place and nobody will miss them. Maybe it was the price that torpedoed the last Jetta's sales rather than styling. That's certainly possible and in fact, I would actually recommend the Jetta alongside the Elantra, Civic or Cruze to someone searching for a compact car. On paper, it makes sense -- and I'm sure it does for many buyers.

However, for those like me who are willing to pay for those intangibles, the Jetta is no longer the compact car that goes the extra mile. It no longer feels special, as if it stands above the pack. For me, that's the 2012 Ford Focus. Oh, and the Golf.

James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 3,034 miles

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Edmunds Insurance Estimator

The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2011 Volkswagen Jetta in VA is:

$147 per month*
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