From one generation to the next, the Volkswagen Jetta has seen a significant drop in sales — nearly 40,000 units, to be approximate. Despite being bigger, safer and more powerful, the fifth-generation car just hasn't resonated with buyers like its predecessor, which had helped fuel VW's resurgence in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The obvious culprit: styling. According to VW's head designer, Walter de'Silva, the brand moved away from the "timeless, unique and simple" design heritage that had helped make its cars successful.
The all-new 2011 Volkswagen Jetta attempts to recapture what has been lost for a generation with styling that is indeed simpler, more timeless and in line with VW's past. Regardless of generation, styling certainly hasn't been the main reason to purchase a Jetta, however. A high-quality interior, a refined driving experience and attention to detail have made the Jetta seem more special than other compact and midsize sedans. There has been such a premium feel to the Jetta that Edmunds.com data shows that a potential buyer has been just as likely to consider it alongside a BMW 3 Series or a Honda Accord. Unfortunately, the new 2011 Jetta has lost much of this premium feel, and the explanation seems to be obvious cost-cutting meant to make the car more competitive with Japanese-brand competitors.
For the first time in the Jetta's 30-year history, the 2011 model is not actually the sedan version of the VW Golf (oddly the Jetta Sportwagen continues to be related, however). Although it shares some platform similarities, the Jetta is now a unique vehicle — for better and for worse. Compared to the Golf, the new Jetta has a longer wheelbase (for better rear legroom), different steering (hydraulic versus electric), a torsion-beam rear suspension (versus four-wheel independent), a less powerful base engine and standard rear drum brakes. It also has an interior with notably cheaper materials and lacks some of those little details the Jetta used to have (and the Golf still does).
The Jetta's price is lower than before, the size is bigger than before and indeed the 2011 car gives you more stuff for your buck than a similarly priced Honda Civic. But we would argue that Jetta buyers were OK with spending a bit more to get a car that clearly felt like a bit more. While this new 2011 Jetta might look more like the Volkswagens we expect, it's lost some of those vital characteristics that truly made it one.
The base 2011 Volkswagen Jetta S comes standard with a 115-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder, an engine that is making its reappearance after taking a generation off. We didn't miss it while it was gone, and although this new Jetta is actually lighter than the previous two generations, we don't suspect the base engine's acceleration potential will be anything other than glacial.
Instead, our money would go with the 2.5-liter five-cylinder, the choice for upper trim levels that has been carried over from last year. Producing 170 hp and 177 pound-feet of torque, this engine offers robust power for a compact car, although the noises it makes while accelerating aren't exactly endearing. With 170 fewer pounds to lug about for 2011, the new Jetta should be capable of acceleration that's quicker (the previous car's 0-60 time was 8.6 seconds, a reasonable effort). Its fuel economy has improved as well, as a 2.5 model with an automatic transmission achieves an estimated EPA rating of 24 city/31 highway mpg and 27 mpg combined, which is 2 mpg combined better than before and actually 1 mpg better than the 2.0-liter.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but a six-speed automatic is optional on all models. The auto is slow to downshift, but its Sport mode improves response. Unfortunately this transmission also responds oddly to the throttle. From a stop, the car jumps forward as soon as you lean on the accelerator, as if to impress you with the engine's power, but then the car seems to bog down, as if it's slipped into fuel-sipping mode. Be prepared to declare to your passengers, "It's not me!" as they wonder if you've just learned how to drive.
Great handling is what we've come to expect from the Jetta — secure and confident, although not indicative of a sport sedan — and the new Jetta seems adept enough. There's even a Sport package available that adds a retuned suspension, although we didn't notice a significant cornering improvement during our day-long drive north of San Francisco (though the ride was indeed firmer). Nor did we notice any decline in the Jetta's ride comfort now that it has a semi-independent torsion beam rear suspension instead of a multilink setup. The steering seems to be worse than before, though: first numb and uncommunicative during straight-line cruising and then elastic and strangely artificial in the corners.
With a wheelbase that's 2.8 inches longer for 2011, the size of the Jetta's backseat has become an asset in comparison to its competition instead of a liability. Legroom and headroom are sufficient even for 6-footers, and there's enough interior passenger volume to make the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta a worthy alternative to midsize sedans like the Honda Accord, let alone the compact Civic.
The wealth of adjustment for the driver seat and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel combine to provide a good driving position for most drivers (though shorter folks may struggle to get comfortable). The seats are firm and comfortable, with those included in the Sport package featuring bigger side bolsters.
The 2011 Jetta is the first car to get VW's latest electronics interface included with the SEL's standard navigation system. Combining a small touchscreen with a pair of redundant physical buttons and a rotary knob, it is especially adept at controlling an iPod. Even those who are tech-averse should be able to figure it out quickly. The climate controls couldn't possibly be simpler and are easy to decipher, though we miss the little thumb wheels that used to operate the Jetta's heated seats (the heat settings have gone from five levels to three).
One of the Jetta's best attributes has always been its large trunk, and this latest generation is no different. With 15.5 cubic feet of space, the trunk is actually larger than those of the Honda Accord and the VW Passat.
Design/Fit and Finish
We can't remember the last time (if ever) we said this, but this Volkswagen has a disappointing interior. In pictures, it looks to be of the same quality as the Golf and previous Jetta, but touch a few surfaces and it becomes clear how Volkswagen managed to reduce both the new car's weight and its price.
In place of soft textures with low sheens, the dash and doors are now covered in a hard, slightly shiny plastic. Even the parcel shelf is now hard plastic. While the 2011 Volkwagen Jetta's interior might be a bit nicer than a Civic, the VW's cabin used to be in the same ballpark as those of Germany's entry-level luxury cars — but apparently no longer.
Then there are the little things missing, such as rear-seat air-conditioning vents, infinite-ratio backrest adjustment for the front seats, a height-adjustable and sliding center armrest and a carpeted trunk lid. Such things might seem trivial, but they have made the Jetta stand apart from its cut-price competition in the past.
Who should consider this vehicle
With its bigger size, the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta is more of a family car, less one for its former demographic of upwardly mobile singles. And while the Jetta remains a more upscale alternative to compact cars like the Honda Civic and Mazda 3, those who once considered it a discount alternative to an Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series should look to the Suzuki Kizashi or the forthcoming 2012 Ford Focus instead.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
Is the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta a good car? Edmunds experts have compiled a robust series of ratings and reviews for the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta and all model years in our database. Our rich content includes expert reviews and recommendations for the 2011 Jetta featuring deep dives into trim levels and features, performance, mpg, safety, interior, and driving. Edmunds also offers expert ratings, road test and performance data, long-term road tests, first-drive reviews, video reviews and more.
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How do people like the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta? Consumer ratings and reviews are also available for the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta and all its trim types. Overall, Edmunds users rate the 2011 Jetta 4.2 on a scale of 1 to 5 stars. Edmunds consumer reviews allow users to sift through aggregated consumer reviews to understand what other drivers are saying about any vehicle in our database. Detailed rating breakdowns (including performance, comfort, value, interior, exterior design, build quality, and reliability) are available as well to provide shoppers with a comprehensive understanding of why customers like the 2011 Jetta.
Review When I first set eyes on this vehicle I was sold. My SEL is 4 months old now and I wanted to get a real feel for her before writing this review. The exterior styling is much better this time around then the previous generation. It doesn't look cute, it looks cleaner and more Audi A4 like. VW gets a plus here. The ride is firm yet still has enough cushion to endure the NYC roads. The 2.5L has good low end torque when it's needed for passing while the 6 speed auto handles the shifting solidly. The lay out of the interior has good fit and finish. The materials they used are on par with a Chevy Colbalt as cheap hard plastic. Rear seat room is more like a midsize and fits adults perfectly.
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Is the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta safe? The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta earned a 4-star overall safety rating from NHTSA and "GOOD" ratings from the IIHS in the following caregories: and a JD POWER overall quality rating of 3.0 out of 5. Among Edmunds' many tools and resources for finding your perfect car are detailed safety ratings and analysis from NHTSA, IIHS, and JD Power, including overall ratings, frontal barrier crash ratings, side impact tests and crash ratings, rollover test results, roof strength tests, rear crash protection and head restraint ratings, side barrier ratings, combined side barrier and pole ratings, and more.
What options are available on the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta?
Available Volkswagen Jetta 2011 Submodel Types: Sedan, 2.0T GLI, Diesel, Wagon, 2.0T GLI SEL PZEV, GLI SE PZEV, 2.0T GLI SEL, 2.0T GLI SE PZEV
Available Trims: SE PZEV, 1.4T S, S, 1.4T SE, 2.0T GLI, 1.8T SEL, SE, 2.5, SEL PZEV, GLS, Wolfsburg Edition, S w/Technology, 1.8T Sport PZEV, GL, SEL, 1.4T S w/Technology, SE PZEV w/Connectivity, TDI S, TDI SE w/Connectivity, GLS 1.8T, SE PZEV w/Connectivity, Navigation, TDI, 1.8T SEL Premium, S PZEV, Limited Edition PZEV, Wolfsburg Edition PZEV, TDI SEL, Value Edition, 1.8T SEL PZEV, 1.8T Sport, 2.5 PZEV, GLI, Sport, Base, GLS TDI, Value Edition , 2.0T, 2.0T GLI SEL PZEV, GLI SE PZEV, SE w/Connectivity, SportWagen S PZEV, 1.4T SE w/Connectivity, GL TDI, GLS PZEV, GLX VR6, SE w/Connectivity, Navigation, SportWagen SE, 2.0T GLI SEL, GLI 1.8T, Limited Edition, SEL Premium PZEV, SportWagen S, SportWagen SE PZEV, Value Edition PZEV, 2.0T GLI SE PZEV, Base PZEV, GL (1999.5), GL PZEV, GLI VR6, GLS TDi, GLS VR6
Exterior Colors: Pure White, Platinum Gray Metallic, Black Uni, Black, Reflex Silver Metallic, White Silver Metallic, Silk Blue Metallic, Tornado Red, Candy White, Tempest Blue Metallic, Moonrock Silver Metallic, Cardinal Red Metallic, Toffee Brown Metallic, Platinum Gray, Deep Black Pearl, Blue Graphite Metallic, Campanella White, Reflex Silver, Salsa Red, Dark Bronze Metallic, White Gold Metallic, Cool White, Shadow Blue, Wheat Beige, Alaska Green Metallic, Blue Graphite, Galactic Blue Metallic, Silver Arrow, Silver Arrow Metallic, Atlantic Blue, Baltic Green Pearl, Blue Lagoon Metallic, Galactic Blue, Spice Red, Wheat Beige Metallic, Alaska Green, Arctic Blue Silver, Bright Green Pearl, Galactic Blue Pearl, Laser Blue Metallic, Shadow Blue Metallic, Speed Blue
Interior Colors: Titan Black leatherette, Titan Black cloth, Titan Black/Palladium Gray cloth, Cornsilk Beige leatherette, Black/Ceramique leatherette, Gray, Anthracite leatherette, Black, Latte Macchiato cloth, Art Gray leatherette, Pure Beige leatherette, Ceramique (Gray) cloth, Anthracite velour, Titan Black velour, Beige, Anthracite leather, Gray leather, Art Gray velour, Titan Black/Carbon leatherette, Anthracite cloth, Art Gray cloth, Beige/Black leatherette, Anthracite, Black cloth, Cornsilk leatherette, Pure Beige, Black/Gray, Gray leatherette, Pure Beige leather
Popular Features: Fold Flat Rear Seats, Rear Bench Seats, Stability Control, Tire Pressure Warning, Post-collision safety system, Aux Audio Inputs, Trip Computer, Bluetooth, Audio and cruise controls on steering wheel, Heated seats, Back-up camera, USB Inputs, Sunroof/Moonroof, Power Driver Seat, Keyless Entry/Start, Blind Spot Monitoring, Alarm, Navigation, Auto Climate Control, Multi-Zone Climate Control, Apple Carplay/Android Auto, Parking sensors, Adaptive Cruise Control, Pre-collision safety system, Upgraded Headlights, Leather Seats