2011 Volkswagen Jetta Long-Term Road Test - Wrap-Up

2011 Volkswagen Jetta Long-Term Road Test

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Read the introduction of the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI to our long-term fleet.

What We Got
When Volkswagen announced a fully redesigned 2011 Jetta, we figured it would be worth a look. It was the latest iteration of VW's world car and it was bigger, with a softer ride and increased fuel economy. It was quickly turning into a very American compact sedan. With that in mind, we ordered a 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI with Navigation.

Why the TDI? Well, the alternative fuel movement is here to stay. With so much focus on electric and hybrid vehicles we figured it was worth reminding the public of the original gasoline alternative, diesel. The 2.0-liter inline-4 of the Jetta generates 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque, while its six-speed dual-clutch (DSG) gearbox directs it to the front wheels. On paper, our Jetta TDI was said to return 30 city and 42 highway mpg, numbers that rival some hybrids. This car was worth our attention.

We had already tested a long-term 2005 Jetta TDI and 2009 Jetta TDI, so we know the ins and outs of diesel ownership, which made for good generational comparison. Our decision to add navigation was one of convenience. Included in the package were keyless entry, push-button start, driver seat lumbar adjustments, foglights and an MSRP of $26,065.

We spent one year and over 22,500 miles behind the wheel of the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI. There was good. There was bad. And we documented it all.

Our Impressions

  • "Something about our TDI's hard, reptilian dash stood out. And not in a bad way. We've panned the Jetta interior as cheap and disappointing, but I didn't feel that. Maybe the color masks it, or it works with the minimalist planes and longitudes framing the vents, buttons and knobs. Maybe I'm used to it from our GTI. Or maybe I just don't expect much from the Jetta. But put in context of what you can get for the same or fewer dollars, the criticism stands.... Maybe Ford, Chevy, Mazda and Hyundai just have a better supplier for the softer, spongy stuff. Not a personal deal-breaker, but your mileage may vary." -- Dan Frio

  • "I noticed how the Jetta isn't quite as easy to talk up as it used to be." -- Brent Romans

  • "The Jetta's DSG transmission is one of the few gearboxes in our fleet that matches revs on downshifts. And it does this very, very well. Go figure. Basically, VW engineered the Jetta's transmission for enthusiasts, but not the rest of the car. -- Scott Oldham

  • "Here's my two cents on the Jetta's accommodations. As good as they look, [the seats] are not great to sit in. The driver seat feels supportive initially, but after longer periods of time behind the wheel I find myself shifting around quite a bit to stay comfortable.... I played with the [seat adjusters] constantly and still came away wishing for better seats. Never remember feeling that way about the GTI." -- Ed Hellwig

  • "It's the most comfortable car I've driven in a year.... In a rare alignment of the ergonomic planets, the Jetta TDI has managed to fit me so well that I forgot all of James' pointed criticisms. I'm not saying it's sumptuous, but the combination of the seat, the position of it and the steering wheel are so agreeable to me that I would not hesitate to buy this car if I had a commute of any serious distance. It's that good." -- Kurt Niebuhr

  • "Volkswagen has overtaken Toyota as the sissiest car company in the world. The Jetta doesn't even have an 'off' or 'partial off' button for its ESC. To make matters worse, the stability system is over-the-top intrusive, adding brakes and cutting the throttle if you get the least bit aggressive. Steering is slow, car feels heavy and the tires offer little grip. Overall, [performance testing] is not a fun experience. -- Mike Monticello

  • "I don't like the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta.... So why don't I like it? Because I remember what it used to be. Because I never really considered it a Civic competitor.... 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 details that made the last Jetta (and in some cases the Jetta before that) more special than the average compact car." -- James Riswick

  • "I could never have asked adults to ride in the back of the '05 Jetta, but I have no qualms about doing it with this car, which has another 3 inches of wheelbase over even our 2009 Jetta TDI." -- Erin Riches

  • "It's got great pull on the highway. Just keep it in the sweet spot (70 mph, 2,500 rpm), then stomp to pass or arc around an erratic wolfpack, and it uncoils effortlessly. It's rated at the same horsepower as the Honda Civic (140), but with 100 lb-ft more torque, [the Jetta] couldn't be more different." -- Dan Frio

  • "For the record, I don't mind driving our Jetta. Actually, I kind of like it. It's taken a lot of lumps during its stay in the long-term fleet, most of them deserved. But I guess those issues just don't bother me much. De-contented feature list? It's still got the truly important stuff. Odd feel for brakes, throttle calibration and/or DSG shifting? I got used to them. Seat material? It's fine.... For a car that you don't have to think much about, the Jetta is great. -- Brent Romans

  • "Our long-term 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI is a smooth, torquey, comfortable, quiet, roomy car that's frugal on fuel. And I do mean quiet. There's almost no road noise to speak of.... Sure, when accelerating from a standstill you can catch the diesel mill off boost for a split second. But it's hardly a thing. The posts by other editors might have you thinking it's a big deal. It's not. Don't buy into it. Once rolling, this thing is all torquey goodness, all the time.... Unlike hybrids, the TDI drives like a car. It's honest. I dig it. I'd rock the TDI as a daily driver. -- Jason Kavanagh

Maintenance & Repairs

Regular Maintenance: Routine service was covered 100 percent by Volkswagen Carefree Maintenance. The program spanned the first three years or 36,000 miles of scheduled maintenance. Our Jetta requested regular service at 10,000 and 20,000 miles, costing us a total of $0.

Service Campaigns: All maintenance was not carefree, however. During its first routine visit, the dealer replaced the front window guides and front door seals per an open TSB. At this time it also replaced a broken front seat trim piece under warranty. During our second scheduled visit, the dealer handled a fuel line recall and a TCM update. One final recall arose, but did not pertain to our vehicle. It was to remedy a burn hazard caused by the factory chrome exhaust tips. We didn't have them, so our car was fine.

Fuel Economy and Resale Value

Observed Fuel Economy: The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI returned impressive fuel economy over the past 12 months and 22,000 miles. We averaged 35.7 mpg. Our single best tank of diesel garnered 46.1 mpg and covered a range of 642 miles. This ranked it among the best long-distance cars ever to enter the long-term fleet.

Resale and Depreciation: Resale value for the TDI was above average. By the end of our test, Edmunds' TMV® Calculator depreciated our 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI with Navigation by 19 percent from its original MSRP. This calculation was based on a private-party sale. For reference, our 2009 Jetta TDI dropped just 16 percent with 25,000 miles on the odometer.

Summing Up

Pros: Comfortable for a wide range of drivers, quiet on the highway, roomy in the backseat, very fuel-efficient.

Cons: Down-market interior materials quality. Less available content compared to previous generations. The cost of diesel fuel over gasoline could negate fuel economy benefits depending upon market trends.

Bottom Line: The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta wasn't as easy to talk up as it used to be. Its resale value remains commendable, however, and the diesel powertrain can easily deliver 40-plus mpg on the highway. Free maintenance makes it easy to own once you've committed.

Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs: None (over 12 months)
Additional Maintenance Costs: None
Warranty Repairs: Replace door seals, replace window guides,
replace broken seat trim, install fuel line grommets, TCM update
Non-Warranty Repairs: None
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: None
Days Out of Service: None
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Best Fuel Economy: 46.1 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 25.5 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 35.7 mpg
True Market Value at service end: $21,136 (private-party sale)
Depreciation: $4,929 (or 19% of original MSRP)
Final Odometer Reading: 22,538 miles

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

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Past Long-Term Road Tests