Luxist Drives the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta, Approves of the New, Less Expensive VW
The Volkswagen Jetta is the company's best selling car in the U.S., and it has of late been revealed that the 2010 Jetta is the final branch in one evolutionary tree. The 2011 version is a thing apart, an all-new sapling pollinated by a rethinking of what the Jetta needs to be. The key words in that new philosophy are bigger, lighter, faster, with better fuel economy and better features. And for all that, it's also less expensive. This is not a connect-the-dots evolution of the Jetta. In truth, it should be called the Quantum Leap Edition.
Gallery: Luxist Drives the 2011 VW Jetta
U.S. marketing chief Tim Ellis said that VW "couldn't afford to be a brand between," attaching premium pricing to offerings in highly cost-conscious segments even if the premiums were justified by features. Ambient lighting details, rubberized handles and damped, soft-return buttons are cool, and they cost a little more money. But when the choice is between a Toyota Corolla or a Honda Civic payment that leaves room for a couple of nights on the town every month, or a VW Jetta, a not-insignificant number of you were turning Japanese. The perception of expensive VWs had got so bad that 45% of shoppers didn't even consider looking at the Jetta figuring it was out of the budget. Volkswagen couldn't let that stand.
As well, although the Jetta has a massive spread of buyers when it comes to age, it was gathering a bit of a reputation in some corners for being a tad feminine. We can't speak for any other market, but in Los Angeles you'd be safe wagering that if you saw a Jetta on the road you'd see a young, attractive woman behind the wheel. Not that we recommend wagering or stalking Jettas...
The task, then, with the 2011 car was to write a new book on what it delivers and how much you'd have to fork over for COD. The pricing was established to battle firmly with the Civic and Corolla: the 2011 Jetta starts at $15,995, a long fall from getting into the 2010 Jetta, which starts at $17,735. The Honda and Toyota start in the mid-fifteens, but when equipped comparably the three are never more than a few hundred dollars away, and sometimes the Jetta is the least dear.
When it comes to the 'more' part of what you get for less money, nummer ein is that it's larger. The sedan has been extended by 2.9 inches, the wheelbase by 2.7, which will make you and your friends happier. You get increased stability and kinder handling, your chums get almost as much back seat room as in a BMW 750i – almost four inches more than in a Civic, almost two inches more than in a Corolla.
This longer car is also a fuller car, and a harder car – the soft, slightly puffy thing is out. The word 'radii' was one of the last Jetta's favorite words, with gentle arcs and circles in abundance. The 2011, on the other hand, being the latest to drown in the pool of VW's new corporate design, don't need no stinkin' curves. Horizontals are the new hotness, with the stronger, vertical face that runs into stouter sheetmetal broadside. Although it's only fractionally lower and longer than the outgoing model, its flanks are magnetically robust enough to draw the eye in for a moment. Draw your eye to the rear and one discovers a complement to the theme up front: narrow, angular lights connected by horizontal bodylines instilling the idea of width, resting above squared-off bumpers. And in front, there's a lower lip that reminds us of a manta ray. Perhaps it's out of place here, but manta rays are cool.
If you've been inside a VW in the past few years, inside is a familiar tale. Shaped black plastics in various textures dominate, into which have been inserted various well designed and brightly lit gauges to facilitate the act of driving, footnoted by newly designed comfy and supportive seats placed strategically for a set of creatures known as 'driver' and 'passengers.' The truly noteworthy inclusions to the cabin are standard features like remote keyless entry, power locks and windows with 1-touch up and down all around, and power mirrors, plus available features like the keyless pushbutton start, Bluetooth and voice recognition that are easier to use, and RNS 315 Navigation system - which is easier to use and to, pardon the coincidence, navigate. There is as well the Intelligent Crash Response System, that unlocks the doors, turns on the hazards and turns off the fuel pump if it detects the airbag about to go off.
But how has VW put together more car for less money? In some more efficient and more obvious ways.
The efficient ways include fewer build options. There were 148 different ways to option a 2010 Jetta, which made it easy to customize but hard to find on a dealer lot just the way you wanted it. VW has bundled options into packages with the 2011, so there are only ways to make this car. There are more locally sourced parts, another contributor to cost cutting.
The model lines have been reworked: there will ultimately be six trims, but three will be on hand when 2011 Jetta sales begin in November - the S, SE and SEL. A TDI follows shortly after and the GLI arrives early next year and a hybrid comes in 2012. The S now fills the role of truly base model. Instead of the 2.5-liter engine the S uses in 2010, the new Jetta S will get a 2.0-liter motor with 115 horsepower and 125 pound-feet. That's a steep drop from the 170 hp and 177 lb-ft of the 2.5, but remember that whole 'no more brand between' talk? This is how you get the phrase "entry level" to really mean entry level, in features and price. And hey, if you've got $15,995 in your auto lender's pocket and your name isn't Sonic the Hedgehog, there's a Jetta that's now worth a look.
The $18,195 SE and the $22,995 SEL both get the 2.5-liter, the difference in price coming from the different standard features.
And then, yes, there have been some obvious changes that alter what you get on and in the car. The soft-touch plastics didn't survive the move from 2010 to 2011, so even though the interior looks similar to the 2010, it's harder. The fabric inserts in the doors and on the rear parcel shelf are gone, replaced by hard plastic. The 2010 Jetta's swanky climate control knobs have been traded for just-as-effective but slightly less swanky knobs. The steering wheel loses a set of multifunction controls on the right spoke (but the wheel is great to hold in the hands). The independent rear suspension is only available on the Sport trim and the GLI model - the others get a torsion beam rear axle. And those four disc brakes all around? Forget about it. Newly developed drum brakes go on the rears unless you get the SEL trim (the Civic and Corolla likewise only have discs on their top trims). No detail has been spared... or not spared, depending on your viewpoint: the hydraulic struts that once supported the hood have been replaced with a manual strut you have to slot into a hole in the hood. If you're looking for deeper answers behind VW's thinking, please turn your review books to the chapter headed, "Free Lunches, No."
But listen up, 'cause here comes the straight poop: you won't notice any of that. It has zero detrimental effect on the car. Zee. Roe.
We'll be the first to admit those details were nice. But you paid for them, and frankly, they weren't necessary – the Corolla and Civic sell like candy. This new Jetta might no longer bring its ne plus ultra amenities to the segment, but it is still more rewarding in every way than a Civic or a Corolla. And that's no slight to the Honda or the Toyota - they're very good cars. We just like the Jetta better. And now we can afford it. Or someone can, which is the point.
When you drive it, it gets even better. The controls are fabulously light, which, after recent jaunts in Gumperts and Astons caught us off guard, but piloting the car isn't flighty, it's relaxing and solid. The suspension sponges up uneven roads and potholes with surprising agility and yet it's never squishy. We only drove the SEL, and its 170 horses are sufficiently peppy to get you into squirting into gaps on the move. Throw it in third gear and you'll have more fun through twisty roads than you thought you could have, and quite a bit more than fun than you'd have in just about any competitor in the segment. Get on the highway in fifth gear and you'll get better gas mileage, too: 24 city, 34 highway in the 2.0-liter Jetta S, 23/33 in the 2.5-liter SE and SEL.
The 2011 Jetta is absurdly easy to drive and enjoy, and it remains in all ways a VW. The Jetta's clearer purpose in the VW line-up has wrought some clear changes that might make you wonder, but really, turn it on and go and you'll never lose that VW feeling.
Back to VW marketing guru Tim Ellis: he said he wanted people to be a little awed that "they could get that car with those features for that price." We're not saying you should be awed – oh, and did we mention the fact that maintenance is free for three years? – but we will say you might want to check it out come October.