2011 VW Jetta: Bigger, Sleeker, Better, More Features

6 Dec

A few weeks ago, my friends at Volkswagen of Orchard Park, from whom I’ve bought four cars, invited us to test drive the completely redesigned 2011 Jetta.

Volkswagen wants to grow over the next few years so that it’s competitive with worldwide juggernaut, Toyota.  It’s investing millions into a Chattanooga, TN manufacturing plant, and this Jetta was specifically designed for the American market.  It’s got an exterior design that’s more aggressive than the outgoing model – one that looked almost indistinguishable from a Toyota Corolla – and it has a remarkable amount of interior space.  The back seats are spacious with tons of legroom, and the front seats are comfortable, supportive, and help make this car a joy to drive.

Volkswagen took out the stuff that American consumers don’t care much about – like the hyperdetailed multifunction display on the dash – and put in the stuff they enjoy, like bluetooth connectivity and high-tech gadgetry.  The price point is very competitive, too.  You can get a 2011 Jetta for just under $16,000 if you wish, and it will come with stability control and ABS standard.  Unfortunately, that base model is hamstrung by a wheezy, normally aspirated 2.0L 4 cylinder engine that’s widely denigrated among VeeDub fans as “2 point slow”.  Instead, for a bit more you get the 2.5L 5 cylinder engine that will get just over 30 MPG highway and has that distinctive VW performance and audible growl.  The trim levels are S, SE, SEL, and TDI.

Navigation Screen

The S is the base model and, along with the ABS and ESP mentioned above, it’s got all of the safety engineering that the other models have.  All trims feature heated power side mirrors, A/C, immobilizer security system, AUX-in, side curtain protection, intelligent crash response system that unlocks all the doors and activates the hazards in a crash, and power windows.  The SE upgrades to the 5 cylinder engine and adds features like cruise control, a center armrest, and some additional available options. The SEL adds a trip computer, push-button start/stop, keyless proximity system, and other doodads, including an iPod interface and 3 free months of Sirius satellite radio.   The SE bumps you up to just under $19k, and the SEL is just north of $21k for a really well-specced out car.  All come standard with a 5-speed manual transmission, or you can bump it up to a 6-speed automatic for about a grand.

RNS-315 Sirius SAT Radio Screen

The SEL also comes with Volkswagen’s new RNS-315 touchscreen navigation system as standard equipment.  This thing was a blast to play with.  The bluetooth paired seamlessly with my iPhone, and when I plugged an iPod into the plug in the glovebox, all of my playlists and songs popped right up on the touchscreen.  The navigation system is intuitive and easy to learn.  The phone and radio features are supported by a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel.  It’s a seriously comprehensive and advanced system that you’d normally find in a car costing over $30k, incorporated into a $21,000 Camry/Accord fighter.

And that’s important  – until now, the Jetta was a sort of entry-level car.  It was slotted to compete with the Corolla and Civic.  Now, with its enhanced scale and features, together with a great powertrain combination, it can take the midsize leaders on and in many cases beat them.  Volkswagen, however, may disagree, as it still has Corolla, Civic, and Mazda3 up on its site to compare to the Jetta.

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I drove an SEL with the $1600 sport package, with tighter suspension, sport tires/wheels, and sport seats.  The 5-cylinder engine is peppy enough to get you from 0 – 60 in a bit over 8 seconds, and it has a very refined, yet distinctly Volkswagen feel to it.  The aforementioned engine growl is something I’ve come to love in VWs, and it’s there.

Another reason why I love VW has to do with where it comes from.  Europeans buy cars based on fuel economy, emissions, and handling.  Whereas Americans enjoy generally straight highways in many places, Europeans enjoy the bends, whether they be British B-roads, Alpine passes, or Mediterranean coastal roads.  Meanwhile, the Autobahns require a car that is solid and predictable at very high speeds.  Likewise, you look for a peppy, but economical engine that won’t break the bank, but lets you pass big trucks on 2-lane roads.  Volkswagen is the only economically-priced full-line European carmaker in America today.  No Renault, no Citroen, no Opel or Vauxhall come to these shores (well, the Buick Regal is an Opel Insignia, but that’s a different story).

We took the Jetta on the highway, where it got up to speed quite nicely and felt as solid as any luxury German sedan.  In the bends – on the Scajaquada, for example – it had predictable and manageable understeer with very little body lean.  It was happy to go wherever I pointed it.  In the city, it’s easy to parallel park, and the trunk is cavernous to fit all your tchotchkes, IKEA finds, and groceries.

If I was running VW, I’d give the manual transmission an extra gear, and I’d let the center armrest slide forward – it’s a bit too far back to rest your elbow comfortably.  But that’s really about it.  The 2011 Jetta is a step up for VW as it positions itself to compete in North America as it currently does in Europe – with the industry behemoths.

To test drive the new Volkswagen Jetta, visit Volkswagen of Orchard Park at 3524 Southwestern Boulevard on what ought to be called the Southtowns Automile in Orchard Park, NY. (716) 662-5500

This post is an advertisement for Volkswagen of Orchard Park, which paid for us to drive the car and film it.  VWofOP did not in any way contribute to, or have prior approval, of the text of this post but did have an opportunity to view the video before completion.

3 Responses to “2011 VW Jetta: Bigger, Sleeker, Better, More Features”

  1. Gabe December 6, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    There’s no diesel model?

  2. Hank December 6, 2010 at 2:31 pm #

    I figured you’d like it. I read all the industry trades as part of my job. There’s only one problem. You DO stress the chattanooga plant, but as sure as my ass points south, those workers ARE NOT REPRESENTED BY THE UNITED AUTO WORKERS UNION. Probably why the Plant is in TN, not WNY—which I believe is an old indian sign for “home of tens of thousands of unemployed auto workers”
    So all you libbies who want a sporty VW to put your nifty IKEA finds in, just remember when you buy it, you just shot all your working class democrat auto worker friends in the foot.

  3. Jay December 12, 2010 at 6:56 am #

    I think that VW eliminated the disc brakes on the rear and went with the old shoes. It is much easier to do your own pads on discs rather than the shoes on drums.  The diesel hybrid is probably one of the best options possibly out there but unfortunately the American auto executives and engineers cannot build it.  Where are the American diesels?

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