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2011 Volkswagen Jetta

Base MSRP: $14,995 to $22,995
Reviewed
April 2011
by ConsumerSearch
2011 Volkswagen Jetta

Bigger and cheaper, in more ways than one

Pros
  • Solid, comfortable ride
  • Plenty of interior space
  • Efficient diesel-engine option
  • Good crash-test results
  • Quiet cabin
  • Easy-to-use controls
Cons
  • Middling fuel economy (gasoline engines)
  • Cheaper interior quality than last generation
  • Archaic base engine
  • Lack of steering feedback
  • Generic styling

For 2011, the Volkswagen Jetta is entirely redesigned, and VW has taken a different tack in its engineering formula. In the past, the Jetta was a compact sedan that cost more than its competitors but also delivered more in terms of ride solidity and interior accommodations. The 2011 Jetta is significantly cheaper and bigger inside than the outgoing 2010 model, but significant measures to reduce the cost of production have led most reviewers to remark that it feels like a cheaper car.

Many reviewers complain about the reduction in interior quality and other cost-saving measures such as the implementation of a torsion-beam rear suspension. Yet, other reviewers say the reduction in price is commensurate with what the Jetta's designers have sacrificed. Ultimately most reviewers find the new Jetta to be a competent sedan, albeit one lacking the personality it once possessed. New competitors like the 2012 Ford Focus (Base MSRP: $16,270 to $22,765) and the 2011 Hyundai Elantra (Base MSRP: $14,830 to $19,980) raise the bar for economy cars with their high-quality interiors, polished driving manners and high fuel efficiency.

New look polarizes critics

Reviewers' opinions of the 2011 VW Jetta's new exterior look are mixed. Some reviewers, like Car and Driver's Tony Quiroga, consider the new exterior to be "far more polished and cohesive than the previous generation." Quiroga also says "there's an expensive, almost Audi-like look to the Jetta." For nearly every expert that appreciates the Jetta's new look on the outside, there's another that fully disagrees. The Los Angeles Times says that aside from the front end, "the rest of the exterior is decidedly understated, and the rear of the Jetta looks ambiguous enough to have come from nearly any automaker on the planet." The looks, then, are either classy and understated or too generic, depending on tastes.

New interior is clearly lower-quality but laid out well

Reviewers universally express concerns over the 2011 Jetta's new interior, which has noticeably cheaper materials and design when compared to the previous generation's best-in-class interior. Edmunds.com says that "the Jetta's interior no longer boasts the upscale materials and thoughtful little details." Automobile Magazine laments VW's "ransacking" of the interior, and Autoblog.com points out a "significant and obvious drop in the interior quality." To be sure, the Jetta takes a lot of flak for its new interior largely because the last Jetta's interior was above and beyond any competitor's. Many reviewers take a step back and concede that the new interior is now just on par with the competition, rather than significantly better.

With that said, the control ergonomics are still impressive as the center stack is laid out simply, even when equipped with the optional navigation system. Fortune magazine's Alex Taylor summarizes nicely in observing that "the instrument panel is neat, well-arranged, and pleasing to the eye." Reviewers also like the front seats for their supportiveness and comfort, and the larger rear seating dimensions are appreciated as well. Trunk space is also improved, up to a generous 15.5 cubic feet of storage volume.

Ride and handling still a strong point

For the most part, reviewers find the 2011 Jetta's ride and handling to be very well sorted and comfortable, despite its cheaper torsion-beam rear suspension setup. Popular Mechanics says that "the Jetta's chassis absorbs bumps quite well, exhibiting minimal body roll," and Edmunds.com reassures that "this remains a very solid-feeling German car." With that said, more than a few reviewers point out that the handling, while quite good, isn't particularly athletic or sporty. Similarly, multiple experts wish the steering had more feedback and feeling, with Autoblog.com opining that the steering is "numb and strangely weighted, like there's a coupling made of rubber bands somewhere."

Good powertrain variety, but the base engine disappoints

The 2011 Jetta is currently offered with a choice of three engines: a 2-liter four-cylinder that makes 115 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque, a 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine that produces a more respectable 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, and an ultra-efficient four-cylinder diesel engine that produces 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. The base 2-liter, four-cylinder engine is panned by the critics. The engine's basic design dates back to the early 1990s, and it is low on power and sophistication. Among the adjectives reviewers use to describe the base engine: wheezy, antique, underwhelming and unloved.

Most reviewers test the step-up 2.5-liter, five-cylinder engine, which comes with the more expensive SE and SEL trim levels. The five-cylinder delivers a decent driving experience. Cars.com says it "feels strong enough on hilly terrain and has adequate power for passing on rural roads" and that "it's surprisingly smooth-revving, though it sounds a little coarse." The majority of reviewers echo this sentiment, saying that the 2.5-liter engine could be more refined but that there's nothing objectionable about it otherwise.

Many reviews point out that the TDI, the diesel-engined Jetta, would be their flavor of choice for its impressive torque, refined operation and excellent fuel efficiency. When a sufficient amount of expert reviews are available, the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI will be covered in its own separate report.

The transmission options include a six-speed manual transmission and a six-speed, dual-clutch, automated transmission. Reviewers like the five-speed manual for its slick-shifting nature and general smooth operation. A few experts say that the dual-clutch gearbox has a hesitation under light throttle at lower speeds, which Edmunds.com describes as a "delayed part-throttle response." This isn't considered a serious problem but is noted as quirky behavior. Otherwise, reviewers like the automatic's quick shifting under normal conditions.

Middling fuel economy on gas, superb efficiency on diesel

The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta's gasoline engine options get ho-hum fuel efficiency ratings from the Environmental Protection Agency. The base 2-liter four-cylinder with the five-speed manual transmission gets an EPA-estimated 24 mpg city/34 mpg highway/28 mpg combined, while the six-speed automatic delivers a lower 23 mpg city/29 mpg highway/25 mpg combined. Opting for the more powerful 2.5-liter five-cylinder won't significantly penalize your fuel economy, as it is rated at 23 mpg city/33 mpg highway/ 26 mpg combined with the manual transmission and 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway/27 mpg combined with the same automatic transmission. The diesel-engine option in the Jetta TDI delivers a class-leading 34 mpg combined fuel efficiency, and it is estimated to achieve 42 mpg in highway driving.

Impressive safety scores, free maintenance available

The 2011 Jetta gets a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, indication that it receives the highest rating of Good for front-, side- and rear-crash protection, as well as for roof strength. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has evaluated the 2011 Jetta under its most recent testing guidelines, and the sedan performs well. It gets an overall 4-star rating out of 5, with front-crash protection and rollover protection getting 4-star ratings and side-impact protection achieving a full 5-stars.

Standard safety equipment includes front side airbags, side curtain airbags, active front head restraints, antilock brakes, traction control and stability control.

The standard basic warranty is good for three years/36,000 miles and includes both roadside assistance and free scheduled maintenance. The Jetta's powertrain warranty runs five years/60,000 miles.

Cheapest trim very low on features, GLI on the way

The Jetta is available with an array of nice features depending on the trim level. The Base trim is rather sparse and doesn't include air conditioning, though it does have power locks and windows. From there, the higher trim levels add features like heated front seats, satellite radio and Bluetooth connectivity. GPS navigation, a touch-screen stereo and an upgraded six-speaker stereo are also available. Reviewers that test the Jetta SEL with the optional sport package enjoy its taut suspension and highly bolstered front seats, though some don't consider the sport suspension a must-have.

The sporty 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI will be available soon, adding an independent rear suspension and a more powerful 2-liter, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine. Initial impressions indicate that the GLI is a real performer and worth waiting for if performance and handling are a priority.

Summing up the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta

The 2011 VW Jetta is fundamentally different from its predecessor, but it is still a competitive offering with desirable ride characteristics, a roomy interior and excellent crash-test results. Accordingly, the Jetta deserves consideration on your test-drive list should you go car shopping for something in this class. Though no direct comparisons are available yet, reviewers find that new cars like the 2011 Hyundai Elantra and 2012 Ford Focus do as many things as well as the Jetta does, and then some.

Where To Buy

Our Sources

1. Edmunds.com

The Jetta is all-new for 2011, but Edmunds.com feels as though it has lost some of its personality in the transition. Editors say the expensive-feeling ride quality and high-quality interior have been compromised in the name of a lower base price. They find the new interior to be disappointing, although spacious. The diesel-engine option is a plus, as it is very fuel efficient.

Review: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta, Editors of Edmunds.com

2. ConsumerReports.org

The editors of ConsumerReports.org have tested the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta. ConsumerReports.org purchases and ranks many small cars on a variety of factors, including reliability data, and compares them against one another.

Review: New Cars: Small Cars, Editors of ConsumerReports.org

3. FuelEconomy.gov

The Jetta's gasoline engines deliver average fuel efficiency, according to EPA figures. The base engine gets between 26 and 27 mpg in mixed driving depending on transmission choice. The optional 2-liter, four-cylinder engine delivers between 25 and 28 mpg in mixed driving, again depending on the transmission choice. The optional diesel engine gets class-leading fuel economy.

Review: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta, Editors of FuelEconomy.gov

4. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

IIHS names the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta a Top Safety Pick in the midsize moderately priced cars category.

Review: Midsize Moderately Priced Cars, Editors of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

5. SaferCar.gov

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the 2011 VW Jetta an overall rating of 4 stars out of 5 for crash protection. Front-crash protection and rollover resistance are both given 4 stars, while side-impact protection gets an impressive 5 stars.

Review: 5-Star Safety Ratings, Editors of SaferCar.gov

6. Road & Track

This first-drive review from Road & Track magazine doesn't find much to dislike about the Jetta. Unlike many other reviewers, John Lamm doesn't single out the interior quality as a disappointment. Also, the new exterior design is described as more stylish than the previous version, a finding some other experts dispute. The review is light on driving-experience insights.

Review: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta -- First Drive, John Lamm, Aug. 10, 2010

7. Automobile Magazine

This is a collection of impressions from multiple Automobile Magazine staffers, and it provides a nice source for varying opinions. The unifying theme among reviewers is that the cheaper interior is a letdown and that the general cheapening of the Jetta is not a fair trade for the reduction in price. One editor notes that in some trim levels, the price is essentially the same as the outgoing model, but the car feels cheaper in many places. Driving impressions are positive but don't stand out among increasingly tough competition.

Review: Reviews: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SEL, Amy Skogstrom, David Zenlea, Donny Nordlicht, Eric Tingwall, Joe DeMatio, Rusty Blackwell, March 15, 2011

8. Motor Trend

The interior doesn't bother this reviewer in this first drive of the 2011 Jetta. She thinks that the lower base price along with bigger dimensions than the outgoing version makes it a good value. The conclusion is that the Jetta "has a feeling of substance and quality that is hard to find at this price point."

Review: First Test: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta, Allyson Harwood, Oct. 20, 2011

9. PopularMechanics.com

G.E. Anderson likes the 2011 Jetta, finding its interior pleasing for the price and the ride quality quite good in normal driving scenarios even with the cheaper torsion-beam rear suspension. Anderson points out the new longer warranty with free maintenance is a bonus.

Review: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SEL Test Drive, G.E. Anderson, July 26, 2010

10. Car and Driver

The first section of this review spends considerable time talking about the lower-quality interior and small-but-welcome features that have been removed as a result of cost cutting. The good news is that the behind-the-wheel experience is nearly identical to the outgoing 2010 Jetta, which was a very pleasant car to drive. Upmarket is the word used to describe the Jetta's ride quality and noise levels.

Review: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta -- First Drive Review, Tony Quiroga, July 2010

11. Fortune

The theme in this review is that the new Jetta is a very competent car but has far less charm than the outgoing model did. Alex Taylor likes the dashboard and center-stack layout, but says that the materials are markedly cheaper than before, though not as bad as many other reviewers make it out to be. He describes the ride as best in class and likes the new cheaper pricing.

Review: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SEL: Slow Start to a Long Race, Alex Taylor III, Dec. 13, 2010

12. Los Angeles Times

Like other reviewers, David Undercoffler feels as though "VW has diluted the new Jetta's characterÉ[it is] good at a lot of things, great at very little." He calls the new interior "straightforward and uninspiring." Unlike other experts, Undercoffler claims that the Jetta's ride isn't as "engaging or capable as the previous Jetta." In the end, the 2011 Jetta is seen as a car that offers plenty of functional space without offending or exciting anyone.

Review: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta: You Can Feel the Cost-Cutting, David Undercoffler, Oct. 27, 2010

13. Cars.com

Rather than bland, Mike Hanley finds the exterior styling of the Jetta to be understated and elegant. He agrees with other reviewers that the Jetta has lost its personality, but he says that it is still a capable economy car that has merits.

Review: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta, Mike Hanley, Sept. 8, 2010

14. The Wall Street Journal

Dan Neil at the Wall Street Journal makes it clear that he's unhappy about all the cost-cutting measures taken in the 2011 Jetta. He singles out the "antique" base engine, rear drum brakes, torsion-beam suspension and the cheap interior as ways that Volkswagen has gone wrong with it. This is particularly troubling for him when it comes to the more expensive models that still have high base prices but now have less in the way of upscale features.

Review: Volkswagen and the Perils of Less for Less, Dan Neil, Sept. 17, 2010

15. Autoblog.com

Dan Roth finds a good deal to like about the Jetta, calling it one of the most spacious sedans available for under $16,000. Interior quality is seen as on par with the competition, though the reviewer notes that the new 2011 Chevrolet Cruze and 2011 Ford Fiesta have nicer cabins. Ride quality and the five-cylinder optional engine receive praise, though the electric steering has a strange calibration in this reviewer's opinion.

Review: Review: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SEL, Dan Roth, Nov. 24, 2011

16. Car and Driver

Jens Meiners tests the European-market 2011 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TSI, the model that is to become the top-level Volkswagen Jetta GLI in the United States. While fairly expensive at around $24,000, the car impresses Meiners, who concludes that it's "the cheapest way to get into an honest-to-goodness German performance sedan."

Review: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta GLI / 2.0 TSI -- First Drive Review, Jens Meiners, July 2010

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