Review and photos by
Greg Wilson, CanadianDriver.com
The differences between the all-new Volkswagen Jetta and its predecessor could be summed up in four words: price, positioning, platform and personality. With a starting price of $15,875 for the base model, the 2011 Jetta 2.0L Trendline undercuts last year’s base Jetta 2.5 Trendline by $6,300 thanks to its smaller and less powerful 115-hp 2.0-litre base engine and fewer standard features. The lower pricing also changes the Jetta’s market positioning dramatically, allowing it to compete directly with popular sub $20,000 compacts like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. And with an all-new unit body platform that’s now different from the Golf’s, the new Jetta has distinct ride and handling characteristics, more interior room, and an independent Jetta “personality.”
The key to the 2011 Jetta’s lower base price is its venerable 2.0-litre SOHC 8-valve iron block four-cylinder motor, an engine that’s been around for decades. With only 115 horsepower and fuel economy numbers of 9.1 city/6.0 highway (L/100 km, manual transmission), the 2.0-litre engine is the least powerful and the least fuel-efficient engine in its class. The question is, will entry-level Jetta buyers care if it takes an extra second or two to get to 100 km/h? Or worry if the Jetta uses an extra litre of gas every 100 kilometres? Volkswagen appears to be betting that they won’t.
Just to be clear, the 2011 Jetta is also available with the same 170-hp 2.5-litre five-cylinder gas engine as last year, starting at $21,175 (Comfortline), $23,300 (Sportline), and $23,980 (Highline). As well, the 140-hp 2.0-litre TDI (turbocharged direct injection) diesel engine is available in the Jetta TDI for $23,875 (Comfortline) and $26,655 (Highline). The 200-hp turbocharged 2.0-litre gas engine is no longer offered.
For its base price of $15,875, the Jetta 2.0L Trendline includes a surprising amount of standard stuff: the 115-hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, five-speed manual transmission, “Titan Black Tardeol Cloth” seat fabric, height adjustable driver and front passenger seats, split folding rear seatbacks, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, power windows, power door locks, AM/FM/CD radio with four speakers, variable intermittent wipers, two 12-volt powerpoints and auxiliary input, 15-inch all-season tires and steel wheels, anti-lock brakes, stability control, five adjustable head restraints, and six airbags. Available options include the six-speed automatic transmission ($1,400), front fog lights and engine block heater ($300), and a Cold Weather Package with heated front seats and heated windshield washer nozzles ($275).
The Jetta Trendline+ ($17,275), like this week’s test car, adds air conditioning and remote door unlocking. Our test car also included the optional six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual mode ($1,400) and the Cold Weather Package ($275) for a total of $18,950. With an additional Freight charge of $1,364 and a/c tax of $100, the total as-tested price came to $20,415 (not including taxes).
The Jetta 2.0L’s top trim level, Comfortline ($19,075), adds 15-inch alloy wheels, upgraded cloth seats, cruise control, power heated mirrors, alarm, front centre armrest with storage, rear centre armrest with cupholders and trunk pass-through, heated front seats and washer nozzles, two more speakers, floor mats, and illuminated vanity mirrors.
A power sunroof ($1,400) and Bluetooth and iPod connectivity package ($675) are optional in the Jetta Comfortline but unfortunately, not in Trendline and Trendline+ models. And while Jetta Trendline and Trendline+ models are available in six different exterior paint colours – grey metallic, white gold metallic, silver metallic, black, white and blue metallic – the only interior colour available is black. Top-of-the-line Comfortline models, however, are also available in a “Cornsilk Beige/Sienna Cloth” interior colour scheme.
While the Jetta’s recently redesigned competitors, such as the new Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra, and Ford Focus, have traded in their conservative styling for more aggressive bodywork, the new Jetta’s styling is arguably even more conservative than the last model’s. Starting with the new corporate “face” of VW, the Jetta’s slim grille and integrated covered headlights are similar to those of the Golf, Touareg and new Eos, while its clean profile and straightforward rear-end design with Audi-like taillights is simple and uncomplicated. Though there’s nothing to get excited about here, the new Jetta does have a lower, wider stance that adds a touch of sportiness to its proportions. The Jetta’s styling may not be trendy, but that could work in its favour with buyers who don’t want a “showy” car.
Size-wise, the new Jetta is 74 mm longer, six mm lower and marginally wider than its predecessor with a wheelbase that’s been increased by 79 mm to 2651 mm (104.4 in.). The latter figure is the reason the Jetta’s new cabin has so much more rear legroom – not to mention a huge 438-litre (15.5 cu. ft.) trunk. Compared to other compact sedans, the Jetta is relatively large, close in size to the new Chevrolet Cruze.
Stepping in to the Jetta’s driver’s seat, you’ll find a simple, uncluttered dash design, straightforward controls and gauges, and no styling gimmicks. To some, this interior will look boring, but I enjoyed its simplicity: plain white-on-black gauges and digital display, uncomplicated radio and heater controls, small three-spoke steering that tilts and telescopes, easy-to-grip shift lever, height adjustable driver’s seat with strong thigh and side bolsters, and a wide driver’s footwell with left footrest.
My only complaints were the lack of power mirror controls (meaning I had to reach over to the front passenger seat to adjust the manual passenger mirror toggle), the lack of available lumbar adjustment on the driver’s seat, and a centre radio LCD display which sometimes looks washed out. And if you want power mirrors, cruise control, front centre armrest, and upgraded cloth seats, you’ll have to move up to the Comfortline trim level ($19,075) because they’re not available in the Trendline and Trendline+; and only the Comfortline model is available with optional Bluetooth phone connectivity and iPod interface ($675), and power sunroof ($1,400).
But enough whining: the Jetta’s wider cabin feels spacious, the front seats are wide and comfortable with firm padding and prominent bolstering. There’s plenty of elbow room, and the door armrests are padded – the only thing missing in the Trendline+ is a centre armrest. Legroom and headroom are generous for a compact car, especially for the rear seat passengers. Still, the sloping roof over the rear doors partly restricts rear passengers’ view of the scenery, and they must be careful to duck under the roof when getting in and out.
Things I like about the Jetta’s new interior are: the fact that both front seats have manual height adjusters; rear passengers have tons of legroom and footroom; rear passengers can unlock the doors with a button on the rear of the centre console; the “switchblade” door key folds up for greater comfort in your pant’s pocket; the same door key with remote door unlocking also opens the trunk remotely; all four power windows have one-touch automatic up and down feature; the plastic steering wheel has an unusual oval grip that feels good; the driver’s footwell has a nice big footrest for the left foot; the optional front seat heaters have three temperature settings; for security, the split folding rear seatbacks can only be released from inside the trunk; both front visors have vanity mirrors; there are two 12 volt powerpoints and one auxiliary port; an outside temperature gauge is standard; the cupholders between the front seats have spring-loaded cup grippers; the glovebox has a separate compartment for the owner’s manual plus coin slots, tissue holder, and pen holder; and the big trunk is fully lined with a large opening and a useful shape.
I also liked the fact that even the base Jetta has six standard airbags: two front, two front side, and two curtain airbags; and five height adjustable head restraints are standard. Both electronic stability control and traction control are also standard on this front-wheel drive car.
Some things I didn’t like about the new Jetta’s interior were: the black fabric seat covers show lint and dirt very easily; the loose fabric on the back of the front seats is flimsy; there’s no centre rear armrest; there’s no USB port or iPod connector; and the non-functioning buttons in front of the shift lever seem out of place.
Still, in light of the Jetta’s sub-$20,000 price, these complaints could be overlooked.
Driving the new Jetta 2.0L is a bit of an eye-opener: it has a very different over-the-road feel to last year’s Golf-based Jetta. The new Jetta’s longer wheelbase and wider track provides a smoother ride and more stability in the corners, but it’s less nimble and fun-to-drive. The new Jetta looks and drives like a bigger car than it is – not necessarily a bad thing for owners who prefer comfort over performance.
The base Jetta’s zero to 100 km/h acceleration time of 10.1 seconds (manual transmission) and 11.3 seconds (automatic transmission) (Volkswagen-supplied figures) makes it one of the slowest compact sedans in its class. But though low in horsepower, the 2.0-litre engine develops maximum torque at 4,000 rpm, giving it more bottom-end oomph than you might expect in city traffic. And the engine, which used to be rather noisy and coarse in the City Jetta, is now surprisingly quiet in the new Jetta. In fact, the Jetta 2.0L is a very comfortable and quiet highway cruiser when equipped with the optional six-speed automatic transmission. Engine revs at a steady 100 km/h are just 2,000 rpm in top gear. The new six-speed automatic transmission gets so much more out of this engine than the old four-speed automatic did, maximizing acceleration while contributing to better fuel economy with a tall top gear ratio. And with its driver-selectable manual shift mode, driver’s can enhance the performance by shifting manually.
Official Energuide (L/100 km) fuel economy figures with the 2.0-litre motor are 9.1/6.0 city/hwy (manual) and 9.3/6.7 (automatic), making the Jetta 2.0L the least fuel efficient compact sedan in its class, and just about the same as the Jetta with the larger 2.5-litre motor. For comparison, a Honda Civic with a 1.8-litre engine with a five-speed automatic offers 8.2/5.7 city/hwy, the Toyota Corolla with a 1.8-litre motor and four-speed auto gets 7.0/5.7 city/hwy, and the new Hyundai Elantra with a 1.8-litre engine and six-speed auto claims an astonishing 6.9/4.9 city/hwy. While these numbers are optimistic, the comparisons between vehicles are valid based on Energuide’s standardized testing methods.
The new Jetta’s standard rack and pinion, hydraulic power assisted steering has a rather vague feel and is a bit stiff at slow speeds, but the car tracks well at high speeds, and its turning diameter of 11.1 metres (36.4 ft.) is adequately tight for close turns. Front discs and rear drum brakes are standard on the Jetta 2.0L which is reflected in its braking distance from 100 km/h of 44.9 metres, longer than average in its class, according to braking tests conducted by AJAC.
The Jetta 2.0L’s cabin is surprisingly quiet, unusual for a base model – I can only conclude that VW has used a lot of sound insulation. This, combined with its comfortable ride, leisurely cruising ability, spacious cabin, and good visibility, have the effect of making the Jetta 2.0L seem like a higher class of car than it is. Perception may not be reality, but when you add it to the Jetta 2.0L’s price, positioning, platform and personality, you come up with a really pleasant people pleaser.
Pricing: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 Trendline+
Base price: $17,275 (Trendline+); $15,875 (Trendline)
Options: $1,675 (six-speed automatic with Tiptronic manual mode, $1,400; heated seats & washer nozzles, $275)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $20,415
Crash test results
Greg Wilson is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and editor of CanadianDriver. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).