I have a professional journalistic bias to admit before I get started with this review. I am a sucker for the VW Group’s gratuitous use of deliciously squishy soft touch plastic. I even find myself constantly thrilled by the softly sprung damping when you pull on any of the handles or knobs in many VW and Audi products.
It remained one of my favorite parts of the 2002 VW Passat that I owned for nearly 8 years the entire time that it was in my loving care. There I admitted it. My name is James Hamel and I am addicted to squishy soft touch plastic. And it is the one thing I truly missed in the 2011 VW Jetta SEL that I tested. Otherwise, this makes for an excellent compact family sedan buy.
This isn’t to say that the 2011 VW Jetta’s interior is subpar by any means as it is ergonomically sound to the core. The plastics used are still good quality and prove at the very least to be equal if not superior to those used in models like the Corolla, Elantra, Forte, Civic and Mazda3, all of which the 2011 Jetta now competes with in pricing terms.
I clearly understand the business rationale for this because VW is looking to sell more Jettas and judging by how many I see on the road they are succeeding. Earlier generation Jetta models were usually more expensive than the competition and part of that reason was their more lavish interior treatments.
VW just wouldn’t have been able to equip the 2011 VW Jetta SEL with luxuries like in-dash navigation, Bluetooth, USB/iPod integration and heated seats for only $21,395 without losing something. Prices start as low as $15,995 this year for Pete’s sake. And the rest of the car, let me say, can quite easily stand toe to toe with the big kids in the compact family sedan playground.
Let’s see how this 2011 VW Jetta SEL performed in a road test that took place over the course of one week.
While the new 2011 Jetta’s exterior design isn’t exactly revolutionary, it is nicely proportioned and its chunky dimensions give it a strong and muscular stance. I am personally a fan of VW’s more toned done new corporate face and grille which are well integrated into the whole design of this 2011 VW Jetta SEL.
Jettas have traditionally been Golf hatchbacks with a trunk and while the 2011 model shares visual cues with its trunk free sister, the overall look of the Jetta is just a scotch more mature and conservative. It also, thankfully, isn’t as overdone as a Mazda3 sedan or as underdone as a Corolla. Let’s just call the 2011 VW Jetta’s looks a happy medium and leave it at that.
Interior Design and Execution
Before I get started talking about the clear ergonomics and very Teutonic layout of the Jetta’s interior, I do have to tell you my test vehicle had one trim piece malfunction. This is not to impugn the quality of every 2011 Jetta but this happened to me nonetheless. Suffice it to say this is probably not what VW would want to happen with one of their press cars.
Every 2011 Jetta SEL model comes with a very cleverly integrated Bluetooth hands-free system and there is a button in the headliner behind the sunroof knob that you have to push during the phone pairing process. The only thing was, when I pressed the button it detached and disappeared into the headliner. And no, I didn’t press it very hard. Thankfully my phone was successfully paired and the system performed flawlessly the entire week.
Now I have already talked about how the 2011 Jetta is a lot less “squishy” than last year’s model (the latest Golf which suffered no such fate) and I need to be clear that it was only really an issue in one place—the door armrests. The padding is seriously thin which makes it a less than pleasant place to rest your arm. Otherwise, all of the usual touch points from the center console cubby lid cover to the steering wheel to the automatic transmission shift knob felt nice to the touch.
Two places where VW scored back serious interior design points were in the touchscreen navigation/phone/audio face plate and the simple air conditioning controls which were the model of ergonomic efficiency yet still moved with VW-like precision. Actually, the Golf and GTI could stand to borrow those air conditioning knobs as they feel more substantial than the ones used in those models.
Otherwise, roominess is the byword of the day best used to describe the 2011 Jetta’s interior which boasts best in class rear legroom, a huge glovebox, an extra-large sunglass holder (last year’s Jetta had a tiny sunglass holder) and a gargantuan 15.5 cubic foot trunk. When it comes to the Jetta’s interior, you really do get more bang for your buck from a space perspective.
Pricing, Features and Fuel Economy
This is where the 2011 VW Jetta really makes a compelling case for itself. Decently equipped models hover below $20,000 but my fully loaded SEL model was still only $24,165 including destination. You could save a lot more if you didn’t opt for my tester’s $900 sunroof and admittedly excellent $1,100 6-speed automatic. If you can manage a clutch pedal, VW makes some of the best stick shifts in the business. So that’s a very clear way to save money at time of purchase.
My SEL model came with those aforementioned options plus air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, V-Tex leatherette upholstery (no cows were harmed in the making of this upholstery), Sirius satellite radio, heated/power side mirrors, heated front seats, handsome 17-inch alloy wheels, 4-wheel disc brakes (below SEL trim you get rear drums), 6-way power driver’s seat, Bluetooth, USB/iPod integration, push button start, fog lights, floormats and an in-dash navigation system.
Now that’s a whole lot of car for the money and considering the fact that it comes with a strong and characterful 2.5 liter 170 horsepower/177 lb. feet of torque 5-cylinder that returned about 27 miles per gallon with me during a week of mixed driving. EPA estimates are 24 city/31 highway so I wasn’t expecting such good real world figures. The Jetta’s 2.5 liter engine runs on regular unleaded so that will also save you money in the long run as well.
Yet another feather in the 2011 Jetta’s value for money cap is VW’s offer to pay for 3 years or 36,000 miles of your maintenance costs. That stuff can really add up over time so the Jetta really makes sense from a cost of ownership perspective.
VW took a lot of guff for ditching the last generation Jetta’s independent rear suspension set-up for this 6thgeneration model. Under normal driving conditions the Jetta handles with the same composure and precision that I recall from a week in last year’s model. That isn’t to say that in more spirited driving the independent suspension won’t affect handling and that is evidenced by VW’s decision to keep that more advanced set-up for the upcoming GLI model with the GTI’s 2.0 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine.
That said, the 2.5 liter 5-cylinder engine is surprisingly potent throughout the entire rev range and emits a truly off-beat burbling noise when you really push it. It has none of the whine, vibration or harshness inherent in so many competing 4-cylinder layouts. Mated to the smooth and quick to respond 6-speed automatic, it is very easy to keep up with the cut and thrust of everyday traffic.
Ride quality is very smooth over rough pavement and even when you hit potholes the rigid body absorbs the jolt with aplomb. The only downside of the package for 2011 is a little bit of slop in the steering around the center. This means occasionally it is hard to judge when the wheels are going to start reacting to your inputs but over time any driver would no doubt get used to this little quirk.
How Dog and Family Friendly is It?
If I was planning to carry a dog or kids in the back seat of my 2011 Jetta, I would order it with the beige interior as my tester’s unrelentingly black seats and trim just absorbed the heat from an unseasonably warm week in Southern California. Not that it is ever really all that cold here but 80 in January is odd even for us. I don’t think it was a sign of “global warming” but I am sure Al Gore took it that way. Right after he hit the all you can eat buffet with his Nobel Prize money and spent the whole meal boasting about how he invented the internet.
Anyway, that heat wave was especially important as there is no rear seat air conditioning vent so it takes a while for the back bench to cool off. Thankfully, the 2011 Jetta’s air conditioning was positively ice cold just moments after starting the engine. The heating system also acquitted itself well on those cold nights when the temperatures plummeted down to 60. Hey, that can be cold if you are in shorts!
With a 15.5 cubic foot trunk and immense rear legroom, the 2011 VW Jetta would easily accommodate two full size child safety seats and even a double baby stroller (in the trunk) should you be blessed with twins right now. Also, while the Jetta may lack “soft-touch” plastic, the stuff VW uses is still highly durable and withstood everything two of my 60 pound dogs could throw at it.
The 2011 VW Jetta is also an IIHS “Top Safety Pick” so it should keep you and your family safe in an accident, as well. Just remember to buckle in your pets just like you would your loved ones and kids. For more information on that topic visit BarkBuckleUp.com.
The 2011 VW Jetta is making a bold move towards the mainstream and for the most part it is a success. Sure, I personally miss some of that old-school VW overbuilding in the interior but from an ownership perspective it makes a lot of sense. That may not be a sexy conclusion but it’s an accurate one.
Vehicle Tested: 2011 VW Jetta SEL
Base Price: $21,395
Price as Tested: $23,395
Options on Tester: 6-speed automatic ($1,100), Sunroof ($900).
Engine: 2.5 liter 5-cylinder
Power: 170 horsepower/177 lb. feet of torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic (5-speed manual standard)
0-60: 8.2 seconds
EPA Fuel Economy: 24 city/31 highway
Observed Fuel Economy: 27.2 miles per gallon
Runs on: Regular Unleaded
Fuel Tank Size: 14.5 gallons
Trunk Size: 15.5 cubic feet
Crash Test Rating (IIHS): “Top Safety Pick”
Warranty: 3 year/36,000 miles bumper to bumper
3 year/36,000 mile free maintenance
5 years/60,000 mile powertrain
12 years/unlimited mileage roadside assistance
Assembled in: Puebla, Mexico
Vehicle Provided by: VW of America