Weidel on Wheels: Think you know the Jetta? Think again

Volkswagen redesign features new underpinnings, larger exterior, but less plush features
By: Jeffrey Weidel
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Volkswagen’s top-selling vehicle arrives in 2011 with some changes. Think you know the Jetta pretty well? Take another look. This VW compact sedan arrived this year with a larger exterior, a few styling changes, and has made some interior alterations as well. One more thing to know about the Jetta, which has been around now for 32 years. For the first time in its history, the Jetta is not a sedan version of the Golf. Knowledgeable Jetta fans know that the original models were created when the German auto manufacturer added a conventional trunk to the Golf hatchback. Alright, enough with the history lesson, let’s delve into the present. The 2011 Jetta has increased its wheelbase — now just over 182 inches long — and part of that byproduct is a roomy back seat that provides very good legroom. The design element changes include losing its more rounded exterior and having a new horizontal bar grille. After a week of driving the 2011 Jetta SEL, the elongated new model receives a thumbs up here for appearance. It also continues to deliver quality for a modest price ($22,295) and admirable gas mileage of 23 to 33 miles per gallon. Note that the base model Jetta goes for just under $16,000. The new Jetta loses a little bit on the sticker price. While many people will applaud the price reduction, some Jetta buyers may not be so happy about how that came about. Missing in the 2011 models are some of the upper-end interior materials and thoughtful details that typified Jettas of the past. The question lingering for VW is will the price reduction be embraced despite the loss of some niceties? It’s understandable that some people who expect Jetta’s high quality, soft-touch materials — more hard plastic was used than ever before — will be disappointed. Even with the changes, Jetta still delivers in many ways. This VW sedan can still take on the Honda Civic in certain areas and also go head-to-head in standard features and likely come out on top. The SEL model featured a five-speed manual transmission, which at first seemed a nuisance. But after growing comfortable with the gear shift, the 2.5-liter, inline-5 engine with 170 horsepower made the Jetta increasingly more fun to drive. Not sure I would have felt the same way had I been driving the 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder base model with 115 horsepower. The front-wheel Jetta handled admirably, but don’t expect a sporty, athletic vehicle — that’s not happening. The SEL delivers dependable road characteristics and noise is pretty muted. __________ 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SEL Price: $22,295 Power: 2.5-liter, inline-5 engine with 170 horsepower Mileage estimate: 23 mpg city; 33 mpg highway Standard features include:Heated front seats; eight-way adjustable driver seat; fog lights; leather-wrapped steering wheel; 60/40 split-folding rear seat; keyless entry; four-speaker sound system, CD player, Bluetooth, auxiliary audio jack; front center armrest, storage compartment; rear seat center armrest; trunk pass-through; foglamps; traction, stability control