Some times the car critics are wrong. That should come as no shock, after all, 75% the people who do car reviews are writing it for themselves and for their peers. What the public in general might be looking for is irrelevant, it’s what THEY decide is important is what really matters, and if you aren’t on board 100%, well then, you can’t play in their sandbox.
If you never had any dealings with the previous generation of the Volkswagen Jetta, then you would have to wonder why there are few good words in the press about the new version of the car. Even Consumer Reports has called it one of the most disappointing updates to car in recent memory. Here is the thing, while the previous generation Jetta was a great car, it didn’t sell all that well because, even in lower spec trim, it was often as expensive, if not more expensive then other cars in it’s class when they were fully loaded.
For the 2011 Jetta, Volkswagen took a different tact. Since most people say they will spend more money for quality, but never do when it’s time to pull out the checkbook, VW called their bluff. The new Jetta has some materials in it that are not up to the level of the previous generation, it comes with a twist beam rear suspension rather than an independent rear suspension, and it’s driving dynamics have been softened, the level of the materials in the interior aren’t class leading, yet the car is selling in record numbers, mostly because it stickers for $3,000 to $5,000 less than the previous generation.
95% of the people who own and buy the Volkswagen Jetta couldn’t distinguish the difference between an IRS and a twist beam rear suspension if you let them drive them back to back, nor do they care. While some people still viewed the Jetta as a 3 series BMW at a discount, most viewed it as a mid-sized car that was a bit smaller on the inside then it’s peers. In increasing the size of the new Jetta, it is now on par or larger then most everything else for interior room.
The interior is pleasant enough. Again if you were to read a number of reviews you’d think it was all hard plastic from the mid 1990’s, but that’s not the case. Sure there are cars in this class that might have a slightly higher grade of materials, but there is plenty of soft touch surfaces inside. Yes, everything could be a bit better, but VW tried that before and it didn’t work.
If there was something that did frustrate us with the car it was the infotainment system. It was not very intuitive, and the direction, once you could find them in the owners manual, were as clear as squid ink. We did figure everything out after a time, but we can’t say there weren’t a few not for prime time words used in the process.
Something else that the critics would have you believe is that the 2.5 liter five cylinder is as smooth as 16 grit sandpaper. OK, so it’s not silky like a 4.2 liter Jaguar inline 6, but what is? The five cylinder runs well, has really good torque, paired with the five speed manual transmission we described the performance to to others as “plucky”. As we said the car has really good low end torque, not V8 level torque, but with the number of small four cylinders we’ve driven of late that have NO power below 4,000 rpms, it was nice. There was torque steer, but it wasn’t objectionable. In fact, it was enjoyable to drive.
The styling on the new Jetta has also been very controversial because it is so safe. Again, Volkswagen took the temperature of the market with this car, it looked at what the best selling cars in the segment are, Civic, Altima and Corolla, and decided that bold styling is not something that people look for. Ford with the new Focus and Hyundai with the new Elantra are trying to change that, but if you look at the Mazda3, it hasn’t worked for that model.
Fuel mileage for the Jetta was also good. It is rated by the EPA at 23 city and 33 highway. We put 400 miles on the Jetta, and saw 27 combined and 34.5 on a 90 mile highway loop. As always we did not try to drive for maximum mpg, rather we drove this car as if it were our own.
In the end we came away very surprised with the new Jetta given everything that we had read, and had been told by other colleagues. It is a very solid car, and very good value. Our SEL model stickered at $23,065. It had an upgraded touch screen stereo with SatNav, 17” alloys, sunroof, and electronic limited slip differential. It is almost the same price as the Hyundai Elantra Limited we tested a couple months back, and while the Hyundai has better styling, and may cost a few dollars less, the Jetta was more fun to drive and returned the same gas mileage, even though the Hyundai is rated MUCH higher.
So, as we said at the top, sometime the critics are wrong, VW took a shot in judging that what the market wanted was good value, and they have been rewarded with sales of the Jetta up 70% over the previous model! Customers often say they want one thing, but when it comes time to scratch a check actual cost and perceived value end up being the deciding factor. Sure the new Jetta could be higher spec, but at what cost to the sticker price and at what cost to total sales?
Go drive a Jetta and decide for yourself, but we think you will come away thinking, “what was all the bashing about from the automotive elite?” If VW wants to send us another one for review we’d be happy to drive it, just this time can we get the TDI please??!!
Check out our photo gallery to see all the images of the 2011 Jetta.