Volkswagen's management is no longer content with The People's Car being a fringe player in the United States market and has made plans to substantially expand its market share. The all-new sixth-generation 2011 Volkswagen Jetta, designed specifically with this challenge in mind, is a departure from previous generations. Volkswagen has chosen to make it cheaper by cutting out some of the more premium elements - the option list has been pruned, interior plastics have gotten a bit harder, and the rear suspension is no longer fully-independent - and tweaked the design to make it more suitable for public consumption
For starters, the new Jetta is a slightly bigger car than the outgoing model, riding on a 104.4-inch wheelbase instead of a 101.5-inch one. At 182.2 inches long, 70.0 inches wide, and 57.2 inches tall, its 2.9-inches longer, 0.1-inch narrower, and 0.2-inches shorter. Interior dimensions are largely the same except for one important aspect: rear seat legroom. The 2011 Jetta has 38.1 inches of it, the 2010 Jetta just 35.4. Trunk space is down half cube to 15.5 cubic-feet.
The primary engine offered on the Jetta is Volkswagen's well-known 2.5-liter inline-five. Standard on SE and SEL models, it makes 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, and can be had with a five-speed automatic or six-speed manual. Entry-level S models come with a 115-horsepower, 125-pound-foot 2.0-liter four-cylinder and the same selection of transmissions. Both engines get similar fuel economy of 23-24 mpg in the city and 31-34 mpg on the highway, depending on transmission. For those looking for better fuel efficiency, Volkswagen offers the Jetta TDI. Powered by a 2.0-liter turbodiesel four that packs 140 horsepower and an impressive 236 pound-feet of torque, the TDI gets 30 mpg around town and 42 mpg on the highway. It can be had with a six-speed manual or VW's six-speed DSG twin-clutch automatic.
All flavors of Jetta come with the usual complement of airbags - two in the front, two in the side of both front seats, and curtains for both rows. Traction and stability control are standard as well. On the sound front, S and SE models make do with a simple four-speaker stereo (though SE models can be upgraded to a six-speaker unit). SEL and TDI Jettas come with an eight-speaker system with an 8-inch screen and SELs also come standard with a navigation system. The nav is optional on the Jetta TDI and happens to be the only option available for that trim level. SELs can be fitted with a sunroof and a sport suspension and seats and SEs can also be fitted with a sunroof and a convenience package. S models have no options available at all.
Those looking for versatility should be aware of one caveat: all of these updates only apply to the sedan. The newer SportWagen still has some life in it, so Volkswagen is choosing to keep that fifth-generation model around for the time being.
Though Volkswagen provides fairly simple warranty coverage - bumper-to-bumper and roadside assistance coverage lasts 36 months/36,000 miles, powertrain coverage lasts for 50 months/60,000 miles - it also provides a no-charge scheduled maintenance program for those same 36 months or 36,000 miles, which will save quite a few bucks on dealer service visits.
Prices for the Jetta range from $17,265 (including $770 in destination fees) for a manual S to $26,065 for a navigation-equipped automatic TDI.
Volkswagen is unlikely to challenge the Civic and Corolla for compact supremacy any time soon, but this new Jetta definitely gives the Germans from Wolfsburg a much better chance. Based on the Jetta's sales since its launch late last year, the move mainstream is already paying dividends.