VW's plans for increasing U.S. sales start with its new Jetta, aggressively priced at $15,995 for the base model. We drove an SEL version with navigation, a model that would sell between $20K and $25K.
The 2011 Jetta marks the sixth generation of Volkswagen's most successful car in the U.S. This update involves new styling and cabin tech, yet the power-train sources remain similar to the previous generation's. Volkswagen will be adding a hybrid version of the Jetta in 2012.
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When it first hits dealers, the Jetta will come with either a 115 horsepower 2-liter four-cylinder or a 170 horsepower 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine. By the end of the year the new TDI will be available, which is a 2-liter four-cylinder diesel engine. Volkswagen also said a turbocharged 2-liter GLI version is coming in 2011.
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Volkswagen's restyling of the Jetta, while incorporating modern smooth lines, also erased some unique cues. For example, rather than the big grille with its chrome surround that crosses over the bumper line, the new Jetta lets the bumper bisect the grille, making it look like most other cars on the road.
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The subtly curved surfaces of the Jetta are a nice modern touch, but will make it blend in with other cars on the road. However, we do like the look of the C pillar, which is inset from the side of the car, giving it a distinct cabin.
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We found the Jetta's ride quality to be very good. It is neither too stiff nor too soft, and remains stable in corners. Although an entry level car for Volkswagen, it would be comfortable for long road trips.
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We have not been that impressed by past Volkswagen car interiors, but this new Jetta's cabin feels like quality. The car we drove was the high-trim SEL version, with Volkswagen's version of leatherette covering the seats. We particularly liked the steering-wheel covering and feel.
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Volkswagen made this version of the Jetta longer than the previous, so the rear seat offers plenty of leg room. In this picture, the front passenger seat is all the way back, and the driver seat is set to accommodate a 5-foot 10-inch person.
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We drove the manual transmission-equipped Jetta SEL. The shifter is very good, as it seems to want to go into the right gear for each shift, but we were surprised to find it is only a five speed. A six-speed automatic is also available.
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Buttons on the steering wheel's left spoke activate voice command for the Bluetooth phone system, and control the stereo. With the voice command system, you can dial entries from a phone's contact list by name. On the instrument cluster, Volkswagen uses an analog speedometer and tachometer, but a digital fuel gauge.
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This flash-drive-based navigation system uses a 5-inch LCD to display maps in 2D and 3D. It does not show traffic or have any other data sources. We also found that is was fairly stingy with street names, showing them only for streets we were approaching while under route guidance.
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The onscreen keyboard looks nice and makes it easy to enter destinations. As this navigation system stores data and maps on a flash drive, we found it very responsive, with no sluggishness responding to inputs.
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The car includes iPod integration, with the usual interface allowing browsing of albums, artists, genres, and tracks.