If you think about it, it's really quite surprising that we, as a country, love the Volkswagen Jetta as much as we have. It's been VW's most successful car here for thirty years, and yet it's been an afterthought this whole time. Take a Golf -- one of the most popular cars in the world, but never embraced by the U.S. public -- add a trunk, and voila, you have a bestseller.
VW has changed the recipe slightly for the sixth generation of the Jetta. Instead of being a near-identical twin of the Golf with a trunklike appendage on the rear, the Mk6 Jetta is more like a close cousin, no longer actually sharing parts and components with the Golf.
And the biggest change is one of philosophy: for the first time, the Jetta was designed principally to suit the demands of its biggest market, North America. To that end, VW looked around at the Jetta's competition (the Honda Civic, Mazda 3, and Toyota Corolla, principally) and found ways to make sure that the new car can compete better than ever.
Of primary importance to buyers in this segment -- and one of the reasons potential buyers don't consider the Jetta in the first place -- is price. And with careful decontenting, VW has been able to put the Jetta's pricing in line with its competitors. That means you can kiss the previous-generation Jetta's independent rear suspension good-bye.
The 2011 Jetta returns to VW's tried-and-true torsion bar rear suspension, and while that may seem like a step backward, in reality it's probably appropriate for most buyers. The really cool news is that buyers of the forthcoming Jetta GLI, which debuts next spring with the GTI's 200-hp turbocharged 2.0T four-cylinder, gets an independent rear end. That's having your Fahrvergnügen and eating it, too.
Last year's 2.5-liter inline-5 and 2.0-liter turbodiesel return to the party with minimal, if any changes. And the old 2.0-liter, crossflow eight-valve engine -- known affectionately by enthusiasts as the Two-Point-Slow -- also makes a surprise comeback. With the same ol' 115 hp it made since the year of the flood (1993, to be exact), VW promises 0-60 runs as spectacularly slow as 11 seconds (with the optional six-speed automatic) and only a 1-mpg bonus over the five-cylinder. Which has 50% more horsepower. Whatever floats your boat.