First Drive: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta

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.

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The reason why people bought a VW in the past was the fact that it felt much more expensive than its pricetag would suggest. (Even though some weren't in the long run ...)With VW now 'de-contenting' its lineup, they'll have to watch out for the proverbial baby in the bathwater. If the new Jetta feels like it was designed by Rubbermaid, then even it's last bit of appeal will go overboard. But maybe some new customers can be lured in - those, who want to upgrade from a Chrysler Sebring ...
"Beauty" and "Exquisite Style"? If you like the Mk6 Jetta, you'll LOVE the soon-to-be-replaced Kia Optima...
Edward A. Sanchez
^ +1,000,000% with Orbit. VW needs to focus on quality, quality, quality. If making its cars less technically complex helps in that regard, then that's a good move. However, VW de-contenting the Jetta just as Ford is offering a whole new level of tech and features in the Focus looks like it could be a dicey proposition. And bringing back the old 2.0 8-valve? What were they thinking!?!?
Orbit9090 you are exactly right. The most expensive car I to operate I have ever owned in my 41 years of driving and one of the most enjoyable at the same time was a 2001 VW Golf GTI with the VR6. Loved the car but hated the expense of keeping it fixed.Cost about $112 per month extra the last 2 years I owned it. VW LISTEN UP!!!!
Good article. All tinkering aside, VW needs to focus 150% on getting their reliability and customer service up-to-par. Without consistent success in both the 'J.D. Power' and 'Consumer Reports' annual quality surveys, there isn't enough 'decontenting' in the world to help VW reach its lofty U.S. sales goals.

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