2011 Volkswagen Jetta SEL

If you get past the fact that the interior materials are not nearly as high quality as they used to be, the Jetta a good little car to drive. It has direct, precise steering with a decent amount of feel. The engine is smooth and powerful. The clutch and brake pedal actions are smooth and linear. The gear shifter is fine, with relatively short throws. The ergonomics of the center stack are completely transparent. The seat heaters are typical German kickass butt-torching devices. The touch screen for the radio is intuitive and works well. The car corners flatly and rides very nicely. There’s plenty to like here. The interior of our test car, black on black with leatherette seats, is somber, even a little grim. The problem for the Jetta is the all-new Hyundai Elantra that I drove the day before: it cost $1000 less than this $23K Jetta, gets 40 mpg rather than 33 mpg on the highway, and was overflowing with luxury equipment and had a much more attractive cabin.

All that said, I heard so much over the past eight months about how Volkswagen de-contented the Jetta compared with previous generations that I had low expectations for the car. The truth is, it drives very well, even if its interior materials are nowhere near as rich in texture and quality as they used to be.

Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor

As a VW enthusiast I find this new direction completely appaling. Maybe it will work out for them but I suspect not. "Come see the new VW's! Not as awful as you think!"
I drove both the MK5 and MK6 Jettas as loaner cars from my VW dealership. Both were equipped with the auto-trans and 2.5l engine and were similarly equipped. While the MK6 seemed quieter, and didn't have the occasional creaks, groans and odd mechanical noises of the MK5, the MK5 seemed to be the better vehicle overall. But, if you have your heart set on purchasing a new Jetta, go with the manual trans. While the automatic set-up on the MK5 seemed to be something a person could live with, the auto on the MK6 was a total joke. The "manual" and sport shift modes were no different performance-wise than if you left it in "D". I would suggest looking at other vehicles in this class before purchasing a Jetta, especially with the auto-trans. Performance is noisy (grainy) and lack-luster. There are better cars out there in this class. It will be interesting to see if the upcoming GLI version will be improved with the interior, DSG and performance bits borrowed from the GTI.
I still think it is funny that VW decided to make the Jetta more "American" at exactly the same time that everyone else decided to make their small cars more like the old Jetta. In styling, creature comforts, fuel economy, and price, the new Elantra crushes the new Jetta.

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