If Volkswagen wants to ransack the interior and strip the European character out of its cars to sell them for a lower price, I’m fine with that; I’ve long thought that Volkswagens were overpriced. What I’m not cool with is Volkswagen building a lesser car and then selling it for the same price. Unfortunately, it looks like that’s exactly what’s happening here.
Case in point: In 2009, Automobile Magazine took delivery of a Four Seasons Jetta TDI Loyal Edition, an entry-level, no-options diesel. Price: $23,090. Order the same car in 2011 -- a Jetta TDI with no options -- and the price comes to $23,765. From the equipment and spec list, you’d guess the two cars are identical: heated, leatherette seats; a sunroof; power windows, locks, and mirrors; and the same powertrain. But sit inside either vehicle, and it’s clear that the 2011 should be a substantially cheaper car. Inside, it’s like the difference between shopping at Wal-Mart and Macy’s. The old Jetta was by no means a luxury car, but it was tasteful and upscale and was typically how you justified the extra cost of a VW. Volkswagen hasn’t quite dropped to the back of the pack in terms of interior finish -- the graining and fit is decent -- but the Jetta has abandoned every claim to having an exceptional cabin, and this black interior is bland and dour. You’ll also notice more wind noise, road noise, and engine noise with this new cost-cut Jetta. Sadly, the pricing proposition isn’t much different with this gas-fueled Jetta SEL, as you can surely find a much nicer car for $23,065.
It’s true that you won’t notice much of a difference in ride suppleness with the new torsion-beam rear suspension and the Jetta soaks up bumps with an impressive indifference. Unfortunately, the driving joy has been sapped by the poorly tuned electric power steering. It’s light, uncommunicative, and slow to respond on-center. It’s a letdown that’s unexpected since Volkswagen did so well with the electric power steering in the Golf and GTI. (And what’s with the dweeby, large-diameter steering wheel?) The one piece of good news I have for Jetta owners is that there is a cure for your heartache. If you miss Volkswagen’s near-luxury feel, go check out a new Hyundai Elantra. If you miss the Jetta’s driving dynamics, take a look at the new Ford Focus.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor