2011 Volkswagen Jetta SEL

I think the base-level Jetta is fabulous. There is a great, German Teutonic feel to it that our top-of-the-line SEL test car shares. However, unlike the SEL, it wears a sub-$16 grand price tag. While the driving dynamics carry over from the fun and peppy previous generation, I echo Joe’s comments on the too-sober black, black, black interior that is not up to par with the outgoing Jetta’s. In a $16,000 car? Fine. In a $23,000 car? Not so much. Especially not with competition as tough as the new Elantra, Cruze, Focus, et al.

Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web 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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