First Impressions Review: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta

Expert Reviews Volkswagen

By Contributing Editor David Colman


  • More Jetta for less dollars
  • Visual transformation is easy on the eyes
  • Outstanding chassis and suspension tuning
  • Fuel efficient TDI model becomes available this December


  • Need reading glasses to see information displayed between speedometer and tachometer
  • Should have included a 6-speed manual instead of the old 5-speed gearbox

If you have rejected the Jetta as too small for family work, VW offers for your consideration its newly enlarged version for 2011. In order to appeal to mainstream America, VW has added 3 inches to the length, and 2.7 inches to the wheelbase. This recalibration converts the Jetta’s rear seat from an afterthought to a pleasure center. In addition to the extra rear legroom, the rear seats themselves have been excavated so that you know sit down in them, rather than on top of them. These two improvements convert the Jetta from a sedan with occasional rear seating to a mini-limousine capable of comfortably transporting four adults anywhere. In a pinch, you can even take 5, though the middle rear passenger does not benefit from the improvements to the outer seating positions.

Although the Jetta’s reconfiguration will appeal to family types, the basic sporting strengths of the sedan endure in this latest iteration. Jetta continues to shine in the motivation and handling departments. The 5 cylinder engine, a carryover from the 2010 model, offers strong performance and good gas mileage, with 170hp and 177lb-ft of torque, and an EPA rating of 20 MPG City, 29 MPG Highway. During the first quarter of 2011, VW will re-introduce the GLI version, utilizing the 200hp, turbocharged, in-line 4 which propels the current GLI. A turbocharged diesel TDI model, available this December, will produce 140hp, 236lb-ft of torque, 42 highway MPG, and a 0-60mph time of 8.7 seconds.

2011 VW Jetta SEL

Volkswagen eschewed cosmetic freshening in favor of a complete stylistic makeover. Gone is the cloying chrome front grill beard which has afflicted so many current VW products. The sleek nose of the new Jetta is free of such embellishment. The trapezoidal headlights impart a diabolic grin to the Jetta’s face. A chiseled chin spoiler enhances the streamlining. Stronger, higher shoulder bulges crown the flanks of the new Jetta, creating what VW calls a “tornado” line that ends in reconstructed, bejeweled taillights. The visual transformation of this previously prosaic sedan moves it into BMW stylistic territory.

The reformation continues inside the cabin, where a completely revamped driving environment makes it easier for you to find and manipulate controls as needed. A fat rimmed new steering wheel is a pleasure to grasp. The automatic transmission lever is capped with a new, more ergonomic knob, and the center console is now slightly inclined towards the driver to ease usage. Relocated instrument faces make instant reads of speed and rpm possible. The only negative note was the overly small readout for gear selection buried between the tach and speedo. VW’s latest generation sound system is one of the best on the market today, regardless of price, class or manufacturer. Its fidelity and strength will put a concert hall to shame.

2011 VW Jetta interior

Driving the latest Jetta is a pleasurable experience. Ride quality is remarkably unperturbed by bad pavement. The Michelin Primacy HP tires (225/45R17) combine good grip with enough sidewall flex to suck up bumps. The 5 cylinder version, which will be the first model to hit VW dealers this October, is ideally suited to its automatic transmission. We also had the opportunity to assess the 5-speed manual gearbox in concert with the 5 cylinder engine, and found it wanting compared to the automatic. Due to the torque curve of the engine, clutch tip-in can be difficult to control at low speed since the I5 motor doesn’t reach peak torque until 4,250rpm.

2011 VW Jetta2011 VW Jetta2011 VW Jetta

By the Numbers
2011 Volkswagen Jetta SEL

  • ENGINE: 2.5 liter, DOHC in-line 5
  • HORSEPOWER: 170 at 5,700rpm
  • TORQUE: 177lb-ft at 4,250rpm
  • FUEL CONSUMPTION: 20 City MPG/29 Highway MPG
  • BASE PRICE: $24,000 (estimated)


David Colman has been writing vehicle tests for 24 years. His work has been featured in AutoWeek, the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, and Marin Independent Journal. In 1987, he helped start Excellence, The Magazine About Porsche, which he edited for many years. He has been an active participant in racing and Solo events since 1961. More car reviews written by Colman can be found at

2011 Volkswagen Jetta 2011 Volkswagen Jetta Review – More car and more affordable
Rating: 4.5 stars
By Gary Chan

“Equipped with a 2.5-liter, five-cylinder engine (170-HP, 177 lb-ft of torque) and a 5-speed manual transmission, the Jetta SEL is no pocket rocket.”

2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI – First Impressions
Rating: 4.5 stars
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“The X5 is a stylish, well-built luxury SUV. With a powerful and efficient diesel engine, the X5 35d ups the ante and makes a strong case for the further adoption of this old technology in America.”

2009 Volkswagen Jetta 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Review
Rating: 4.5 stars
By Derek Mau

“The Volkswagen TDI engines are no where near what many Americans think of in terms of the old generation diesel engines that were noisy, spewed black soot out the back, and smelled like rotten eggs.”

2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen 2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen Review
Rating: 4.0 stars
By Gary Chan

“If you’re looking for a car that’s easy to drive, has decent gas mileage, and a multitude of utility value, the Jetta SportWagen is a great choice.”

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Rating: 4.5 stars
By Alex Kramer

“The Volkswagen Jetta brings German design and engineering to a car that starts at well under $20,000.”

Photo Galleries:
2011 Volkswagen Jetta | 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI | 2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen | 2008 Volkswagen Jetta

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  • francois says:

    Very intrigued! Bigger and cheaper and a 115 hp motor?? Don’t worry, I get the motor. There is a movement for underpowered car options. Slow is cool now. You see people on the freeway trying to maintain 60mph to optimize their mileage.

    It looks good enough for sure. I love the new front end ‘no chrome’ look of the new VWs.

    It’s going to be all about the TDIs. If the car drives well with that engine, it can rule the sedan world.


  • pimpbot says:

    I think I read on vwvortex that they were going to have a low rent $15k version of the Jetta with the old 8 valve 115hp 2.slow motor of yore. have you heard anything about that?

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