2011 Volkswagen Jetta Review – More car and more affordable

Expert Reviews Volkswagen

By Gary Chan


  • Interior space (especially back seat)
  • Highly intuitive touchscreen interface for stereo/satellite radio/navigation
  • Rear end looks more luxurious than flat rear of previous generation
  • Ergonomic positioning of driver controls (signals, cruise, sound, etc)


  • Lack of power at lower rpm’s
  • Center arm rest is too far back and angled downward to be functional/comfortable
  • Phone connectivity non-intuitive and non-functional (in my case)
  • Noisy fan at highest setting

The People’s Car
Volkswagen has been in the United States since the 1950’s, and has grown to be one of the largest manufacturers in the world. With the sixth-generation Jetta that is now less expensive, lighter and larger (almost 3” in length) than the previous version, VW is targeting buyers of the Civic and Corolla with the base price of the Jetta S at $16,755. Incidentally, the base is almost $1k less than the 2010 Jetta S. The model I drove was the Jetta SEL which starts at just over $22,000. With the in-laws in town, I was eager to test out the new Jetta over a few days.

2011 VW Jetta SEL

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. The engine begins to pull around 3000 RPM, but below this engine speed, it’s not very flexible often necessitating a downshift for passing and accelerating. When I did keep the engine speed above 3500 RPM, the Jetta did accelerate very quickly. However, the downside of the high RPM’s was a noisy engine from 4000 RPM and above.

Stomping on the brakes from high-speed, the brakes grab well enabling controlled stops. The brakes aren’t super strong, but I felt confident as the car stopped repeatedly under hard braking. Steering is light and responsive, but not communicative. The sport suspension is well damped and proved flat in the turns. It’s no sport car, but for most spirited driving around town, the suspension is more than adequate.

2011 VW Jetta SEL

Interior and Styling
The new design is markedly different than the previous fifth-generation version. I believe it’s lost its unique look and characteristics and now blends in too easily with many other cars available today.

The layout of the dashboard is similar to last year’s model, but appears slightly simplified possibly to save costs.

The bolstered front seats are comfortable and covered in a perforated vinyl. Don’t look for power adjustments here as you’ll only find three manual levers on the seat sides and fore/aft adjuster in front. After bit of tinkering, I was it to find a comfortable position.

The interior is quiet with only a hint of wind noise even with the sunroof open (it has a large wind deflector).

2011 VW Jetta interior 2011 VW Jetta interior 2011 VW Jetta trunk space

The best part is the touch screen display which controls the audio, phone and navigation systems: switching between the various sound options and making choices was very intuitive and fast. Entering a destination was even better quickly predicting street names and automatically jumping to the next screen.

It had a unique zoom and rotate feature while navigating to my destinations. For example, when approaching a cloverleaf and changing roads, the map would automatically zoom and provide closer view of the desired direction as well as rotate to give the driver sense of direction and orientation. Upon completing the road change, the map returned to the default view. Very cool navigation feature.

I did have problems pairing my phone with system. I followed the instructions in the manual, and every time I entered the prescribed pass code into my phone, it was “invalid”. This is the first time this has ever happened during any test drive.

2011 VW Jetta SEL

Areas We Would to See Improvement

  • Side visibility due to rear seat head rests, thick C-pillar, and trapezoidal mirror shape
  • Cruise control lag exists when depressing the button on the left stalk. One has to wait for each step (up or down) before depressing the button again. In most cars, multiple presses result in speed increasing/decreasing several MPH.
  • More torque and horsepower at lower engine speeds

Viva la Volkswagen!
Overall, the added length makes the Jetta much more functional for carrying passengers in the rear seat. That combined with the cavernous trunk makes it the perfect car for road trips for four people over a long weekend. The front splitter and the rear trunk shape are two design changes that improve the look of the Jetta making it look more expensive than it is. However, the front end design is simply too muted making it look like many other cars. Perhaps this is VW’s intention in making the Jetta more appealing to the masses, both in design and price. Time will tell, but I think VW has a “winner” here, and I can’t wait to test out the GLI version with the 2.0-liter, direct injection turbo four (200 HP/236-lb-ft of torque) arriving early next year. Power to the people!

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/ 22 MPG overall


2011 Volkswagen Jetta First Impressions Review: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta
Rating: 0.0 stars
By David Colman 

“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.”

2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI – First Impressions
Rating: 4.5 stars
By Twain Mein 

“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.”

2008 Volkswagen Jetta 2008 Volkswagen Jetta Review – German Design and Engineering at an Economical Price
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 VW Jetta TDI | 2009 VW Jetta SportWagen | 2008 VW Jetta

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