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A Better, Larger 2011 VW Jetta TDI Retains 42 MPG Efficiency

Longer, lighter, and less expensive, the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta has been redesigned to suit North American car buyers. That’s fine by us, because the clean diesel TDI technology that earned its predecessor the distinction of being named our 2009 Green Car of the Year is a cornerstone of the new car’s powertrain lineup. Adding to the Jetta’s green credentials will be a gasoline/electric hybrid variant in the 2012 model year.

Drawing styling cues from the Volkswagen New Concept Coupe that debuted at the North American International Auto Show this past January, the Jetta has an understated and sophisticated look. It’s a very clean design with a combination of rounded and crisp lines that flow together in a unified form. From the rear three-quarter angle, we see a bit of Audi A4 in the new Jetta. The new horizontal grille treatment visually lowers the car while the pronounced wheel arches enhance the new Jetta’s stance.

The sixth generation Jetta is 2.9 inches longer – both between the wheel wells and in overall length – than the model it replaces. This added length translates directly into best-in-class rear legroom. Climb in the back seat and this added legroom yields the feel of a full-size car rather than a compact. In fact, rear seat legroom is just fractions of an inch shy of that found in a 7 Series BMW. Fortunately, all this spaciousness didn’t come at the expense of weight. The base model 2011 Jetta is actually a bit lighter than the previous model.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the new model launch is the Jetta’s aggressive pricing. The entry-level S model carries a suggested retail price of $15,995 and that includes amenities like air conditioning, AM/FM CD sound system, six air bags, Electronic Stability Control, anti-lock brakes, a tire pressure monitoring system, and outside temperature display. You can tailor the Jetta to suit your style and needs with either the SE or SEL trim levels and add convenience, sunroof, and a sport package. The top of the line SEL with Sport Package will retail for $22,995. That’s the same price as the clean diesel TDI model. A fully loaded TDI with navigation system will sticker for $24,195.

The Jetta will offer familiar powertrain choices until the hybrid variant debuts in 2012. The base S model comes with VW’s 2.0-liter four cylinder powerplant. While this 115 horsepower engine produces less power than some of its compact car competition, VW feels that the engine’s 125 lb-ft of torque makes the overall driving experience comparable. EPA Fuel economy numbers are not official yet, but they are expected to be 23 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway with the six-speed automatic, or 24 mpg city and 34 mpg on the highway with the five-speed manual.

Volkswagen Group’s 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder gasoline engine is a good match for the Jetta, offering up 170 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. The added power doesn’t sacrifice much in the way of fuel economy, either, with the five-speed manual version expected to carry EPA numbers of 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, with the six-speed automatic likely to feature 24/31 mpg city/highway numbers. The five-cylinder offers noticeably better acceleration than its 2.0 four cylinder counterpart, with 0-60 mph times in the low eight second range.

That’s about the same acceleration you’ll find with our favorite engine in the line, Volkswagen’s popular 2.0-liter clean diesel TDI. Rated at 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque at just 1,750 rpm, overall drivability makes the TDI feel peppier than the gasoline engine version. Fuel economy figures are projected to be 30 mpg city and 42 mpg on the highway for both the manual and automatic transmissions. The TDI, however, comes with either a six-speed manual or VW’s excellent dual clutch DSG automatic. When the sporty GLI Jetta launches later in the model year, power will be supplied by the 2.0-liter TSI engine offering 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque. That’s enough punch to drop the GLI’s 0-60 mph times down into the mid-six second range.

Green Car Journal recently sampled various models of the new Jetta on the twisty roads winding from San Francisco through Marin County to Bodega Bay and back, with the experience leaving us favorably impressed. The 2011 Jetta feels a little softer around the edges than the old model, perhaps to better suit the American driver. Handling is tight and responsive, though, as expected of a German car. While we really appreciated the heavy and direct steering feel of the old Jetta, the new car has a bit more power assist and a lighter steering feel, which most drivers will likely prefer.

The longer wheelbase improves the Jetta’s ride quality, especially on the highway. We wouldn’t think twice about pointing this car at a distant destination and settling in behind the wheel for the long haul. The increase in interior room also makes the new Jetta a better family car. It’s now a true five-seater and supremely comfortable with just four on board. Like most European cars, the seats are firm and supportive and even the base S model comes standard with a height adjustable driver’s seat.

Like the exterior, the interior is clean and purposeful. Volkswagen designers didn’t sacrifice function for form in this cockpit – everything is straightforward and logical. We especially like the fat three-spoke steering wheel and the easy-to-read analog gauges. Between the large tachometer and speedometer you’ll find an intuitive multifunction display that can provide useful information such as fuel economy, range-to-empty, and much more. Those driving the TDI version will find the range numbers quite impressive given the Jetta’s 14.5 gallon fuel tank and high fuel efficiency.

Our first impressions of the sixth generation Jetta are very favorable. Volkswagen wants to gain market share with the new model, and though they are up against stiff competition from cars like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, the new Jetta stands apart. It is classified as a compact like the Civic and Corolla, but it doesn’t look or feel like a compact. From behind the wheel and as a passenger, this car is simply more substantial. No wonder Jetta is not only the best selling Volkswagen in America, but the top selling European car, period.

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Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. GearHeads.org gives me a chance to give something back to the automobile community.

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