In the late ‘70s, Volkswagen tried to increase U.S. Sales by building the compact rabbit in Pennsylvania. But that rabbit turned out to be too American, and suffered in both quality and performance. It just wasn’t a German car anymore. Now, VW has set high us sales goals again, and again they’re launching a more American-focused car. The all-new 2011 Jetta. So let’s see if this time around, Volkswagen’s found the American road to success.

For starters, the 6th generation 2011 Volkswagen Jetta will be built in North America. Only this time around, down south Mexico way. While the previous Jetta was already large by compact standards, the new car is larger still. Overall length and wheelbase each grow by about 3 inches.  But surprisingly, the new Jetta is actually lighter than before.

Styling is more sophisticated with a grown-up appeal, but still, thankfully, with a hint of adventure. The revamped front-end presents the new face of VW.  A smaller, high-gloss black grill flanked by trapezoidal headlamps creates a nice contrast, while down below is a sporty tray-shaped spoiler.

The Jetta’s profile claims a smooth flow and a substantial presence.  Strong character lines give it a look that’s more mid-size than compact. The rear-view is also more sculpted than before, and the new taillights have more appeal than the previous car’s. Depending on trim, Jetta rides on 15, 16, or 17 inch wheels.

The five-person cabin has swelled considerably.  Roomier in every direction, Jetta joins the Chevy Cruze in approaching mid-size class passenger room.

However, the overall feel of the interior is not quite as inviting as the previous Jetta.  Materials appear cheaper and are harder, and there’s even been some decontenting, presumably to cut costs and compete with Asian rivals.

Still, the instrument panel layout is familiar VW, smart, tactile, and quite ergonomic.  Controls for climate and stereo have been simplified.  The 5-inch touchscreen is as intuitive to operate as the best aftermarket navs.

Front seats are all day comfortable.  Our up level SEL trim had seat heat as part of the Convenience Package. The 60/40 folding rear seat area is really impressive, and claims best-in-class legroom. The trunk is also larger with 15.5 cubic feet of space.  That’s about 25% more than a Civic or Corolla.

Jetta is less changed under the hood.  With four engine choices for North America, base is an underwhelming 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 115 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. However, most cars will use a tweaked 2.5-liter five-cylinder unit rated at 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque.

Coming soon is VW’s 2.0-liter 140-horsepower turbo diesel I4 with a promised 40 mile per gallon fuel economy, and next spring, the GTI’s 200-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-four will arrive in a Jetta GLI. Zero to 60 is an estimated 6.7 seconds.

All current trims use a standard 5-speed manual gearbox.  Optional is a 6-speed torque-converter automatic.  TDI and GLI models will be available with a more advanced DSG transmission.

Our 2.5 SEL automatic proved fairly peppy, but certainly not overwhelming.  Shifts were smooth, but are rushed, to get into more efficient gearing. So, passing always means waiting for a downshift or two. 

The payoff for that wait, however, are healthy Government Fuel Economy Ratings of 24 city/31 highway on regular gas. Likewise, the Energy Impact Score is a modest 12.7 barrels of oil consumed per year, with a smallish Carbon Footprint of 6.9 annual tons of CO2 emitted.

As to the chassis, the Jetta moves backwards from an all-independent rear suspension to a semi-independent torsion-beam, a simpler stability control, and hydraulic rather than electric power steering. Also, S and SE models give up 4-wheel disc brakes for rear drums.

But despite these downgrades, turn ins are still crisp, as the Jetta is quite responsive overall. Body roll is composed as the car shows itself to be very capable, and yes, sporty. It doesn’t feel noticeably larger when driving it, and is more entertaining to drive than even the well regarded Civic. 

And it’s even less expensive than last year. The 2011 Jetta begin at $16,755 for the S, $18,955 for the volume SE, and $22,155 for the uplevel SEL. The TDI will start at $23,755. The new Jetta clearly has a bigger American personality. But, fortunately, its German roots are still very apparent. We think that careful blending will indeed increase U.S. appeal, and take the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta down a winning road.


  • Engine: 2.5-Liter Five-Cylinder
  • Horsepower: 170
  • Torque: 177 Lb Feet
  • 0-60 MPH: 6.7 Seconds
  • EPA: 24 MPG City/ 31 MPG Highway
  • Energy Impact: 12.7 Barrels Oil/Yr
  • CO2 Emissions: 6.9 Tons/Yr

Long Term Updates

Mileage: N/A

When we crowned the all-new Volkswagen Jetta as our Drivers’ Choice Best Small Car of the Year, it was in no small part due to one model, the TDI. This turbocharged diesel automatic promised to set new standards for performance and economy among non-hybrid cars.

And, after the first month on our long term lot, we’re happy to say it is so far living up to our expectations. Fuel economy on low-sulfur diesel fuel is averaging 36 miles per gallon. And, as the Jetta loosens up, it will no doubt get better.

There has been talk about how this larger Jetta is less fun to drive. Well, you couldn’t tell it by us. While there is notable turbo-diesel lag from a stop, once rolling it delivers all of the sport sedan handling and braking of previous Jettas.

But, our only real complaint is the Bluetooth hands free phone system is fussy about linking up with some phones. Otherwise, we plan to jet the summer away in our new VW Jetta TDI.

Mileage: 6,500

Well, at 3 months and nearly 6,500 miles, our Jetta has more than confirmed its initial impressions.

Much of that is due to the outstanding engine in our car, Volkswagen’s 2.0-liter TDI turbocharged diesel. The optional 6-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission does shift roughly at times, yet this TDI still delivers commendable fuel economy of 34.4 mostly commuter miles per gallon of low-sulfer diesel.

Yes, there is a tad of turbo lag from a standstill, but you quickly forget about it, especially when you ask this agile compact to navigate tight corners or come to a short, safe stop. And, there’s no penalty in ride comfort like the typical sport sedan.

The interior is 5-adult roomy, especially in back seat leg room. And while our car’s optional nav screen is a bit small, we finally got our phones hooked up with the TDI’s standard BlueTooth feature. All of the most used controls are well organized and easy to understand.

Mileage: 8,100

Our Volkswagen Jetta TDI is another current Drivers’ Choice winner and it’s been with us for four months and 8100 miles so our log book is filling out.

Everyone loves the fuel economy of this clean 2-liter turbo diesel compact – 35.5 miles per gallon, up one full mpg since last report. The torquey 4-banger easily scoots around town, and there is plenty in reserve for high speed passing.

Last time, we complained about the very small nav screen. Its defenders responded that it’s more accurate and easy to use than most OEM systems.

Our Jetta is also wearing well, inside and out, and the seats have excellent support.

As we said in our original test, despite its simpler beam rear suspension, the new Jetta still handles better than most rivals. And, the ride is much improved. So, in ways most important to American families, like interior room, fuel economy, and value, the new Jetta rings their bell.

Mileage: 9,900

Checking in on our Volkswagen Jetta TDI shows that after 5 months and about 9,900 varied miles, it too is soldiering on without complaint.

However, we can’t help but rave about fuel economy. At 36.8 miles per gallon of low sulfer diesel, we just love passing up a chance to fill-up.

Chilly mornings have had no effect on starting the 2-liter turbo diesel. Once again, the torquey I4 is always willing and able with barely a hint of turbo lag.

The interior does borders on plain, but it is also function and all fabrics are wearing well.

Our staff knows a competent, comfortable, cost effective driving experience when they see one and that’s our VW Jetta TDI.

Mileage: 10,500

There is always one long term vehicle that becomes unflappable. Able for just about any routine duty and nearly invisible while doing it. That describes our 8 months with another Drivers’ Choice pick, the Volkswagen Jetta TDI.

No matter how low the temperature, this clean diesel cranks right up, and goes about its day without complaint.

And fuel economy? Well, how does 37 miles per gallon of low sulfur diesel strike you? We love it.

After 6 months and 10,500 miles there’ve been no mechanical issues. Yes, we have mentioned the smallish navigation screen and an overall very generic appearance inside and out. But, that’s all subjective.  So, our objective opinion is the Volkswagen Jetta TDI is a compact sedan that won’t steer you wrong.

Mileage: 13,100

Our 2011 TDI clean diesel is running like a fine watch after nearly 9 months and some 13,100 mostly stop-and-go miles. That makes fuel economy of 36.9 miles per gallon of diesel even more impressive. We’ve no mechanical faults, and even minor complaints are rare. A new one is that when you take our automatic TDI in and out of Park, it sometimes lunges a bit, and you momentarily think you’re not in gear. Otherwise, we’re still high on our VW Jetta TDI.

Mileage: 13,500

Our 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI is certainly keeping us happy. After over 9 months of stop-and-go miles, fuel economy is averaging 36 miles per gallon of ultra-low sulfur diesel.

We’ll take that in this comfortable, well handling, if smallish family sedan, any day of the week.

At the 13,500 mile mark there are no mechanical issues. A larger NAV screen and a smoother park to drive automatic shift are the only recent notes in our log book.

Otherwise, the VW Jetta TDI keeps us smiling all the way passed the gas pump.

Mileage: 15,000

Ten months and some 15,000 miles – that’s how long we’ve been driving this 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI. And, we’ve enjoyed every bit of it. This solid, roomy, and highly efficient compact has just made us even bigger diesel fans. Fuel economy is an excellent 36.3 miles per gallon, especially considering our Jetta endures mostly urban driving. Still, when we do get a chance to cut loose on back roads, this family duty Jetta turns into a very competent sports sedan.

Besides agility, comfort, and economy, our Jetta has also been trouble free. A rough automatic shift out of park and into drive is the only minor drivability issue. We think the VW Jetta TDI will make even the most harden petrol fanatics go head over heels for diesel.

Mileage: 16,000

We’re closing in on a year with this Volkswagen Jetta TDI and continue to be impressed with the exceptional mileage of this compact sedan. We’re averaging 36.0 miles per gallon of diesel after 16,000 largely urban miles.  But, the real story of the new Jetta is what a fine small family and sporty sedan it is; good for both slogging through traffic, and making quick work of more interesting country roads. Nitpicks are just that. Too small a NAV screen, and a sometimes rough park to 1st gear automatic shift. And that’s it! It may be a little bland to look at, but the VW Jetta TDI is far more than what meets the eye.

The only thing better would be a big, affordable SUV with an efficient turbo diesel engine. That’s what powers our 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI compact sedan. Fuel economy is exceptional at 36.3 miles per gallon of low sulfer diesel. And, while we do live in a metro area, we’ve had no problems with finding diesel pumps in the boondocks.  But, what makes us really smile about the Jetta is the total driving experience. In our initial test we said the new Jetta was not as sporty as its predecessor. After a year, we now feel the Jetta is a very comfortable, reliable compact sedan that still handles better than its peers.

Mileage: 19,911

After 13 months and 19,911 enjoyable miles, it’s time to wrap up our long term road test on this 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI.

While we were already fans of modern clean diesels before this Jetta TDI arrived, after living with it 24/7, we are bigger fans than ever. For less than $25,000 to start, with an automatic, you not only get a modern and very efficient compact – we averaged a hybrid-like 37.4 miles per gallon of diesel – but a great road car as well. While critics, ourselves included, were initially leery about this more Americanized Jetta, we’ve now concluded that any build-to-the-dollar tradeoffs have not seriously decreased this car’s sporty driving attitude. Our car’s 2-liter turbo diesel, 6-speed automatic front drive powertrain always had plenty of guts in reserve.

Yes, we will label its exterior and interior styling as conservative. But, from sight line to seat height to stereo controls, it all works well. If you have followed our reports you know we find the Nav screen too small and fussy, and there was the occasional rough shift from the automatic, but that’s it for troubles. The Volkswagen Jetta TDI is a frugal, reliable, comfortable, and fun to drive small family sedan. Good for both dodging urban traffic, and slicing up back roads. When you find a hybrid that fits that description, let us know.