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2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI: First Drive

2011 VW Jetta TDI

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.—You know that old saying about not judging a book by its cover? Well, it kind of applies to the all-new 2011 Volkswagen Jetta.

The exterior sheet metal gets a complete overhaul, and gone is the almost whimsical wide-mouthed grille in favor of a much more sedate and conservative facade. The lines are long, harsh and lean, and the new Jetta looks more like a BMW than its Audi brethren.

I loved the wheel covers and the taillights. But, to me, everything else seemed like it’s been done before somewhere else. And, according to a comment on my blog: “It’s like a German re-incarnation of the 1993 Corolla.”

2011 VW Jetta TDI grille Ouch. I’m not sure I’d go that far.

But slip inside, and the exterior becomes less important. The interior is clean and functional, and my absolute favorite was the optional navigation system with large clear 4-color images and (the coolest of the cool) correct speed limits for each road you drive displayed in the upper left hand corner of the screen.

2011 Jetta TDI Navigation

Due to a 2.9 increase in overall length, the 2011 Jetta gains 2.7 inches in the rear legroom department, which gets it “class-leading” status at 38.1 inches. Other dimensional changes are minimal (a half inch or less), but in case you’re interested, front and rear shoulder room get an increase while cargo volume and headroom decrease.

During the first look at the Jetta, I had the opportunity to drive the mid-level SE model ($18,195), in both manual and automatic transmissions, and the TDI ($22,995) with a manual transmission. I loved them all in terms of ride and comfort, but I have to admit the TDI was my all-out favorite in terms of power and performance.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel injection (TDI) engine delivers 140 horsepower and a stellar 236 pound-feet of torque. Even better, EPA estimates city/highway fuel economy at 30/42 mpg, with a combined estimate of 34 mpg. These numbers were pretty spot on during our wending trek, and we averaged 33 mpg during a 4-hour drive period.

2011 VW Jetta TDI manual shifter

Mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, I did a lot of driving in 3rd and 4th gears on city streets and curvy California back-country roads. These gears were perfectly powered for the 30 to 50 mph speeds, and I thoroughly enjoyed the easy shifter. Whether I was pushing it through the corners or passing on the highway, the TDI had exactly the right amount of power exactly when I wanted it.


VW estimates that the TDI will be 25 percent of models sold for 2011.

The SE with the 170-horsepower engine was no slouch either, and I liked both the 5-speed manual and 6-speed automatic. It lacked some of the oomph of the TDI, but it was still well powered and had that great fun-to-drive aura.

The new Jetta will have two additional gasoline engine options: a base 2.0-liter at the S trim level ($15,995) that delivers 115 horsepower and a top-of-the-line 2.0-liter TSI at the SEL trim level ($21,395) that delivers 200 horsepower.

The gasoline version of the Jetta will show up in dealers this October, and the TDI will be available by the end of the year. A GLI model with a 2.0-liter TSI engine that delivers 200 horsepower will be available in early 2011. And for 2012, look for a Jetta Hybrid.

The Jetta takes direct aim at the Honda Civic, and with a base price at $16K, class-leading rear legroom and bevy of included features for a price that’s less than a comparable Civic, it just might be a direct hit.

- Jill Ciminillo

Drive She Said

2011 VW Jetta TDI rear

(Photo Credits: Jill Ciminillo)

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5 comments ↓

#1 Glenn Barnett on 09.11.10 at 4:36 pm

Pathetic redesign – amazing loss of the more expensive rear end wishbone links too. All you had to do was lengthen the current and still proper Jetta. My 2009 VW Sportwagen TDI had a terrible and cheap build quality. This cars fit and finish started off great and after only 10,000 miles, I thought it was an early 80′s Plymouth. Rattles, glues that failed, interior degredatoin – I will pass on this VW and all the next so long as VW chooses to be the next Korean crap manufacturer.

#2 arthur on 10.06.10 at 11:55 pm

sorry to disagree Glenn. I guess all is based on personal experiences.
Currently driving a nissan but will switch back to VW when replacing next year.
All my previous VW’s (untill 2007 Passat) never let me
down with handling and interior quality and finish.
Looking forward to my testdrive in the 2011 Jetta and expecting to feel a real VW again.

#3 Cedric on 11.30.10 at 8:49 am

We have a 06 Jetta TDI with 80k miles. DSG. really nice since day one. Not single issue, tho maintenance is rather expensive.Solid GTI feeling still after 4 years.
I just got a certified used Passat 2007, and built quality since to be a little less…german. Only has 44k and 1 subtle but annying rattle passed 40mph. Suspension crash and feels vague. Everything else is top top notch. Engine, transmission (2.0T, trip) and overall inside/outside percieve quality…
Passat aver Mpg 26mpg
Jetta aver Mpg 39mpg.

#4 Dana on 06.24.11 at 2:20 pm

I purchased a TDI about 31/2 months ago and first tanks averaged about 40 MPG and last two fill-ups have been at 46 MPG. We also had a few at around 43 MPG in-between. Have been pretty satisfied so far. We live out in country so this is not city driving but it also is not over the road. Only draw back was price was a little salty but life of engine might help hopefully, plus savings on fuel.

#5 Mr. Hock on 10.13.11 at 8:47 pm

The drivers side whistles at 60+ mph with the window open. The interior of the car started rattling when I had 4,000 miles. VW refuses to acknowledge the problem with the drivers side mirror and my service manager said it is a design flaw, but after 4 attempts, could not fix it. All CC’s and Jetta’s will have this problem.

I regret my purchase of this vehicle and would not recommend it.

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