SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- The four-door Jetta, Volkswagen's best-selling compact sedan, gets a re-do for the sixth generation on an expanded unibody structure with choice of three fuel-thrifty powertrains and the metal shell honed to a smooth new shape.
Jetta for model-year 2011 measures larger in wheelbase length by nearly three inches for more backseat legroom yet the new vehicle actually weighs less than previous iterations. It spawns a new low-price base trim that packs a carload of electronic vehicle control devices for safety while also stocking luxury content for the top model.
All this applies to the reworked Jetta, with price points pared substantially below earlier issues.
We snare a price-leader Jetta S edition motivated by a four-in-line engine last employed by the New Beetle of 2005 vintage and send it scooting across the Golden Gate Bridge spanning San Francisco Bay.
We're riding the center lane of the 101 amid traffic flowing north into the coastal hills of Marin County, and we're propelled by the least-powerful engine in Jetta's 2011 retinue yet we do not find it struggling as there's torque on tap with each depression of the accelerator.
The gasoline-powered 2.0-liter four-pack plant achieves 115 hp at 5200 rpm with the torque running to 125 lb-ft at 4000 rpm.
A notchy five-speed manual transmission works well with the in-line-four, but also available for $1,000 extra is a six-speed electronic automatic transmission with sport mode and Tiptronic easy-shift stick action.
Fuel economy scores for Jetta's entry-level powertrain look good: 24 mpg City and 34 mpg Highway with the manual transmission, or 23/29 mpg City/Highway for the automatic.
Performance figures from Volkswagen indicate the Jetta S moves from zero to 60 mph in 9.8 seconds working the manual stick, or 11.0 seconds with automatic shifting.
And the whittled bottom line for Jetta base issue: Only $14,995.
Standard equipment on the S-trim Jetta includes air-conditioning, power controls to move the windows with one-touch auto up/down for all four windows, power locks on doors with a remote keyless entry device, outdoor temperature display, tilting and telescoping steering wheel, front bucket seats with six-way manual controls, a rear bench with folding seatback split 60/40, and a four-speaker audio kit with AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA.
The suspension system consists of front independent MacPherson struts with coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers, and a rear twist beam with coil springs and telescopic gas-pressurized shocks, plus stabilizer bar posted front and rear.
The power-assisted brakes employ vented discs in front and drums in the rear.
Active safety equipment includes an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic braking assist (EBA), plus VW's anti-slip regulation (ASR) throttle checker and electronic differential locking (EDL) that modulates engine torque on front wheels to maximize tire grip. And all of these acronyms are control components of the standard electronic stabilization program (ESP).
The list of passive safety gear includes dual-stage frontal air bags plus side-impact air bags for front seats and curtain-style air bags mounted in the roof above front and rear outboard seats, front seat safety belts with pretensioners and load limiters, three-point seat belts for three positions on the rear bench, and five head restraints with active whiplash protection on the front pair.
Jetta's 2011 line includes three additional trim levels and two more powertrains.
The well-equipped Jetta SE and top-of-the-line Jetta SEL draw from a dual-cam in-line five-cylinder plant with 2.5-liter displacement.
It produces 170 hp at 5700 rpm and torque of 177 lb-ft at 4250 rpm.
Acceleration figures surge -- zero to 60 mph in 8.2 seconds with the five-speed manual or 8.5 seconds with the six-speed Tiptronic automatic.
And still the fuel economy figures excel: 23/33 mpg City/Highway for manual transmission and 24/31 mpg City/Highway with the automatic.
Jetta SEL upgrades the brakes with vented front discs plus solid rear discs.
MSRP figures range from $18,195 (Jetta SE/MT5) to $22,495 (Jetta SEL/AT6).
Another variation is the diesel-powered TDI.
Jetta TDI totes a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that burns ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel and employs a common-rail direct injection (CDI) fuel system with electronically controlled turbo-charging to enhance engine power and torque.
It feels vigorous and acts quickly, drawing on the full force of the engine's production of 140 hp peaking at 4000 rpm plus 236 lb-ft of torque spread across a band from 1750 to 2500 rpm.
Drop that short stick down a gear on the six-speed manual transmission version and that engine torque surges from the shift to higher rpms.
Or use the six-speed Tiptronic automatic or even the optional twin-clutch and six-speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox), a remarkable automated manual transmission.
In general, cars equipped with diesel engines achieve better fuel economy figures than do cars with gasoline engines due to the higher energy content of diesel fuel and the overall efficiency of a diesel engine.
For Jetta TDI, the federal EPA sets fuel economy estimates at 30 mpg City and 42 mpg Highway with manual and automatic transmissions.
Price points for Jetta TDI extend from $22,995 with manual transmission to $24,095 with the automatic.
Jetta SE stocks more gear like 16-inch wheels and tires, leatherette seat upholstery, a front center console with storage box and cupholders, rear center armrest and pass-through with two cupholders, chrome cabin trim, cruise control, a lockable glove box and illuminated vanity mirrors in the front sun visors.
Jetta SEL goes further with 17-inch alloy wheels, foglamps plus exterior chrome trim, Keyless Access with push-button engine starter, a trip computer and touchscreen navigation system.
A large tilt/slide sunroof and premium audio equipment are on the option sheet.