The cheapest Volkswagen Jetta you can buy today starts at $22,175, though with discounts of up to $2,500 - perhaps more - the real transaction price before taxes and fees should come in at less than $20,000.
And that's way, way too expensive for a car that essentially competes with the likes of small sedans such as the Mazda3, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus. Three of those four start at less than $16,000 and the Focus has a base price below $15,000. With discounts, all of them sell for much less.
VW, which aspires to become the biggest car company in the world by 2018, knows very well that the Jetta needs to be repositioned as a legitimate rival to these others if sales are to grow substantially. Which is why it has announced a starting price for the 2011 Jetta of $15,875.
In essence, the 2011 Jetta - which had its world debut in New York's Times Square last month and will go on sale in September - is being flip-flopped in VW's lineup with the reinvented 2010 VW Golf hatchback. For years, the Jetta has been the slightly upscale VW compact, while the Golf was lower down in the lineup, an entry model. No more.
The Jetta is about to become VW's starter car. Unlike all its competition, though, VW Canada will offer buyers four engine choices: three gasoline engines and one turbodiesel direct-injection engine). The entry-level engine is 115 horsepower, while the diesel produces 140 hp and 236 lbs-ft of torque. VW also has its 170-hp 2.5-litre five-cylinder gasoline engine. At the top of the range is a turbocharged 2.0-litre direct-injection gasoline power plant with 200 hp.
All four engines go on sale in Canada in September, though in the U.S. you might have read that VW plans to limit offerings to Jettas with the base engine and the 2.5-litre. In the U.S., the 2011 TDI will appear next February or March and the gas turbo in May.
As for looks, the new design is not a radical move, but it does look better than most $16,000 cars. It's also bigger and has more rear legroom, which should appeal to buyers in Canada and the U.S.
This Jetta will arrive just before Ford is launches a new Focus and Hyundai a new Elantra - both around January 2011. That means older models in this segment like the Honda Civic will suffer - and the only way to keep sales reasonably healthy will be through deep discounting.
So look for big bargains on Civics, Corollas and Mazda3s in the coming year. Yes, even Honda may finally have to put some serious money behind its Civic to keep buyers interested.