The sixth-generation, 2011 Jetta sedan looks big for a small sedan aimed at the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and others. And it is - class-leading rear seat room and cargo space stand out.
But the most important, the biggest new-car segment in Canada - compact cars - is always a moving target. Even as the Jetta heads into showrooms this fall, VW's rivals are on the move. The new Chevrolet Cruze, which replaces the Cobalt, is also coming this fall. After that, new versions of the Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra arrive - likely just past the new year.
To compete, VW has priced the new Jetta very competitively - $15,875 base, with a TDI diesel starting at $23,875. The base gas engine is a 115-horsepower four-cylinder, while the up-market gasoline model is a 170-hp five-cylinder.
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Most buyers will want the bigger engine, but to get it buyers will need to spend at least $21,175 - the base Comfortline 2.5L. The 2.0-litre four-banger has output well below the base motors of major Japanese competitors from Honda, Mazda and Toyota. And VW's gas-powered engines are offered with either a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transaxle.
Here's the question: Why not just bite the bullet and spend another $2,700 for the more fuel-efficient, smoother diesel and be done with it? The 2.0-litre, 140-hp turbodiesel is an excellent motor, gives you a range of more than 1,190 km on a single tank and it's available with a six-speed manual or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic. The 2.0-litre turbocharged gas motor arrives early next spring in the sporty GLI model.
The least-expensive Jettas are also getting drum brakes, which are cheaper than discs - and why Honda and Toyota use them on the cheaper versions of their Civic and Corolla models. This Jetta also has a less expensive torsion beam "semi-independent" rear axle, versus the fully independent rear suspension that had been standard fare. The high-performance GLI will use a fully independent multilink arrangement in back when it arrives next year.
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The steering system is hydraulic assist versus last generation's electric assist. It's a cost-cutting measure, sure, but not a bad one; too many electric-assist systems lack feel.
Obviously, VW has gone about cost-cutting in a big way. And that story carries on into the interior. The fit and design here are all good - agreeable and sensible, right down to the easy-to-use optional navigation system ($890, but only on the most expensive versions). There is less shiny trim and there are more shiny plastic surfaces, and little touches such as the former height-adjustable centre console bin cover/armrest have been replaced by a fixed design. The seat design feels good at first, but a lack of support is tiring over time.
What stands out more than anything, however, is the substantial feel of this new model. It feels like a VW should - solid and planted. The ride is, in fact, relatively stiff for the segment.
Keep in mind, too, that this is a bigger Jetta than before, which means the back seat is big and comfortable enough for adults. The trunk is likewise generously sized.
VW Canada is aiming to sell 24,000 of these new Jettas in a full calendar year and that seems like an eminently attainable target. It's a solid car with some real VW cachet and plenty of space. But it's not the sporty ride VW delivers in the Golf hatchback/wagon.
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2011 Volkswagen Jetta
Type: Compact sedan
Price range: $15,875-$26,655 (plus $1,395 freight)
Engines: 2.0-litre four-cylinder/2.5-litre five-cylinder/2.0-litre TDI diesel.
- 115 hp/125 lb-ft for four-cylinder
- 170 hp/175 lb-ft for five-cylinder
- 140 hp/236 lb-ft for diesel
Transmissions: Five-speed manual and six-speed automatic for gas engine; six-speed manual and six-speed DSG automatic for diesel
Fuel economy (litres/100 km):
- 9.1 city/6.0 highway for four-cylinder; regular gas
- 9.9 city/6.2 highway for five-cylinder; regular gas
- 6.7 city/4.6 highway for diesel; diesel fuel
Alternatives: Kia Forte, Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Mazda3, Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra