Friday, June 17, 2011

2011 VW Jetta is nice at a bargain price

Sacramento, California – I have to hand it to the marketing folks at Volkswagen: They hit the mark spot-on with the 2011 Jetta campaign.

The venerable VW model underwent a bumper-to-bumper redesign for the 2011 model year, and the good Volks running the automaker’s PR machine touted the ridiculously low starting price of around $15,000 for the base version.

For that, you get a bigger, Euro-styled, dependable four-door ride getting nice fuel numbers of 24 miles per gallon in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.

Keeping in mind that there are ELEVEN trim levels of the Jetta, my SE version of the car was still a bargain at around $20,000, which includes the nearly $800 destination charge. There are certain things you expect from a discount-priced car with a high profile name, and we’ll get to those in a minute.

There are also some surprises. And by far the biggest surprise was the performance of the 2.5-liter, 170-horsepower, in-line 5 engine. It performed waaaayyyy beyond what I expected of it, especially given the Jetta’s front-wheel-drive configuration.

Acceleration off the line was decidedly robust, and power kept coming on aggressively even when the Jetta was rolling along in the higher revs. I could have sworn I had an extra 25 horses more than advertised as I wheeled the Jetta SE through dicey freeway traffic and up steep inclines.

Handling and steering were excellent as the Jetta casually straightened out portions of twisty roadways and zipped in and out of downtown rush-hour traffic. Interior comfort for five folks was good. Seats were comfortable. Trunk space was pretty fair.

For the price, I expected cutbacks somewhere. Seems like they made those in the dashboard, which was very sparse for a family sedan. The basic comfort/convenience features are inside to be sure, but there was nothing extra to play with. The center stack of controls was pretty much what I’d expect of a fleet car.

Is that a sin? No, especially if you’re marketing the Jetta as an affordable family car getting some not-so-bad gas mileage. Honda and Toyota have been playing that game for years. The Jetta is now a comparatively stylish player in the segment.

Young families or older families looking for a reliable car for their young offspring should include the Jetta on their must-test-drive lists.

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