Impersonal perfection from the new VW Jetta
Is it possible to make the auto world’s most benign offering even more … anonymous, but still enticing?
The Volkswagen Jetta, sterling in its ubiquity, magnificent in its lack of showiness, has taken a further step into the shadows with a 2011 re-do that makes it bigger, longer and … oddly, even more blase.
Admittedly, there’s a lot of folks who like that kind of thing, though (consider that the Chevy Malibu is still the seventh-best-selling car in the U.S., out there in low-altitude land), so maybe blander is better.
If the objective of the new Jetta (and the recently announced new Passat) is total domination of the American auto marketplace, it’s not going to happen purely based on sex appeal, though the 2011 version of Jetta is not an unpleasant vehicle to look at, or even to drive.
Rather, with highway mileage stickered at 31 mpg but 38 mpg experienced during my Interstate-heavy, Front Range test drive, the comfortable people-moving power and stunning efficiency do seem to live up to the auto’s tagline, “Great. For The Price of Good.”
Prices do start at just over $16,000. For not much more, the SEL model adds the world’s most low-key collection of high-tech bits (pushbutton starter, sequential six-speed automatic transmission and a weirdly understated navigation system).
Out on the open road, the170-horsepower, 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine makes for leisurely, front-wheel-drive takeoffs but ample energy for highway cruising. Snick it into sport mode and the revs take a turn for the enthusiastic. A stiff but sporty suspension also results in a fine but not explosive experience.
I think it was mostly the Jetta’s thoroughly contemporary but hard-to-differentiate design aesthetic that leaves me with cloudy memories of my test drive.
Jetta’s former upright, rectangular shape has been widened, flattened and lengthened (2.9 inches of extra length,
a big bonus to backseat passengers), with large headlamps and deeply contoured body lines.
But park it next to a new Hyundai Elantra and damn, Sam, it’s hard to
tell this class of cars apart, whatsoever. Step inside and the brutally contoured black plastic surfaces, leatherette interior and limited silver highlights reinforce sterility and efficiency.
The fully manual, heated seating is stiff but comfortable over a long haul; the open cupholders, unadorned center console and instrument panel also carry on the austere feel.
Jetta’s optional navigation system
is a peculiar highlight, with seemingly intentionally vague illustrations and
very weird scale and scrolling, but extreme accuracy.
The pushbutton starter is tiny and practically hidden near the shift lever; button-operated Bluetooth, a dedicated iPod line in the glove box and a powered sunroof are the other major upsell points.
Jetta’s biggest range of choices are the available engines, with the 2.5-liter supplanted by even-more fuel efficient 2.0 liter turbo diesel (42 mpg) or gas motors, or a more-sparky 2.0-liter turbo that pushes out 200 horsepower.
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