2011 would prove to be a huge year for VW. The Jetta had undergone a full redesign and was “Americanized” to take on the Civic and Corolla; territory that really wasn’t explored by the Germans. It grew up in design, prioritized affordability, and lost much of its German charm. So, with a starting price of less than $16,000, how does it do?

If I had one word to sum up the Jetta, it would be “Disappointing”. Most everything felt lackluster. I felt my passion leaving my body every mile I was stuck behind the wheel. I have driven Craigslist beaters that were just better than this. What went wrong?

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(Full Disclosure: VW wanted me to drive a 2011 Jetta so badly that they made one of my co-workers buy it secondhand from a buy here pay here lot to use as a simple daily driver. When he decided he had enough ,he found a deal on a brand new Challenger and decided he need to have it. The Jetta would be given to his dad. But he would need to drive it to the dealership and get it back home. That was where I came in.)

Exterior: 4/10

You know those generic cars that some commercials have to use? The Jetta design was based on this generic car. It really is boring. Nothing is offensive but on the other hand nothing is unique. This particular model was silver…which really doesn’t help its boringness. All in all I feel that much more attractive alternatives exist.

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Interior: 4/10

I’m thinking of a word that starts with P. It has seven letters. Sadly it isn’t puppies. Or pyramid. The word is: plastic. And this plastic is everywhere. The steering wheel. The dashboard. The door handles. Every piece of trim. And none of it is soft touch.

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This is a damn shame. VW used to make nice interiors. But this Americanized version…well it lost its charm. I guess they had to cut costs somewhere to hit that $16K price mark. Being a base model, blank buttons were everywhere. I wanted stickers to hide all of them. The speedo went all the way to 160, which is funny but I’ll explain why later. Also, buttons and stalks were confusing to read and understand. Supposedly it had cruise control, but I never found it. There isn’t even a center console or armrest! And the shape of the door means you can’t rest your arms on it comfortably either.

On the plus side, the interior is very large. You see, the Germans knew that we Americans were becoming a bit on the large side, so they had to make the interior very large. Backseat legroom felt like the best out of anything in its class. There was plenty of elbow room. The trunk is also absurdly large. Sadly, the seats were still a little hard and weren’t that comfy for my hour and a half drive. Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by Volvo seats though. The pattern on the black cloth was also just a little busy.

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Acceleration: 2/10

Base model blues were found here. 115 HP is what you get out of the 2.0 litre inline 4 engine. Mated with a six speed automatic transmission, 0-60 times were at least 12 seconds if not longer. I get the 2.slow jokes now. Mashing the pedal was the only way to achieve this as well. This made a terrible noise. This car made me miss my Civic.

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On the highway, once I reached 70 MPH, that was about it. On a downhill bit, I reached 85 which involved mashing the throttle an hearing the engine rev endlessly without any movement on the speedometer. I do not think this car could hit 100 MPH. You would be smarter and better off splurging and getting the 2.5 inline 5 cylinder engine instead.

Brakes: 3/10

This may be one of those “your results may vary” things but on my over 50,000 mile example, the brakes were not good. It has drums all around. The pedal was pure mush and had no linear feel at all. There also was what sounded like air in the lines whenever you depressed the pedal. Even on brand new tires, I was not confident in braking distances and just wasn’t thrilled with their response or performance.

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Ride: 5/10

The car has a totally new setup for the American market. Gone is the German charm and flair of yesteryear. Body roll is well controlled. I found the ride a little bouncy personally, but some people, especially the average consumer would prefer this. The car uses a torsion beam rear suspension which although cheaper isn’t the worst thing about this car.

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Handling: 4/10

I didn’t feel safe going over 50 though because of the vague handling and vibration in the wheel. The suspension isn’t translated well to the steering and leaves a bit to be desired. It feels sort of lifelike and very light. You cannot turn off any of the safety nannies (that would cost money) and therefore it becomes kind of boring. I guess again the average Joe wouldn’t care. But anyone who remotely enjoys a drive or two down a backroad would not have much fun.

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Gearbox: 4/10

For the sake of fuel economy, you get a six speed DSG transmission. This was honestly a surprise to me, considering at the time many of the Jetta’s competition still used a 5 speed automatic. I wish I could say it was a good automatic, but that wouldn’t be easy. Part of the reason why acceleration was so slow was due to the fact that you could never get over 5000 RPM in a gear. It shifted early to try and save fuel. It work great for efficiency and was rather smooth, but for performance it failed.

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There is a sport mode. This tries to hold the gears a little longer, but really just makes more annoying engine drones. On the plus side, the manual shift mode is there (unlike a lot of competition) and it does somewhat listen to what you ask of it.

Audio: 2/10

The standard four speaker system is weak. Even messing with the settings didn’t solve a thing. Every song sounded very tinny and quiet. Raising the volume made things hard to understand and felt like the speakers were going to blow out. There was no bass. Some speakers did sound blown already. There was space for an aux cord, which was nice to have. It’s a shame that the speakers couldn’t support it well enough.

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The engine always sounded out of breath. It was quite loud inside the cabin as well. I didn’t want to push the car just because I didn’t want to hear the little engine struggle. It made a lot more noise than I expected. Sadly, all that noise went with no go. So it just wasn’t worth it.

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Toys: 3/10

The base model has air conditioning, a four speaker sound system with CD player, power windows, daytime running lights, an aux cord, plenty of airbags, and supposed cruise control. A small digital screen in the middle of the gauge cluster tells you important details. That’s about it. Then again, this is a $16K car. I guess it just has what you need and none of what you don’t.

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Value: 6/10

The base price of $16,000 is a very appealing number. It is able to give many people the ability to drive something nicer than a Honda or Toyota. VW still has a somewhat more valuable name. People will be glad to say they drive a German machine; even if it is built in Mexico.

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You get a very large car with the safety features you want. Things are well built and put together. The doors are solid. Gas mileage is better than others in its class.

Sadly, VW reliability is still low. Depreciation, unless you buy the TDI, is also an issue; more so than any Honda or Toyota. But in the long run, all of this can change and you may end up kicking yourself for not getting that Civic instead.

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Total: 37/100

Engine: 2.0 Litre Inline Four
Power: 115 HP at 5,200 RPM/ 125 LB-FT at 4,000 RPM
Transmission: 5 speed manual or 6 speed automatic
0-60 Time: 12.0 seconds+ (estimated)
Top Speed: Not Specified
Drivetrain: Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 2,804 lbs
Seating: 5 people
MPG: 24 city/29 highway

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MSRP: $15,995