The 2011 Jetta has been redesigned this year. In an effort to increase its competitiveness with compact sedan rivals such as the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic, Volkswagen has decreased the sticker price of the Jetta and elongated the body, providing more than 3 feet of legroom in the rear. This year’s Jetta arrives in three unleaded gasoline trims—the base S, the mid-range SE, and the high-end SEL—and a diesel-powered TDI. While the SEL uses the same engine as the SE, it offers additional standard features, as well as a Sport option package.
Outside, the SEL is distinguished by its chrome grille and window trim, SEL badging, and foglights inserted into the front bumper. Heated, body-colored side mirrors integrate turn signals (similar to the SE), but the SEL offers the largest standard wheels: 17-inch Joda alloy. The SEL also provides standard, heated windshield washer nozzles to prevent freezing. Volkswagen has also revamped the exterior look of the Jetta with an emphasis on the horizontal. While some find the new look stylish and modern, others feel that the Jetta now looks simply like any generic sedan.
Inside, the SEL trim is nicely equipped, with manual air conditioning with a pollen filter, an Immobilizer III theft deterrent system, front armrest with storage (although not the adjustable armrest found in previous generations) and standard cruise control. In addition to standard dash display items (temperature, speedometer, tachometer, odometer, clock, etc.) the SEL adds a standard multi-function trip computer. While all of the Jetta trims provide power windows and power locks with two remote key fobs, the SEL is the only trim level to provide standard keyless entry with push-button start. Like the SE, the SEL offers dual front reading lights and two illuminated visor vanity mirrors. The SEL distinguishes itself, however, from lower trim levels with standard technology: a 6-speaker touchscreen Premium VIII sound system, Bluetooth, MDI with iPod cable in the glovebox, and standard SIRIUS Satellite Radio with a 3-month trial subscription. An RNS 315 navigation system with a 5-inch touchscreen and SD memory card reader is also standard at this trim level. The system, while easy to use, lacks some of the standard features expected in most navigation packages (e.g., it fails to incorporate external data, such as weather or traffic, as well as failing to read out street names) and some find that the 5-inch screen is too small. The leather-wrapped newly designed steering wheel integrates Bluetooth and audio controls.
Unlike other trims, the SEL uses a metallic-looking chrome interior trim. Unfortunately, the trim is now silver-painted plastic, and most reviews agree that it contributes to the overall cheaper look and feel of the interior. The plastic is harder and shinier, and there is less padding on the hard surfaces.
Seating for five in the SEL is covered with V-Tex leatherette, rather than the cloth of the base S trim. V-Tex has earned praise from owners for its easy clean-up. The SEL provides 6-way adjustable front seats which, at this trim level, provide standard heat and adjustable lumbar support for the driver. Rear seats fold in a 60/40 split with a center rear armrest that integrates cupholders and a central pass-through to the spacious trunk (15.5 cubic feet of cargo room).
The SEL comes with a standard five-speed manual transmission and a 2.5-liter, inline five-cylinder DOHC engine with 170 hp at 5,700 rpm and 177 lb-ft of torque at 4,250 rpm, and fuel economy of 23 mpg city/33 highway and a 0-60 time of 8.2 seconds. An optional six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic and Sport modes delivers similar numbers, with 24 mpg city/31 highway and a 0-60 time of 8.5 seconds. Although reviews seem to see the SEL’s engine as providing a solid ride, several noted a brief pause in the throttle after initial acceleration from a stop.
This year’s SEL, as with other trims, has converted the vehicle’s suspension from front and rear independent to a rear torsion beam system (one of the cost-saving measures). Although reviews do not seem to miss the independent suspension, it was noted that small bumps were easily felt, particularly with the optional and stiffer sport suspension. Steering is now hydraulic power assisted, rather than the previous generation’s electronic power steering, and this does seem to be a weak area for the new Jetta, with reviews noting numb and unresponsive steering. The antilock brakes at this trim level are all disc (lower-priced trims come with rear drum brakes), with brake assist, electronic differential lock, electronic brake-pressure distribution, anti-slip and electronic stability control, to enhance the Jetta’s braking effectiveness, traction and control during hazardous conditions.
The standard safety features of the SEL match those found in the other trims, including six airbags, tire pressure monitoring, and the Intelligent Crash Response system to activate the hazard lights, cut off the fuel supply and release the power locks when the airbags are deployed.
The SEL is available with two optional packages. The first offers a tilt/slide tinted sunroof. The second, a Sport Package, includes the sunroof but adds a sport suspension (giving a firmer ride), sport bolsters in the seats for additional support on the corners and aluminum-look sport pedals and door sills.