Moving Forward In Reverse

ALTHOUGH MOST of the media have focused on the decontented $16,000 2.0-liter Jetta, Volkswagen expects to sell substantially more of the well-equipped 2.5-liter SE and SZL Sports. Our 2011 SEL Sport tester showed up loaded to the lederhosen with 17-inch wheels, Bluetooth, navigation, and iPod integration. Predictably, the sticker price reflected its bevy of standard equipment, coming in at a substantially higher $23,765.

When launched just a few months ago, the new Jetta's styling received a harsh reception fromVW fans. This is becoming cojiimoiiplaue foiWV'asils style has waveied from decidedly German to generic, and now it's found middle ground for its big-volume small sedan. The 2011 Jetta was penned by Walter DeSilva,who is responsible for such recent standouts as the A5 and R8 and is currently one of the most copied designers in the industry.This explains the Jetta's classy styling and the most common criticisms of it looking like car X or car Y.

On the road, the Jetta still feels like a Volkswagen, possibly more so than the previous generation. Although it has grown and is no longer based on the Golf platform, it still has the characteristic feedback and

German feel that elevate it above a mere transpor:ation appliance. Steering is direct and communicative;in an effort to cut costs, "lie electric assist has been replaced by a more conventional hydraulic system. It uses more power, but steering feel is improved. Also in an effort to reduce costs, the previous car's multilink rear suspension was replaced with VW's traditional torsion beam. It might seem like a step backward on paper, but the average buyer will never notice, and enthuaia3t3 will appreciate the return of lift throttle oversteer.

One area that hasn't improved with budget cuts is Lhe inleiioi.Tlie MK5 JeLta set a new standard for interiors in a siĀ±>-$30,0C0 car. Its interior was even better than those of some cars costing twice as much. Unfortunately, VW dialed it back to a standard more in line with the car's pricing and competitors.While still comfortable and easy :o use, the dash's materials have gone from soft and supple to plastic-fantastic. In previous Jetta generations, passengers weren't getting a ride until the owner led them through the ritual of a good dash stroking It was as integral as fastening a seatbelt. Owners will now have to brag about improved fuel mileage and aluminum pedals instead.

While VW has aimed this car as a mainstream success,VW's faithful may actually like the car if they are willing to give it a chance. This Jetta is selling well,helped by 3-year/36,000-mile paid maintenance ar.d bumper-to-bumper warranty. Expect even more excitement when the turbo GLI version hits sometime in 2011. michael febbo

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