Reviews

2012 Volkswagen Jetta Walk Around

The 2012 Volkswagen Jetta competes with compact cars such as the Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze, but it is really a small midsize car. The sedan, redesigned for 2011, is three inches longer than the previous-generation models, with a wider track.

The Jetta sedan is more shapely than before with curves that are subtle and sweet. The door handles are body color and there is very little chrome trim. That goes against today's grain, sticking to the traditional notion that clean is beautiful. Even the new grille is anti-chrome, with black horizontal bars, as well as a tray-shaped front spoiler under the front bumper that suggests the splitter on a race car. It's an upscale improvement over the previous Jetta's bigger mouth.

Nowhere is the Jetta sedan overstyled or oversculpted; VW has it over BMW in that area. The lines are crisp and precise, with strong wheel arches, a smooth roofline and attractive C pillars. The nose and shoulders, viewed from the side of the car looking forward, give the front end an attractive Infiniti-like roundness.

At the rear, there's a neat aerodynamic lip at the trailing edge of the remote-opening trunk, and powerful taillights.

The GLI gets a crosshatch treatment for the front grille and lower air intake, sportier front and rear fascias and side sills, a unique design for the fog lights, and larger wheels. The total effect is a stronger, sportier stance.

Introduced for the 2009 model year, the SportWagen's styling was a precursor to the brand new sedan. It features the same front end treatment, but has a notable crease along the beltline that the sedan lacks and comes standard with roof rails. It's about three inches shorter in both length and wheelbase, so some of the proportions are different. Of course the roof line is longer, but it seems to slant down toward the rear. Still, with a heavy tail, the SportWagon has a bulbous rear that isn't the sleekest design.

Interior

The Jetta has historically held a reputation for high-end interiors with soft-touch surfaces. Yet journalists have complained about its high pricing compared to the competition. For 2011, Volkswagen decontented the sedan's interior (as well as some of the engineering) to reduce costs, and now VW is still hearing it from the automotive press for the perceived lack of quality.

New Car Test Drive reviewers have a mixed opinion on the new interior. Some feel the content that was dropped won't be greatly missed, and the new materials are still of high quality. Others say it's a shame to reduce interior quality with hard plastics while the Ford Focus, Chevy Cruze and Hyundai Elantra have brought theirs up. Whichever side you land on, the look and feel of the Jetta cabin is still better than that of the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. It's clean, stylish and comfortable, while being accommodating and functional. The instruments, with clean white-on-black numbering, are handsome, too.

Volkswagen has incorporated the small creature comforts. Comfortable driver armrests, convenient cupholders, good door pockets and grab handles: check, check, check, check. Between the center seats there's an emergency brake handle, two cupholders, and a smallish console with an armrest.

There's good headroom front and rear. Rear-seat legroom is first in class at 38.1 inches; compare that to the 38.4 inches in a BMW 7 Series and you can see that the Jetta makes great use of space. The wheelbase is stretched 2.6 inches compared to the last generation, and that translates to more legroom with no sacrifices; it's win, win, win: ride, safety, room. When the optional rear seat pass-through is chosen, it has a pair of cupholders in a fold-down armrest, and it makes the large 15.5-cubic-foot trunk even more useful.

While we like the look of the navigation system with its 5-inch touchscreen, the nameless icons had us stumped, at first. The voice directions don't name the upcoming street on which to turn, instead saying things like turn right at the second street ahead, which leaves wide room for confusion especially as the distance varies. This is inferior to most systems, which reliably name the desired street. Twice we used navigation to get us out of downtown San Francisco onto the Golden Gate Bridge north from our hotel, and it gave us two different routes, neither the quickest or most direct. We also had issues with the cadence of the navigation programming. It takes a second or two for touch commands to register, and that can make programming an address a tiresome waiting game.

We like the ability to tune the radio with a knob, however, and the new Fender audio system is crystal clear and manages high volume well. The driver information display is located neatly between the tachometer and speedometer, and is easy to scan: clock, fuel mileage, range, odo, thermometer. The climate controls are also clean and easy to use.

The SportWagen features the last-generation Jetta interior. It's a higher quality environment, but with less space. Impressive, solid, soft-touch materials abound, worthy of cars costing thousands more. SportWagen owners or those coming out of a last-generation Jetta will find the current sedan's hard plastic dashboard a disappointment.

The SportWagen's rear seat is tighter than the sedan's by 2.6 inches in legroom and an inch in headroom. It's still fairly useful, but the sedan is much more passenger friendly. The SportWagen, on the other hand, is far more cargo friendly. It has 32.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats and an SUV-like 66.9 cubic feet of space with the rear seats folded down.

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