The Volkswagen Jetta's graceful ride back down to earth

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Sunday, October 17, 2010; 2:31 AM

HOUSTON By Warren Brown

Special to The Washington Post

There was a problem.

The 2011 Nissan Juke crossover-utility model I planned to write about this week was unavailable. It was my fault, a case of irrational expectations. It seems my powers are limited. I ask for certain cars. But they don't necessarily come when I want them, which is not a bad thing.

The global automobile industry is hyper-competitive. Companies fight for every chance to push their products ahead. Word got out that my promised delivery of a Juke was a joke.

"Does that mean you have time for our car?" a Volkswagen representative said.

Of course, it did, especially inasmuch as the VW model in question was the 2011 Jetta 2.5 SEL sedan.

The Jetta has been around in various iterations since 1979, when it was little more than a notchback version (traditionally styled sedan with trunk) of a Volkswagen Golf hatchback. It was a knee-jerk design modification made in obeisance to the myth that Americans hate hatchbacks.

But a then-growing sense of economic well-being in the United States, fueled by deceptively easy credit, highlighted a retail truth: People who think they can afford nicer things tend to demand what they think they can afford.

The once-homely Jetta thus acquired the interior of a more expensive Audi. There were soft-touch vinyl plastics, supple leathers and "pleather," which is vinyl engineered to resemble supple leather when buyers deem real leather too expensive, or possibly offensive to animal rights.

Irrational economic exuberance brought other luxury touches, including hydraulic hinges that seemed to allow trunk lids end engine hoods to float up and remain aloft when open, as if by magic.

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