Volkswagen Jetta — Debuting a 1.8L turbo

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The Volkswagen Jetta has been powered by a couple of noteworthy engines and a couple that weren’t so noteworthy over the last half dozen years. Our favorites have been the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder producing 200 horsepower, and the fuel efficient 2.0-liter turbo diesel. Unfortunately, the turbocharged 2.0-liter was not carried over to the newest generation Jetta in 2011.For 2014 the award-winning diesel is still available, as is an all-new 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that offers a winning combination of excellent gas mileage and noteworthy performance.

If you don’t want to spend the extra cash it takes to purchase the excellent TDI (diesel), the new turbocharged powerplant mated to a six-speed automatic is a great alternative.

We found that the new engine performs well at an
y speed with a fast-responding turbo to throttle inputs across a wide range of the rpm band regardless of what gear you are in. Turbo lag is not part of this engine’s makeup

The 1.8-liter makes 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque resulting in smooth, quiet performance measured at 0-to-60 in around 8 seconds. At the same time it yields excellent gas mileage EPA-rated at 25 mpg city, 36 highway and 29 combined with the six-speed automatic.

For the few among us who still get their kicks out of shifting their own gears, VW has made a five-speed manual available. It performs about the same as the automatic, but derives slightly better gas mileage of 26/36/30. The manual is not offered on the top trim SEL.

The Jetta is also offered in hybrid configuration with a total of 170 horsepower from a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine working in tandem with 20kW electric motor. EPA rating: 42 mpg city, 48 on the highway, 45 combined. Base price for the SE trim hybrid is $28,080. Jetta prices start at $16,365 for 2.0-liter including destination charge for a base car with few amenities. It will probably be difficult to find one on a lot.

Competitively, the Jetta starts at $17,540 for the S with the base engine and at $19,715 for an SE with manual transmission and the 1.8-liter engine. The gas engine models top out at $26,410 and the diesel at $28,235.

All told Volkswagen has basically held 2014 Jetta prices close to 2013 prices while adding some very appealing equipment. The SE brings such features as electric power steering, cruise control, leatherette upholstery, two-way power front seats, and a six-speaker sound system with satellite radio and an iPod interface.

The SEL and TDI trims include one-touch up and one-touch down windows at all four corners (a feature rarely seen on other compacts), heated seats, a rearview camera, a six-way power driver’s seat, sunroof, touchscreen navigation and an upgraded sound system.

The 1.8-liter turbocharged engine, together with a few other upgrades from 2013 models, gives the 2014 Jetta a new measure of refinement, performance and fuel economy. Some of the upgrades include the addition of a fully independent rear suspension replacing a torsion-beam setup used since 2011; four-wheel disc brakes in place of rear drums, which were also added in 2011; and an upgraded dashboard with soft-touch materials in the SEL and TDI trim packages.

The current generation Jetta has a considerable number of attributes including a spacious passenger compartment and a large trunk. When the Jetta was redesigned for the 2011 model year enlarging the passenger compartment was a big consideration. To this end, the wheelbase was stretched 2.9 inches, addressing one of the big concerns with the previous iteration, giving backseat passengers mid-sized comfort.

Rear-seat legroom has grown a substantial 2.6 inches from 35.5 inches to 38.1. That’s five more inches than a Ford Focus and two more inches than a Honda Civic. No more cramped quarters even for a six-footer. At the same time, Volkswagen did not cut into the generous 15.5 cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk.

Inside, the switchgear is intuitive, the gauges clear and easy to read, and the navigation system simple to operate. The controls feel substantial and well damped. Some people may find the Jetta interior unexciting compared to such models as the Focus and Elantra, but we find beauty in its simplicity.

Safety features are on a par with the competition including a full complement of airbags, antilock brakes and traction and stability control. A rearview camera is only offered in the SEL and TDI models. We think this feature should be included in all models. We also wish Volkswagen would include a blind spot monitoring system for the Jetta.

Base price: $16,365; as driven, $26,410
Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 170 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 184 foot-pounds @ 1,500 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 104.4 inches
Length: 182.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,070 pounds
Turning circle: 36.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 15.5 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 36 highway, 25 city
0-60: 8 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze

The Good
• Spacious interior
• Excellent new 1.8-liter turbocharged 4
• Solid driving demeanor

The Bad
• Rearview camera only on top trim levels

The Ugly
• Sluggish base engine