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2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE

One of the most economical and entertaining compact sedans to drive.


Reviewed Model - 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE

Unusually for a manufacturer of affordable automobiles, Volkswagen is a marque with an enthusiastic following. There are independent car clubs, magazines, and websites devoted to the German-based manufacturer's products, worldwide. VW has been part of American popular culture since the days of the Type 1 "Beetle" sedan in the 1950s, and to an extent that no other foreign-nameplate automaker can match.

That's not all necessarily good for VW aspirations, though. VW might have been the number one import brand in the U.S. in the heyday of the Beetle, but increasing competition, especially from Japanese-based manufacturers, relegated it to secondary status after that. And while its cars proved popular among the VW faithful, the faithful weren't all that numerous and those vehicles usually got at best a lukewarm reception from the masses. VW Group wants to be Number One in world sales, and success in the American market is critical to that.

So VW gambled big-time with the release of the latest version of the Jetta, its most popular vehicle here, in model year 2011. Styling was simplified, and the car apparently de-contented, all the better to be sold for a lower price. Lower price being key to greater market share, especially in the American market.

The faithful screamed, and the masses bought. De-contented details like reversion to a torsion-beam rear suspension from independent and lower-cost hard plastics in the interior bothered the mainstream buyer not a bit. The faithful still had their older cars, or upscale versions of the Jetta like the performance-oriented GLI.

Or they could wait until right about; now. While the 2014 Jetta doesn't look much different from those made since mid-2010, there are some important changes for the better under that skin. Don't look for that budget rear suspension -- even the base model 2.0L, with a 2.0-liter, 115-horsepower engine, gets a multilink independent system now, as do all of the rest. And don't look for the 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, either. It's been replaced in SE and SEL models by a 1.8-liter turbo, with the same 170 horsepower, but notably better torque at 184 lb-ft. versus the 2.5's 177. More parts to the rear suspension may add a bit of weight, but the lighter and more compact 1.8T contributes to a 60-pound weight loss, all the better for both performance and fuel economy. It, and the 2.0, are matched to either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The turbodiesel TDI and high-performance GLI continue with few changes, no complaints there.

I first drove a 2014 Jetta 1.8T at VW's full-line press event in California's Napa Valley last summer. The first car I took out on the drive portion was a red Jetta SE with the five-speed stick. If I didn't have that same car as last week's test car, I had its identical twin, an SE with Connectivity model with the stick. "Connectivity" here means Bluetooth® and VW Car-Net connectivity and interior and exterior upgrades. Above that is "With Connectivity and Sunroof", self-explanatory, and SEL, with most everything included.

You could make a case for the 1.8T replacing the GLI, but, energetic as the new engine is, it's not really that. Yes, it's a blast to drive, absolutely, with a happy and addictive turbo kick and wide swath of torque. There is less than from the 2.0T, most noted when having to downshift climbing long, steep highway hills. The suspension is standard VW tuning, supple and comfortable, but with more body roll the stiffer, lower calibration found in the GLI. So maybe call it “ GLI Lite “ and if fuel economy is a concern, the 29 mpg average I got for the week was not bad at all, and in fact far better than I ever got from the (much used) 1969 Beetle that was my first car. Most entries in the compact sedan class are mere transportation; the new VW Jetta is far more than that.

Watch the "Dub Chat" 2014 Jetta video

APPEARANCE: No major changes outside, and none really needed. The current Jetta's clean lines should age very well. It strikes a good balance between angles and curves, never too boxy nor too rotund. Although it's a three-box sedan, the highly-raked windshield and rear window banish the box look, without trying to be a faux coupe. There is nothing wrong with a sedan being a sedan!

COMFORT: Interiors have always be a Volkswagen strength. Here, the look and experience are premium, not bargain basement. Yes, there are hard plastics on the top of the dash and door panels. So? They're dark-colored and textured to help reduce glare, and look just fine. A primer on how to do it right. The interior design is classic VW, with simple geometric shapes and close tolerances. If the binding around the instruments, vents, and shift lever is not aluminum, it's a close imitation. Here, V-Tex leatherette is used for seating surfaces, but the steering wheel rim is leather. Front seats are manually adjustable, including driver's cushion height, and have heated cushions. The steering wheel adjusts manually, for both tilt and reach and has audio controls. Seat comfort is at the top of the class, and visibility is good. All important instruments are easily read in any light, and controls readily reached. American requirements dictate storage and cupholders, and all four doors have storage and bottle holders, with more storage and cupholders in the console. The glove box locks, unusual for this class and price point. A sunglass holder and the Car-Net buttons are in the overhead console. The rear seat offers plenty of space for outboard passengers, and door and front seatback storage plus a fold-down center armrest/console and ski-passthrough. The seatback folds 60/40. The 15.5 cubic foot trunk should be big enough -- and underneath it I found a rarity in this day of mini-spares and "inflation kits" -- a real spare tire!

SAFETY: The Jetta's unibody structure is designed and built for optimum safety, with controlled deformation in a collision. Frontal, front-seat side, and full-length side curtain airbags add further passive protection. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes plus electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), hydraulic brake assist (HBA), and electronic stability control (ESC) add further protection. If a crash does happen, the Intelligent Crash Response System (ICRS) unlocks the doors, shuts off the fuel pump, and activated the hazard lights.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Call the 1.8T "sport-touring" to the GLI's "sport". Meaning that it's a bit softer and more comfortable, but still eminently capable over the road. Any road, as the softer suspension calibration and 0.6-inch greater ride height mean comfort with control. That is really where mainstream VWs have been for a while now, and that differentiates them from most of the other choices in any class in which they compete. This is a car for driving, as opposed to mere operation. It's solid and stable on the highway, nimble on tight backroads, and fun to drive anywhere and anytime.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PERFORMANCE: The new 1.8-liter engine, code-named EA888, is a development of the current 2.0-liter. It's lighter and more compact, and built for turbocharging, with the exhaust manifold cast en-unit with the head. Direct fuel injection and turbocharging are being used by an increasing number of automakers to combine performance and efficiency, but VW Group was the first to do this, and continues to improve its engines. The result here is maximum 170 horsepower at 5300 rpm, with torque peaking at 184 lb-ft at 1500 rpm and not dropping off noticeably until it no longer matters. Yes, the GLI has 210 hp and 207 lb-ft, and is a bit quicker and maybe more relaxed in a quick jaunt. The 1.8 needs more shifting. but with the five-speed manual's good linkage and ratio choices, that's a pleasure. You have to work more to maintain speed cross country? Some of us consider that a benefit. Despite enjoying all that is good about turbocharging, I managed an easy 29 mpg during my week, with city driving in the mid-20s and highway travel well into the 30s. Unlike most turbo engines, this one feeds on regular unleaded.

CONCLUSIONS: The latest Volkswagen Jetta is one of the most entertaining compact sedans made, and economical and spacious as well.


Base Price			$ 20,420 (with Connectivity trim level)
Price As Tested			$ 21,240
Engine Type			turbocharged and intercooled DOHC
				16-valve inline 4-cylinder with direct
				fuel injection
Engine Size			1.8 liters / 110 cu. in.
Horsepower			170@ 6200 rpm (210@5300)
Torque (lb-ft)			184 @ 1500 rpm (207@1700)
Transmission			5-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		104.4 in. / 182.2 in.
Curb Weight			3021 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		17.8
Fuel Capacity			14.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				205/55R16 91H m+s Continental ContiPro Contact
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, EBD standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		26 / 36 / 29
0 to 60 mph				7.5  sec

Destination charge			$ 820