2020 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T R-Line Review by David Colman +VIDEO
Getta Jetta, especially the 1.4T R-Line
By David Colman
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
The 1.4 liter turbocharged 4 powering the R-Line version of VW's latest Jetta rates a measly 147hp. I'm not sure what horsepower scale VW uses, but the Jetta's 147hp must be rated as Clydesdale ponies, because the Jetta I spent a week enjoying is one of the quickest small sedans I have driven in many years. And best of all, it's one of the least expensive, with a bottom line price - including $350 destination charge - of only $24,115. Thanks to its excellent handling, exceptionally lively turbo motor, and best of all, its 6-speed manual gearbox, this unsung base Jetta just has to be the enthusiast's find of the year.
Jetta was so subtly redesigned in 2019 that it's hard to differentiate visually from previous models. VW has adopted the quintessential German Bauhaus design philosophy of "less is more" to simplify and enhance the exterior of the R-Line Jetta, with black grill slats, sunken fog lights, streamlined projector beam headlights, sharply creased side character lines, and a cleanly sculpted trunk panel covering the Jetta's 16 cubic foot storage bin. R-Line emblems annotate the grill and front quarter panel flanks, along with model specific exterior mirrors finished in body color over black lower housings.
The R-Line's simple but purposeful 17 inch, double spoked alloy rims are shod with Bridgestone Ecopia radials sized 205/55R17. Inside the Jetta's spacious cabin, R-Line specific V-Tex leatherette seating surfaces cover both front positions as well as the rear bench with two-toned "Storm Grey and Black Leatherette" material that spices up the cabin without being gaudy. The R-Line package also includes the lovely flat bottom multi-function steering wheel covered with pliant leather.
Our test Jetta was fitted with the $500 R-Line Cold Weather Package, so we enjoyed heated front and rear (outboard) seats, heated parking for the windshield wipers and heated windshield washer nozzles. Since the thermometer rarely exceeded 40 degrees each morning of our test week, these housewarming features were much appreciated. We especially liked the fact that VW uses the same button to activate both the driver's seat heater and the steering wheel heater simultaneously. In fact that bit of engineering is emblematic of the simplified, thoughtful approach to the driver/vehicle interface that still distinguishes VW from most everything else on the road.
The R-Line refinements also extend to the handling of this Jetta. In most front wheel drive sedans, you quickly discover that when rounding a tight turn, the inside front wheel tends to spin faster than the outside front wheel. This in turn presents inconsistent steering feedback to the driver, who struggles to retain a set turning arc through the entire curve. VW engineers have rectified this disconcerting FWD tendency by equipping the R-Line Jetta with their "XDS Cross Differential System" which can apply braking pressure to the inside front wheel when needed. In practice, the R-Line Jetta proved to be exceptionally competent when tackling curvy back roads. The Bridgestone radials never issued squeals of protest, and the Jetta tracked through the switchbacks with calm equanimity.
While the handling of this VW was commendable, the Jetta's explosive little 1.4 liter engine was significantly better than expected. The first time I planted the accelerator, the turbo-induced rush was so surprising that I found myself shifting up from first to second well before I expected to do so. If you catch the spool-up of the turbo just right, this 1.4 liter Jetta squirts like a bottle rocket. On the other hand, if you miss the boost wave because you're in the wrong gear, or engine rpm have dipped below 1400, then you'll need to do some quick downshifting, because just off idle, the 1.4 liter's turbo is fast asleep. Of course, if you want to spend the extra money for a 228hp Jetta that boasts a turbo 2.0 liter inline 4, you will have to ante nearly $4,000 extra for the privilege, since the GLI model retails for $26,345. You'll also pay a lot more in running costs, since the GLI's EPA numbers are 24MPG City/33MPG Highway versus 30MPG/40MPG for the economic 1.4 liter turbo.
I would endorse purchase of the more powerful and costly Jetta if the 1.4T R-Line proved underpowered and lethargic. But just the opposite is true. This is one of the best buys in the small sedan field, with its handsome exterior lines, crisp interior trim, scintillating engine and transmission, and competent backroad capability. For the money, you can't go wrong with this enticing VW.
2020 VOLKSWAGEN JETTA 1.4T R-LINE
- ENGINE: 1.4 liter turbocharged inline 4 with TSI
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 30MPG City/40MPG Highway
PRICE AS TESTED: $24,115
HYPES: Comfort, Good Looks and Eager Runner
GRIPES: Needs to Pipe Some Tunes with SiriusXM
STAR RATING: 10 Stars out of 10