You’d never know by looking at it, but Volkswagen’s compact Jetta receives a batch of updates that make it the most desirable Jetta in recent years.
- a new direct-injected turbocharged four replaces the five-cylinder engine that has powered the majority of Jettas sold;
- an independent rear suspension replaces the old solid rear axle;
- the ’14 Jetta introduces VW’s new Car-Net telematics;
- on most trims, increased use of soft-touch materials enhances cabin quality.
Though they may seem underwhelming, these updates are significant. The new engine is refined, smooth and quiet. It makes the same 170 horsepower as the old 2.5-liter five, but boosts torque by 7 pound-feet (to 184), while improving fuel efficiency by 5 mpg. It runs on regular unleaded fuel and, equipped with a five-speed manual transmission, returns EPA numbers of 26 mpg city/36 mpg highway/30 mpg combined. With the optional six-speed automatic, city mileage drops to 25 mpg.
A 115-hp 2.0-liter four powers the S trim and a turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel four powers the TDI ($24,015). It makes 140 hp and 236 pound-feet of torque and earns EPA ratings of 30/42/34.
The GLI, which is marketed as a separate model, gets its power from a 200-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four.
Until this year, all Jettas but the performance-oriented GLI ($25,075) ran an old-school solid rear axle, whose primary advantage was cost. This year, all Jettas receive the GLI’s multilink independent rear suspension that improves both ride quality and handling.
The Jetta has grown less athletic and more mainstream in recent years, and the new rear suspension recaptures some of the car’s old dynamism. My SEL tester was noteworthy for its quiet ride, stable handling and lively feel.
A new electric power-assist steering system is quick, responsive and accurate, and offers good feedback from the road surface.
Car-Net, VW’s new telematics system, includes automatic crash notification, roadside assistance, remote vehicle access, stolen vehicle location and geo-fencing, which allows parents to set limits for inexperienced drivers. It’s available on SE ($19,715) trims and above.
Though hard plastics still dominate lower-trim cabins, the SEL ($26,410) and TDI trims join the GLI with its abundant use of soft-touch materials.
The new Jetta’s upper trims feel upscale, while maintaining VW’s no-nonsense approach to design and layout. Even with the optional infotainment and navigation systems, controls are straightforward and easily parsed.
In a world increasingly dominated by touch screens and other attention-demanding controls, VW’s one-touch cruise-control mechanism is refreshingly direct.
The 5-inch nav display is smaller and less sophisticated than competing systems, but requires less of the driver’s attention than more complex setups.
Both cabin and trunk are generously sized, though old-school hinges cut into trunk space. Six-footers enjoy plenty of room in both front and back seats. All seats provide abundant thigh and lower-back support.
VW’s best-selling model, Jetta plays a big role in the company’s drive to become the world’s largest automaker. The reinvigorated 2014 Jetta is an excellent place to start.
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2014 Volkswagen Jetta SEL
Vehicle base price: $16,720
Trim level base price: $25,590
Optional equipment: The Jetta SEL is a fully equipped trim; our tester included no options.
EPA ratings: 25 city/36 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified