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VW Jetta: Trickle-down theory at work

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Mention “trickle down” in a political crowd and watch the sparks fly. It’s a different ballgame in the car world, though.

This year, Volkswagen’s compact Jetta sedan enjoys the benefits of a trickle-down product strategy. New to Jetta is a turbocharged, 1.8-liter engine that arrived earlier on such models as Passat, Beetle and CC.

It’s stronger, lighter and more efficient than the 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine it replaces.

Similarly, VW’s Car-Net telematics (crash notification, roadside assistance, etc) migrates downstream from Passat, et al., into upper-tier Jettas.

An independent rear suspension that earlier replaced the old torsion-beam setup on upper trims is now standard across the board.

Otherwise, Jetta retains the qualities that have made it VW’s best-selling model. It easily accommodates four adults and on the road feels lively and solid. Its cabin is quiet at speed and the contoured seats are supportive and comfortable. Jetta’s rigid unibody, 104.4-inch wheelbase and Euro-style suspension give it a road-worthy, big-car feel.

Inside, materials quality and fit and finish are very good, though lower trims sport abundant hard plastics. Soft-touch surfaces lend an upscale feel to upper trims.

Standard features on the S ($17,715) trim include air conditioning, one-touch auto up/down power windows, power locks with keyless entry, aux-in for the radio/CD player, and power heated exterior mirrors.

A de-contented Base Jetta ($16,515) must be special-ordered through a dealership.

Jetta’s interior design is low-key and no-nonsense. Some will find its flat planes and unadorned surfaces uninspired; others will find it refreshingly straightforward.

Gauges are easy to read and the well-damped controls feel substantial.

The navigation system is easy to use but the smallish screen displays limited information. Its speed-limit function continues to be a god-send, though, displaying the posted speed limit whenever the Jetta is on a public road.

Three engines and three transmissions are available. A 110-hp, 2.0-liter four powers Base ($16,515, including shipping) and S trims and can be paired with a five-speed manual or six-speed DSG automated manual. Estimated fuel economy with the stick is 28 combined (24 city/34 highway) and 27 mpg combined (24 mpg city/32 mpg highway) with the DSG.

The 170-hp 1.8T powers SE ($19,715) and SEL ($26,745) trims. Fuel economy is 30 mpg combined (26 mpg city/36 mpg highway), with the manual, and 29 mpg combined (25 city/36 highway), with the DSG.

A 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel four (from $22,115) makes 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque and can be paired with the manual or the DSG. With either, estimated fuel economy is 34 mpg combined (30 city/42 highway).

The GLI’s sport suspension rides 0.6 inches lower than other trims and its turbocharged 2.0-liter four makes 210 hp — up 10 from last year. Its XDS+ Cross Differential System reduces understeer during hard cornering.

Originally conceived as a sedan alternative to the rowdy GTI hatchback, the GLI has evolved into a mildly worked-over Jetta. Though strong and responsive, my tester settled quietly into the daily routine, apparently happy without a daily romp.

Meantime, VW’s trickle-down strategy continues to bring good stuff to the compact segment. No argument there.

2014 Volkswagen Jetta GLI Autobahn w/Navigation
Vehicle base price: $15,695
Trim level base price: $29,595
As tested: $30,415
Optional equipment: Our GLI Autobahn tester was a fully equipped model, with no additional options.
EPA rating: 24 city/32 highway/27 combined
Premium fuel specified

VW Jetta, Reinvigorated

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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.

For 2014:

  • 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 don@dadair.com.

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