2014 Volkswagen Jetta Turbo Quick Spin: Introduction
The original Beetle might have made Volkswagen a success in America, but it is the Jetta sedan that sells in the greatest numbers today. For 2014, the popular VW Jetta receives several significant improvements designed to make the best-selling car more sophisticated, fuel-efficient, dynamic to drive, and, Volkswagen hopes, more appealing than ever.
Look at a 2014 Volkswagen Jetta, and you can’t see the changes. Peek under the sheetmetal, though, and it becomes obvious that the 2014 Jetta is a better car than it was last year. For starters, Volkswagen is kicking the simple torsion beam rear suspension to the curb, installing a more sophisticated independent rear suspension that delivers improved ride and handling qualities.
That might be a change about which many buyers won’t care, but everyone can get behind the 2014 Jetta SE and SEL models’ divorce from the unrefined workhorse of a 2.5-liter inline 5-cylinder engine so that it can pursue a more rewarding relationship with a new, more powerful, and more fuel-efficient turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. New electric steering accompanies the turbocharged powerplant, making the technology standard on all Jetta models except the basic S.
Additionally, Volkswagen relocates its Media Device Interface (MDI) from the Jetta’s glove box to the center console, offers a new reversing camera to upper-level versions of the car, and adds an automatic transmission and a navigation system as standard equipment for the SEL model. Volkswagen’s new Car-Net connected services technology is also available for the 2014 Jetta, optional in the Jetta SE and standard for the Jetta SEL, TDI, GLI, and Hybrid models. Car-Net includes a free 6-month trial subscription to services including roadside assistance, Automatic Crash Notification, boundary limit and speed limit alerts, stolen vehicle location tracking, and more.
To find out whether this new-and-improved Jetta formula might help Volkswagen siphon additional sales from class leaders like the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, and Toyota Corolla, I grabbed the keys and hit the road for an hour-long desert drive. The short answer is a qualified “Yes.” If you want the details, continue reading.
2014 Volkswagen Jetta Turbo Quick Spin: Features and Options
For 2014, Volkswagen still sells a Jetta S model, which starts at $17,540*. While this version of the car is the least expensive of the Jettas, and while it does have the new independent rear suspension, this 2,836-pound Jetta gets a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that only makes 115 horsepower and 125 lb.-ft. of torque, each peaking nice and high in the rev range where it is totally inaccessible. Add the optional 6-speed automatic transmission with the hopelessly optimistic Sport and manual shift modes, and the car is 99 pounds heavier while making your pocket another $1,100 lighter.
Are you getting the idea that we do not recommend the Jetta S? Good.
Now, let’s talk about what you should buy, at a minimum, and that’s the Jetta SE ($19,715). First, it gets an excellent new turbocharged 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine delivering plenty of horsepower and a fat wad of torque starting at just 1,500 rpm. Second, it has more equipment, including useful stuff like a trip computer, cruise control, turn signal indicators embedded into the side mirrors, a front center armrest with storage box, a rear center armrest with trunk pass-thru, and an upgraded audio system with 6 speakers, satellite radio, and an MDI with iPod cable. The SE also rides on larger 16-inch wheels and tires, and is guided by electric steering. Unfortunately, it is not offered with cloth seats; V-Tex leatherette is standard.
Buyers can upgrade the Jetta SE with a 6-speed automatic transmission ($1,100), and here the Sport and manual shift modes make lots more sense. Additionally, a Connectivity Package ($1,525) adds Car-Net services along with Bluetooth connectivity, heated front seats, heated washer jets, front and rear floor mats, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel and shift knob, chrome grille and window surround trim, and aluminum wheels. This is the model you’re most likely to find stocked at the local dealership, wearing a window sticker of $22,340.
The Jetta SE is also offered with a Connectivity and Sunroof Package that adds a power sunroof, keyless passive entry with push-button starting, and a touchscreen radio display. The Jetta I drove, pictured in this review, included this package and the optional automatic for a total of $23,985.
Select the Jetta SEL ($26,410), and all of these features are standard along with an automatic transmission, upgraded front seats, a 6-way power adjustable driver’s seat, a Fender premium audio system, a navigation system, and a reversing camera. This model also gets a soft-touch dashboard, as well as fog lights and 17-inch aluminum wheels.
There are other versions of the 2014 Jetta for sale. For the best performance, get the Jetta GLI ($25,075), a genuine German sport sedan for folks on a budget. Fans of the almighty turbo-diesel will want the Jetta TDI ($24,015), while hybrid shoppers looking for an alternative to the ubiquitous Toyota Prius ought to check out the Jetta Hybrid ($28,080) and its 45-mpg fuel economy rating. Each of these Jettas can be optioned with a range of equipment, with prices topping out at $32,265 for a Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium with all the extras.
* All prices include the destination charge of $820
2014 Volkswagen Jetta Turbo Quick Spin: Design and Materials
Clearly, Volkswagen Jetta buyers have quite a variety of models from which to select, and the quality of the interior materials is dependent on the model selected. My Jetta SE test vehicle, at $23,985, came in on the lower end of the pricing spectrum, and it didn’t have the soft-touch dashboard installed in the SEL, GLI, TDI, and Hybrid versions of the car. However, the hard plastic coating the dashboard and door panels is tastefully finished in terms of texture and gloss, looking richer than it has a right to.
That’s an apt description for the Jetta’s entire cabin. Fabric-wrapped windshield pillars are an upscale touch, and though the V-Tex leatherette upholstery isn’t real leather, it looks and feels close enough to pass muster. Choose the Cornsilk Beige interior color, and the Jetta’s interior is rendered in a 2-tone treatment that retains black upper cabin surfaces in order to reduce glare on the glass. Indeed, with the Jetta, Volkswagen delivers just enough refined interior detail wrapped in traditional Germanic design that owners are unlikely to ever feel like they’re driving a cheap car.
As far as exterior styling is concerned, the Jetta is conservatively appealing. On the one hand, it doesn’t draw undue attention to itself. On the other hand, it will probably still be attractive to used car buyers a decade from now. All versions except the Jetta S and Jetta SE are equipped with aluminum wheels, though most SE models have them as they are included in the Connectivity and the Connectivity and Sunroof option packages. Up to eight exterior colors are offered, paired with a choice between Black or Cornsilk Beige interior colors. Latte Macchiato cloth seats are reserved for the Jetta S.
2014 Volkswagen Jetta Turbo Quick Spin: Comfort and Controls
While the Jetta is usually lumped together with compact cars when the competitive comparisons begin, it feels larger than that from behind the steering wheel. The seats are relatively wide and flat, and they face a broad, low dashboard. Super-thin windshield pillars provide an expansive view of the landscape ahead, contributing to the car’s open and airy feeling.
Though the front seats are wide and flat (in the Jetta SE, anyway), they provide excellent comfort thanks in part to manual height adjusters and power backrest adjusters. For the driver, the result is a commanding driving position, perfected by the leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel. I would, however, prefer cloth seats instead of the Jetta SE’s standard leatherette, mainly because the leatherette breathes poorly and traps sweat on warm, muggy summer days.
Rear seat occupants will enjoy unexpected levels of room, too, but the bottom seat cushion ought to be angled up more to provide more thigh support and, in turn, greater comfort. However, such a change could preclude a reasonably level load floor with the seats folded down. Not that most owners will need to expand cargo volume on a frequent basis, since the Jetta’s trunk is sized to 15.5 cu.-ft. of cargo, which is on par with most midsize sedans.
Controls are logically located and easy to find, unless you’re new to the car and trying to figure out how the trip computer works. The new Car-Net services technology is reasonably simple to use when pairing your smartphone to the system, and offers a suite of useful safety features.
2014 Volkswagen Jetta Turbo Quick Spin: Driving Impressions
I’ve never been a fan of Volkswagen’s 2.5-liter inline 5-cylinder engine. It always seemed noisy, unrefined, thirsty, and not anywhere near as cool as Volkswagen’s turbocharged 4-cylinder engines. With the arrival of the 2014 Jetta, the 5-cylinder is broomed in favor of a new turbocharged 4-cylinder, which is as it should be.
This new direct-injected 1.8-liter turbo-four makes 170 horsepower, the same as the outgoing 5-cylinder engine, but the power now peaks at 4,800 rpm, 900 rpm sooner than it did with the old 5-cylinder. Furthermore, the new turbocharged engine generates 184 lb.-ft. of torque across a broad plateau stretching from 1,500 rpm to 4,750 rpm. Compare that to the old inline 5-cylinder’s 177 lb.-ft. at 4,000 rpm, and it doesn’t take a degree in mechanical engineering to know what that means.
OK, maybe it does. It means that the new 2014 Jetta feels lively and responsive across the majority of its rev range, ready to deliver a surge of acceleration from almost any speed. Better yet, the new turbocharged 4-cylinder is more fuel-efficient than the old 5-cylinder, delivering 29 mpg in combined driving with the optional automatic transmission, according to the EPA. Last year, the 5-cylinder was rated to get 26 mpg.
My observed fuel economy number was 27.7 mpg, but that included lots of starting and stopping for photography, several let’s-see-how-fast-this-car-is acceleration runs, and hilly terrain. Still, it fell short of a Honda Civic and a Toyota Corolla driven under similar conditions.
You know what? I don’t care. I would buy the extra gas, because the Jetta’s new 1.8-liter turbocharged engine is terrific. Yes, there’s a little bit of characteristic turbo lag right off the line, but then it’s almost as though a switch gets flipped and the Jetta SE zooms off toward the horizon.
My test car had the optional 6-speed automatic transmission, which upshifts pretty early in order to conserve fuel if you’re not stomping on the accelerator pedal. Also, be sure to note that this is a traditional automatic and not Volkswagen’s Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), which means this version of the Jetta doesn’t suffer that momentary hesitation when the driver transfers her foot from the brake pedal to the accelerator.
The new electric steering doesn’t feel like it, and provides consistent effort levels off of center, regardless of vehicle speed. The new independent rear suspension helps the Jetta to feel much better planted than before, and far more athletic when cresting a lumpy curve in the road. Over larger bumps, the suspension tuning is a little too stiff, but for the most part the Jetta exhibits the suppleness common to vehicles of European heritage. The Jetta SE’s 16-inch all-season tires are selected more for fuel economy and less for adhesive properties, but they offer good grip under less demanding driving conditions. Still, if you’re looking for a sport sedan, you’re still gonna want a Jetta GLI.
2014 Volkswagen Jetta Turbo Quick Spin: Final Thoughts
At half time in 2013, the average transaction price of a new car was more than $31,000, according to TrueCar. Every single version of the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta, except for the Hybrid SEL Premium, wears a sticker price lower than that. With its roomy interior, roomy trunk, conservatively appealing looks, and impressive range of powertrains that include free scheduled maintenance for two years or 24,000 miles, you might be wondering what Volkswagen might possibly improve with regard to the 2014 Jetta.
Here it is: crash-test ratings. Last year’s Jetta earned a “Marginal” rating in the new small overlap frontal-impact test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and the 2014 model gets 4-star ratings for frontal-impact protection by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The company might also want to clean up some of the black dots that have cropped up on the Jetta’s health chart in the annual Consumer Reports auto issue.
See, no car is perfect. But I’ll tell you this much. The updated and upgraded 2014 Jetta certainly is compelling from a dynamic standpoint.
The author drove the 2014 Jetta SE at an event held by the Motor Press Guild.
2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE photos by Christian Wardlaw