2014 Volkswagen Jetta Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
August 12, 2014

The 2014 VW Jetta stands out in TDI and GLI trim, and its new four-cylinder erases our bad memories of the old five-cylinder.

The Volkswagen Jetta slots into the VW lineup as the compact companion to the big Passat sedan--but in truth, it's large enough that it encroaches on mid-size territory. Priced to compete with the likes of the Dodge Dart and Hyundai Elantra, the Jetta wears its German heritage on its sleeve in its sober styling and capable handling, and its unfortunately aged infotainment system.

The Jetta looks conservative compared to other cars in its segment, and depending on your psyche, that's either a bonus or a point against it. The lines are sleek and understated, almost completely without drama--but finely rendered on closer look. The cockpit works from a driving perspective, and all the major controls are organized effectively, though VW's concessions to infotainment have been slow, and few.

Where the Jetta distances itself from the vast horde of excellent compact cars is in the powertrains it offers. From base four-cylinders to more exotically engineered hybrids, it spans a wide range of performance and fuel economy. We'd skip the base 2.0-liter, 115-horsepower four entirely--but find much good in the new arrival for 2014, VW's excellent new 1.8-liter turbo four. It's good enough, close enough to the 2.0-liter, 210-hp four in the GLI to make the distinction a slight one--versus the outgoing, lumpy, outdated five-cylinder.

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For fuel economy mavens, the Jetta TDI is no longer the only play in VW's book, but it's still far more common than the new-for-2013 Hybrid. Think of the TDI as the 42-mpg highway cruiser that attains those figures with relative easy, one that lets you relax in pursuit of those numbers. The Jetta Hybrid? It's pegged at a lofty 45 mpg combined by the EPA; given our experience with hybrids as a subset of all vehicles, it'll be more challenging to attain those numbers, though in the Jetta at least, you'll be entertained by driving to meet them (cough, Prius.)

In 2015, Volkswagen admitted diesel engines in this model illegally cheated federal tests and polluted beyond allowable limits. As part of unprecedented settlements with federal and state governments, Volkswagen agreed to buyback from owners diesel-equipped models of this vehicle. To determine eligibility for all affected Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi models, Volkswagen set up VWDieselInfo.com for owners. (Owners of affected vehicles can enter their VIN numbers to see if their cars are eligible for buyback.)

Another change for 2014 with a great upside: there's no longer a torsion-beam rear suspension in any Jetta, which means GLI-like handling can be had with the smaller-displacement turbo four, if you're willing to work with shocks and tires.

VW also is bringing back the Jetta SportWagen, which soldiers on for this last model year, riding on the last-generation Golf platform. Only the five-cylinder and diesel are offered on the SportWagen, and its fluid road manners are worth checking out, but back-seat passenger space pales against the back seat in the Jetta sedan.

The Jetta's safety scores have been very good, but a rearview camera comes only on more expensive models. Blind-spot monitors and other new inventions are off the menu, but for a price in the mid-$20,000 range, a well-equipped Jetta turbo or TDI will generate more driving pleasure than any touchscreen ever could. Are we agreed?

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2014 Volkswagen Jetta

Styling

It's the opposite of brash: uncluttered design keeps the VW Jetta looking contemporary.

You may not be moved by the VW Jetta's styling, but in a world overdone with curves and crests and fillips of ersatz chrome, it commands respect.

Volkswagen has steered neatly clear of the collision of styling memes that litter the compact car field. It's missed out on some opportunities, where cars like the Focus and Forte have grabbed attention with new themes. Still, the Jetta's appeal lies in part for its visual durability. If you grok to its shape, you understand it still will look handsome in a decade, and aren't bothered by fashion trends so much as you're disturbed by them.

At a less meta level, the Jetta's details are finely rendered, if in total it can read a bit plain. The grille stands out when inspected closely, and the tasteful balance of glass to metal keeps the bulky rear end from looking too linebacker. We admit to missing the old Jetta bustle-back trunks of the '90s, but don't see many other compacts that will look less timestamped, a few years down the road.

The Jetta's cabin is just as straightforward, and it's not only in size that it can feel like a calm oasis, if you've spent time in those other compacts. It's not busy-looking at all, just composed of clean lines and well-organized controls with a minimum of fuss and cutlines. It's also trimmed out in a distinctly hard grade of plastic in most models, and that marks a disappointing slide from the interiors that put VW on a pedestal in the past decade. Still, the sedan has some nice details worked in among the hard black plastics and open-grained trim. The big round gauges are classic VW,  and the "leatherette" seats have sporty horizontal ridges, while the shifter’s capped with a stripe of metallic trim.

That's not the case with the Jetta GLI, nor with the SportWagen. The GLI (like the Jetta SEL) wears a soft cap on the dash that gives under fingertip pressure. The texture isn't quite as high-grade as before, but it's much better than in the base Jetta. The GLI also is flecked with the details that trigger performance nerves into action: red brake calipers and a lower ride height sharpen its profile, as do optional black 18-inch wheels, and red stitching on the sport seats and the flat-bottomed steering wheel anticipate its brisk performance.

You only have to look as far as the SportWagen, which still has one of those lush interiors, to see the difference in the quality of materials.  The wagon model still is based on the last-generation Jetta, and has its soft-touch dash intact, with lovely textures and switches and overall quality feel everywhere.

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2014 Volkswagen Jetta

Performance

All the Jettas you want to own now have good road manners, thanks to turbocharged power and an independent suspension.

The VW Jetta now offers car shoppers a choice from five powertrains and five transmissions, and with its latest additions, nearly all of them have a place in the right garage.

We'd pass on the base Jetta sedan, the one with VW's ancient "2-point-slow" four-cylinder. It's here for pricing strategy, period. With only 115 horsepower to put out through either a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic, it's nearly as slow as a last-generation hybrid like the Honda Insight--VW estimates 0-60 mph times of about 11 seconds. Even in the lighter-weight Jetta, it's really only an option for the most price-conscious of buyers.

This year, VW's new arrival under the sedan's hood does an excellent job of eradicating the biggest liability of last year's mainstream Jetta. The former five-cylinder has been axed, replaced by an energetic new 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with the same 170-hp rating on the spec sheet, marginally more torque at its peak, at 184 pound-feet. That torque peak arrives much earlier in the party, though, and stays much longer, compared to the lumpy, coarse delivery of the five-cylinder. The new four's a sweet revver, too--and while it can push the Jetta to 60 mph in about 7.0 seconds, it also does it with an eagerness completely missing from the flat-feeling five. Fuel economy's also much better, no matter whether it's coupled to the five-speed manual or six-speed automatic; top highway mileage is now up to 36 mpg, within sight of the best-in-class cars with smaller interiors.

One of the two fuel-economy champions in the Jetta family returns for 2014 unaltered, and it remains one of our favorites. The Jetta TDI's 2.0-liter turbodiesel four rates just 140 hp, but churns out 236 lb-ft of torque, easily turning in 42-mpg EPA highway ratings and accelerating to 60 mph in under 9 seconds. It's a trade-off we'll take for long-distance cruising--but even in urban-cycle driving, the diesel's torque doesn't miss out much on usability.

The TDI comes standard with a notchy but precise six-speed manual, but for drivers who don't want to shift, it offers a version of VW's dual-clutch automated manual transmission that knocks out shifts faster than some conventional automatics. It's perfectly suited to the narrow power band of the low-revving diesel.

Supplanting the TDI for the fuel-efficiency wreath is the Jetta Hybrid, which was new last year. It uses a 150-hp turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder, paired to a 20-kilowatt (27-hp) electric motor, with a clutch on either end, and the company's seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Output of the combined gasoline-electric powertrain is 170 hp. The Hybrid earns a 45-mpg combined EPA rating, and our road tests indicate that real-world gas mileage could be close to that. VW's done a good job in suppressing the annoying features of hybrid powertrains, in giving the Hybrid enough electric-only power to run up to 44 mph max. On even the slightest, most undetectable downhill roads, the Jetta Hybrid will switch off its engine and slip into "sailing" mode, in which it is propelled only by the electric motor, for short stretches that turn out to make a real difference to efficiency.

Finally, there's the turbocharged Jetta GLI. It blows out 210 horsepower from a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder. The torquey four brings on boost low in the rev range, and pushes out consistent, exciting power into the 6000-rpm range. It growls and whistles while it works, putting an aural exclamation point on the exit points on curves, bringing silly grins every time you tap into the boost, doling out slightly notchy shifts and long pedal strokes with the standard six-speed manual, or pinball-quick gear changes via the available dual-clutch box's paddle controls. A lot of its character is now found in the 1.8T, but the GLI is still quicker to 60 mph, with its own handling spiffs.

And that brings us to the more fundamental changes underlying this year's Jetta. Since 2011, most versions of the sedan have borne a torsion-beam rear suspension that made it less expensive to build, but less finely tuned for great handling, arguably a VW hallmark trait. This year, all Jettas get an independent suspension at all four corners, and the charm that puts distance between them and most of the Asian compact cars is almost fully restored. The Jetta has better ride control, and a more precise feel than even the independent-suspension Civic. There's next to none of the bounding and hopping you might feel in a Kia Forte, for example. Almost all versions now have electric power steering, too, and it's a good rendition with a hint of feedback. Brake feel is strong, confident and deep, too.

For the Jetta GLI, VW also lowers the ride height, tightens the springs and shocks, and adds electric power steering and an electronically simulated front-differential lock dubbed XDS, which helps tighten the GLI's line in corners. The GLI wears standard 17-inch wheels and rear disc brakes, too, with 18-inch wheels as an option. The result: a sedan that's great at 7/10ths driving, with alert steering and a nicely damped ride. More precise than base versions, the GLI isn't as sporty as purists can imagine in their wildest Wolfsburg dreams, but does underscore the German advantage in suspension tuning when it's held up against almost all of the Asian-brand compacts we can think of.

The final curve ball is the SportWagen, which still rides atop the last-generation Jetta architecture. More compact, with an independent rear suspension distinct from the one in the GLI, the SportWagen comes with either VW's outdated five-cylinder or marvy TDI powertrains, as well as even better-tuned handling. We regularly recommend the Jetta SportWagen TDI over crossovers for its well-weighted electric power steering and for its excellent ride. Braking is superb, too, and given the choice, we'd opt for the dual-clutch transmission in the wagon just as in the TDI sedan.

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2014 Volkswagen Jetta

Comfort & Quality

Rear-seat space is exceptional for the class and the driving position is great, but base Jettas have a more plasticky interior.

The Jetta's a tweener, too big to truly be considered a compact, but just shy of the real mid-size family sedan in outright volume. Either way, it's a tremendous amount of space on wheels for the price, with great head and leg room for at least four adults--with the exception of the slightly smaller, mechanically distinct SportWagen.

When it was new for 2011, the Jetta grew nearly three inches over the prior version. Today's version is 182.2 inches long,with a 104-inch wheelbase, which puts it well ahead on the size scale over entries like the Ford Focus, but sized behind the Hyundai Sonata--though because its space is arranged more favorably, the Jetta has more back-seat space and even more trunk space than some mid-sizers.

A stint in the front seat is all the evidence you'll need to support those numbers. The interior's not at all confining, and in most versions, the seats and driving position are excellent. We've never seen a base Jetta, the one with cloth seats; most cars we've driven have been trimmed in VW's synthetic leather, and have been outfitted with sport seats with firm bolstering and the Germanic long-distance comfort that reads a little stiffly on the back for the first few miles. There's ample space in all directions, even with the sunroof fitted.

Where does the space come from? The Jetta's descended from other VW platforms, but stretched and pulled, and it's clear how it's been expanded. There’s more elbow room to the outboard side, while the steering wheel sits more inboard. In other words, the controls haven't moved, but the doors have been pushed out to boost space. It doesn't affect driving position all that much, but it does leave more space on the left side of the steering wheel than on the right.

The back seat gains most of the increase in size, and it's capably roomy, even for tall passengers. The door open wide for easy access, and the seats are canted at an agreeable angle--though there's some contact with the headliner for six-footers, regardless of slouching.

All Jetta sedans have a fold-down rear seat, which exposes a rather narrow pass-through to the cabin. The fold-down mechanism isn't found inside in the car--the pull-style levers are inside the trunk, a logical place that's also less costly to manufacture, but leads to a less pleasing look if you inspect the unfinished linkages that tuck up under the Jetta's rear glass. The trunk is big, with a wide opening and a low liftover height, but the hinges are fairly large and could rub against luggage if you try to use every cubic inch.

Inside the cabin, the Jetta provides a moderate amount of small-item storage. The glovebox is roomy, and the center console found on most Jettas now houses the iPod port. There's a small bin that sits in front of the shifter, and the cupholders between the front seats are backed up by molded-in water-bottle holders in the door panels. Less expensive Jettas are finished in harder, grainier plastics than the VWs of old, but SEL and GLI models have a soft-touch dash cap that's a little more pleasing to the eye and to the touch.

As for the SportWagen, it's nearly as flexible. The rear seat won't win awards for its spaciousness, but this Jetta shows how Volkswagen won over critics with interior fit and finish. It's just nicer inside, with better materials, firmer seats, and a smoother appearance. The rear seat can be a tight squeeze, though, but the seats fold down for good cargo space that rivals some small crossovers, while providing a lower liftover height and better visibility--not to mention the availability of a diesel powertrain.

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2014 Volkswagen Jetta

Safety

The Jetta earns the IIHS' Top Safety Pick award, but the NHTSA hasn't released full 2014 data yet.

The Jetta may not have all of the latest safety gadgets on its order sheet, but it has solid ratings from both of the agencies that crash-test cars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says that both the Jetta sedan and SportWagen belong on its Top Safety Pick list. One caveat: the sedan has had a preview of the new small-overlap test, and its performance is deemed just "marginal", a rating that prevents it from being named a Top Safety Pick+.

Thanks to an improved side-impact result, the 2014 VW Jetta sedans now get a five-star Overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), placing it in the company of the Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, and Toyota Corolla, among others.

Six airbags are standard on every Jetta, including dual front, side and curtain airbags. So are stability control and anti-lock brakes; active headrests; and tire pressure monitors. The Jetta also features a crash-response system that turns off the fuel and turns on the flashers after an airbag deploys.

One advantage to the Jetta's upright sedan profile is good outward visibility. The rear roof pillars are tall, the rear-seat headrests are low, and the glass area is large--all of it adding out to better rear and three-quarter visibility than in, say, the more elongated and swoopy Hyundai Elantra compact sedan. But the rearview camera feature is restricted to the more expensive versions, and no Jetta offers blind-spot detection or parking proximity sensors, even as options.

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2014 Volkswagen Jetta

Features

Other compact cars offer more luxury and infotainment features than the Jetta.

The VW Jetta now comes in a staggering array of models based mostly around drivetrains, with the SportWagen returning for its final model year in 2014.

All Jettas come with an AM/FM/CD player with an auxiliary jack; power windows, locks, and mirrors; and air conditioning. The base Jetta S, priced from about $17,000, has cloth seats--and it's the only Jetta so equipped. It offers options for a sunroof, a center console, and cruise control.

For just under $20,000, the new Jetta SE adds cruise control; synthetic leather seats; iPod connectivity, now found in the console; and heated front seats. A sunroof and pushbutton start are among the options, as are satellite radio; Bluetooth; pushbutton start; a touchscreen radio; and lumbar adjustment for the front seats. Car-Net, an OnStar-like service, is also a new option.

The SE trim level can be had with either the 2.0-liter four or the new 1.8-liter turbo four, the latter of which is also offered in SEL trim, which adds a power driver seat and a soft-touch finish on the dash, as well as 17-inch wheels; pushbutton start; keyless entry; and fog lamps. A rearview camera is standard on the SEL for 2014, as are a navigation system and the 400-watt Fender audio system, as well as an automatic transmission.

The Jetta TDI diesel sedan has SE-level equipment in base form; as a TDI Premium, it adds a sunroof, a rearview camera, and Fender audio. With navigation, the TDI Premium also gets power front seats.

The sporty Jetta GLI is powered by the turbocharged 2.0-liter four, with a six-speed manual gearbox standard and an optional seven-speed DSG transmission with paddle controls. Standard features includes 17-inch wheels; red-painted calipers for the disc brakes; red-stitched sport bucket seats; aluminum pedals and interior trim; fog lamps; and a steering wheel with a flat bottom and red detailing. Two different 18-inch alloy wheels can be ordered as options, along with dual-zone automatic climate control, heated seats, the Fender audio system, and the sunroof. Last year, the GLI added launch control, a rearview camera, and bi-xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights.

Lastly for the sedans, there's the new 2013 Jetta Hybrid. It's base-priced at the top of the range, at $24,995--fully $2,000 more than the diesel TDI model. But with data showing that hybrid buyers are older and more affluent than diesel buyers, VW feels this is the right place for the hybrid--and it comes with essentially the full SEL trim level as standard.

For the Jetta SportWagen, on a platform now nearing a decade old, there are fewer trim levels and a lesser options list. The base model comes with all-season tires on its 16-inch alloy wheels; air conditioning; cruise control; power windows, locks, and mirrors; a tilting-and-telescoping adjustable steering wheel; power front seats; and a trip computer. TDI models also get a rearview camera. The standard audio system has AM, FM, and CD capabilities, but Bluetooth connectivity is standard. Options include 17-inch wheels and a sunroof; the more expensive TDI wagon adds additional options, including pushbutton start, keyless entry, and a touchscreen navigation system.

 


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2014 Volkswagen Jetta

Fuel Economy

With a new four-cylinder and TDI and hybrid edition, the Jetta pegs some impressive fuel-economy figures.

The VW Jetta is now offered in a semi-astounding variety of drivetrains--combinations of gas engines, hybrid components, or diesel powerplants, and an array of transmission--each with its own fuel economy ratings, from subpar to equally astounding.

The Jetta least likely to win any gas-mileage derbys is the base 2.0-liter four-cylinder. When it's equipped with the standard five-speed manual, it's rated at 28 miles per gallon combined--a figure that's only competitive with mid-size family sedans. With the automatic, it's 27 mpg combined. A better choice is VW's new turbocharged four-cylinder; it's rated as high as 30 mpg combined with the manual transmission, or up to 36 mpg highway, a figure that's still a bit off the pace set by the latest Focus/Elantra/Cruze crowd.

The Jetta TDI diesel sedans are in a class of their own, at a combined rating of 34 mpg (30 mpg city, 42 mpg highway) with either the six-speed manual or the DSG automatic gearbox. Moreover, Jetta TDI owners almost uniformly report that in real-world use, they exceed the EPA ratings for their diesel cars, so fuel efficiency into the high 30s may be obtainable--especially on long-distance high-speed road trips, where diesels excel.

In 2015, Volkswagen admitted diesel engines in this model illegally cheated federal tests and polluted beyond allowable limits. As part of unprecedented settlements with federal and state governments, Volkswagen agreed to buyback from owners diesel-equipped models of this vehicle. To determine eligibility for all affected Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi models, Volkswagen set up VWDieselInfo.com for owners. (Owners of affected vehicles can enter their VIN numbers to see if their cars are eligible for buyback.)

There's also the turbocharged 2.0-liter four found in the Jetta GLI, which delivers 26 mpg combined with its standard manual gearbox, or 25 mpg with a dual-clutch automatic.

The Jetta Hybrid is the most fuel-conscious model, and though it's rare, it's something the hypermilers are seeking out. Its hybrid powertrain (new for 2013) is based around a small 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine paired to an electric motor and the dual-clutch transmission. It's rated at a sky-high 45 mpg combined, just 10 percent lower than the much less entertaining Toyota Prius. That number is more difficult to extract than the TDI's ratings, we've found.

Finally, there's the Jetta SportWagon, built in Germany on the last-generation Golf platform. It soldiers on for one more year in the lineup, with either VW's turbodiesel or its outdated five-cylinder engine. It's rated at up to 34 mpg combined for the TDI edition, only 26 mpg for the gas-powered five-cylinder.

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