The 2014 Volkswagen Jetta features improvements that seem designed to get critics and car buyers on the same page. Most notably, the widely panned 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine has been discontinued in the Jetta sedan, replaced by a fuel-sipping 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder. Thanks to its endearing European character and sophisticated driving dynamics, the Jetta was already selling well, but Volkswagen resolved to improve it anyway. The result is an entry-level sedan that pretty much everyone can appreciate.
That said, we remain unimpressed by the budget-priced base model, which is saddled with a plastic-fantastic interior and a weak 2.0-liter engine that first appeared in the '93 Jetta. There were some neat engines being produced 20 years ago; this wasn't one of them. Also, the 5-cylinder engine trudges forward as the base engine in the Jetta SportWagen, so the benefits of the new 1.8-liter turbo have yet to be fully realized.
As such, we're still not totally bullish on what the Jetta has to offer. But we still say kudos to Volkswagen for making the hot-selling Jetta a better car rather than resting on its laurels.
What's New for 2014?
The Jetta sedan gets a new 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine in place of the now-discontinued 2.5-liter 5-cylinder, while the GLI gets 10 extra horsepower. All Jettas now have an independent rear suspension. Also, the VW Car-Net telematics system debuts, and more models receive rearview cameras. Minor equipment adjustments round out the changes.
What We Like
Roomy back seat; ample cargo space; refined ride; great optional turbodiesel engine; handy SportWagen is based on the upscale previous Jetta
What We Don't
Subpar base engine and cheap-feeling interior (sedan only); unimpressive fuel economy with 2.0- and 2.5-liter engines
To be determined
The base Jetta is powered by a 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder rated at 115 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque. A 5-speed manual is the standard transmission, with a 6-speed automatic available as an option. While fuel economy is passable with the manual at 24 miles per gallon city/34 mpg highway, it's a dreadful 23 mpg city/29 mpg hwy with the automatic.
The Jetta SE and SEL feature a vastly more satisfying 1.8-liter inline 4-cylinder that makes 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque with the same transmission choices. Fuel economy is an impressive 26 mpg city/36 mpg hwy with the manual and 25 mpg city/36 mpg hwy with the automatic.
The Jetta TDI switches to a 2.0-liter turbodiesel inline 4-cylinder rated at 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual. Fuel economy is outstanding at 30 mpg city/42 mpg hwy with either transmission in the sedan, though the SportWagen drops to 29 mpg city/39 mpg hwy with the dual-clutch automatic.
Finally, the Jetta GLI features the same 2.0-liter turbocharged inline 4-cylinder as the GTI hot hatch. Rated at 210 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, the GLI motor returns 22 mpg city/33 mpg hwy with the 6-speed manual and 24 mpg city/32 mpg hwy with the 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual.
Standard Features & Options
The 2014 Volkswagen Jetta comes as either a sedan or a wagon (SportWagen) in five basic trim levels defined by engine: sedan-only 2.0 and 1.8T, SportWagen-only 2.5, TDI and sedan-only GLI. Each trim comes with different optional packages.
The entry-level 2.0 S features 15-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, heated exterior mirrors, air conditioning, height-adjustable front seats, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, cloth upholstery and a 4-speaker audio system with an auxiliary input. The 2.0 S with Sunroof adds a sunroof, a front center console with an armrest and cruise control.
The 1.8T SE gets all of the above plus 16-in steel wheels, partial power front seats, leatherette upholstery, leather trim (for the steering wheel, shift knob and handbrake lever) and a rear center armrest. The 1.8T SE with Connectivity adds 16-in alloy wheels, heated front seats, steering-wheel-mounted controls, Bluetooth connectivity, a 6-speaker sound system with iPod integration and optional VW Car-Net telematics.
If that's not enough luxury for you, there are two additional 1.8T Jettas. The 1.8T SE with Connectivity and Sunroof adds keyless entry/ignition, a sunroof and a touchscreen stereo interface with an SD-card reader. The 1.8T SEL tacks on 17-in alloy wheels, fog lights, grippier front seats with driver lumbar adjustment, keyless entry with push-button ignition, a soft-touch dashboard, an SD-based navigation system, a rearview camera and a multifunction trip computer. The SEL can also be outfitted with a navigation system and a 400-watt Fender-branded audio system with a subwoofer.
The base TDI model gets mostly the same equipment as the 1.8T SE with Connectivity, but the entire TDI lineup features a soft-touch dashboard like the 1.8T SEL. The TDI with Premium contributes a sunroof and the Fender audio system with a touchscreen interface and a rearview camera. The TDI with Premium and Navigation brings 17-in alloy wheels, chrome exterior trim, fog lights, keyless entry with push-button start, driver lumbar adjustment and the SD-based navigation system.
The base GLI comes with different 17-in alloy wheels, a subtle exterior body kit, red-painted brake calipers, fog lights, darkened taillights, sport pedals, red interior stitching, front sport seats with driver lumbar adjustment, cloth upholstery, a soft-touch dashboard, iPod/Bluetooth connectivity and the 6-speaker touchscreen stereo.
The GLI Autobahn adds 18-in alloy wheels, a sunroof, leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, heated washer nozzles, a cooling glove box, dual-zone automatic climate control and the Fender audio system. The GLI Autobahn with Navigation throws in bi-xenon headlights with LED accents, keyless entry with push-button start and the SD-based navigation system with a rearview camera.
The SportWagen has an options structure that differs slightly, starting with a unique 2.5-liter S model that's basically a hybrid of the sedan's 2.0 S and 1.8T SE trims regarding equipment. Also available as a TDI, the SportWagen has the same general feature set as the sedan, but it's a little fancier -- and a little pricier.
The 2014 Volkswagen Jetta comes with standard stability control and six airbags (front, front side and full-length side curtain). Every Jetta now features 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes; previously, lower sedan trims were stuck with inferior rear drum brakes. The available Car-Net telematics suite adds crash notification, roadside assistance, stolen vehicle location assistance, remote vehicle access and boundary and speed alerts -- most of which are accessible via a smartphone app.
In government crash testing, the Jetta sedan received four stars out five overall, including four stars for frontal impacts and five stars for side impacts. The government hasn't crash tested the SportWagen using its latest methodology, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave both the Jetta sedan and the SportWagen its highest rating of Good in every crash-test category.
Behind the Wheel
It's hard to think of a less appealing engine than the Jetta's base 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, but we don't have to dwell on that for 2014 because what's on our mind is the new 1.8-liter turbo. Pairing delightful passing power with excellent fuel economy, the 1.8T is a highly recommended upgrade for Jetta shoppers. In corners, any Jetta will impress with its responsive steering and solid handling, while the ride is improved for 2014 thanks to the newly standard independent rear suspension.
Other Cars to Consider
Dodge Dart -- Check out this Italian-American collaboration for a Jetta-like combination of smooth dynamics and efficient turbocharged power.
Ford Focus -- Raised on European roads, the Focus actually out-Euros the Jetta with its athletic grace.
Hyundai Elantra -- The lightweight Elantra naturally lacks the Jetta's Germanic solidity, but we like its compact, nimble feel as well as its excellent fuel economy and value for the dollar.
Our favorite Jetta remains the SportWagen TDI, but the new 1.8T motor is too good to pass up at a lower price. The 1.8T SE with Connectivity looks to be the best combination of performance, fuel economy and value.