Reviews

2014 Volkswagen Jetta Driving Impressions


When the entry-level Jetta S was introduced as a 2011 model, the technology in its reliable SOHC four-cylinder 2.0-liter engine was already dated. Now with the new 1.8-liter direct-injection turbo in the 2014 Jetta SE and SEL models, the S seems like a tractor. The S offers 115 horsepower with 125 foot-pounds of torque and 23/29 mpg with automatic; while the SE makes 170 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque, and delivers 25/36 miles per gallon. It costs $2275 more but has more features too.

With the 5-speed manual transmission, the S gets 24/34 miles per gallon, only 2 mpg less than the new engine; however, that transmission has long throws and feels numb, and the lack of torque in the 2.0-liter engine means you have to downshift a lot.

The sport mode for the 6-speed automatic transmission is sharp and effective. It shifted with crispness on San Francisco's hills, and stayed smoothly in third gear in slow-and-go freeway traffic, a situation where many transmissions will constantly shift up and down. Manual mode can be used for spirited driving, shifting at the lever. It's programmed well, and doesn't keep over-ruling the driver.

The GLI is powered by a 2.0-liter DOHC turbo four making 210 hp at 5300 rpm (an increase of 10 hp in 2014), and 201 foot-pounds of torque at a low and convenient 1700 rpm. It does 0 to 60 in 6.8 seconds with the satisfying DSG 6-speed auto-manual transmission, and there's plenty of smooth power at high speeds.

The 6-speed manual transmission is a pleasure, but the DSG (built by the House of Audi) is the best of its kind, with sharp shifts in auto or manual mode, although in the GLI we found that it surged a bit around town. Well-placed steering-wheel paddles come with the DSG. They're very tidy and effective, more like tabs than paddles. Volkswagen is good on ergonomics.

There's road noise on rough asphalt, even in the GLI. It's rated at 32 mpg highway, which (unlike with the Hybrid) is what we got. On a 540-mile road trip, often running 75-80 mph, we got 30.6 mpg headed north and 31.7 mpg headed south, on recommended premium fuel. One thing that bugged us was the gas cap cover, which didn't pop open as designed. It took fingernails.

We also got a lot of seat time in the Hybrid, with a 1.4-liter turbocharged inter-cooled engine with 27-horsepower electric motor. It's not very quick, although VW claims it's the quickest compact sedan hybrid which might be true. It's nice that the DSG transmission is standard, with 7 speeds in the Hybrid. It's rated at 42/48 mpg, but we only got 35.0 mpg over 340 miles, half casual city and half freeway at 72 mph. And it takes premium fuel, while the others run on regular or diesel.

The Hybrid uses regenerative braking, converting heat to electrical energy. You can feel it in the brake pedal. At very slow speeds the brakes are too sensitive, but at 30 mph the sensitivity goes away; that inconsistency is a problem because your foot and brain can't keep adjusting back and forth. You're either bouncing your forehead off the steering wheel in parking lots, or nearly crashing into the car in front of you when slowing for red lights. At freeway speeds the pedal feels normal.

Our favorite powertrain is the Jetta TDI with DSG transmission. The 2.0-liter turbocharged direct-injection diesel engine makes 140 horsepower and an impressive 236 lb-ft of torque. Its 0-60 time is an unimpressive 8.7 seconds, but we can live with that because fuel economy is in the 40-mpg range. Put our favorite powertrain in our favorite body style, the SportWagen, and we're happy.

Request More Info