Reviews

2014 Volkswagen Jetta Walk Around

The Volkswagen Jetta looks plain to some people because its curves are subtle, But it's not plain, it's clean. There's almost no bling, although chrome has been creeping back since its 2011 redesign. The entry-level S model has the least chrome (like almost all cars), and it's cleanest, with a black honeycomb grille and air intake under the front bumper.

The lines are crisp, no sculpting, with a distinguished face, lean shoulders, strong wheel arches, a smooth roofline and attractive C pillars. There's a neat aerodynamic lip at the trunk's trailing edge, and powerful taillights. It's 5 inches longer than the Honda Civic.

The GLI has a stronger, sportier stance. There's a crosshatch treatment for the grille and lower air intake, sportier front and rear fascias and side sills, a unique design for the fog lights, and larger wheels.

Wagons are usually longer than sedans, but the Jetta SportWagen is three inches shorter than the sedan. The same face, with a definition crease along the sides. It's given movement by a roofline that seems to slant down toward the rear, under the standard roof rails. The SportWagen is stylish.

Interior

The Jetta interior is clean, stylish, comfortable, accommodating, and functional. Even with hard plastics, it feels better than the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic, although not as rich as the Ford Focus, Chevy Cruze or Hyundai Elantra. The white-on-black gauges are easy to look at. You don't always pay attention to trim, but you have to look at the gauges all the time.

The standard cloth seats are comfortable. Our GLI Autobahn with Navigation had perforated leatherette, indistinguishable from real leather. After five hours in the saddle on a sometimes choppy freeway, our butt was over it and our back felt it. We do that run a lot. Butt-and-back wise, the GLI didn't do as well as a Hyundai Elantra five-door.

There are small and appreciated utility/creature comforts, including comfortable driver armrests, convenient cupholders, good door pockets and grab handles: check, check, check, check. Between the seats there's an emergency brake handle, two cupholders, and a small console with an armrest.

The Jetta makes excellent use of space. There's good headroom front and rear, and rear-seat legroom is first in class at 38.1 inches, as much as the BMW 7 Series. With the rear armrest down, there's a pair of cupholders for the rear passengers, to relax with a drink as they stretch their legs out.

The trunk is a fat 15.5 cubic feet, and the optional rear seat pass-through works for skis and things. The Hybrid trunk is way smaller with only 11.9 cubic feet, because the 32kW battery pack rides over the rear axle.

In our 2013 review of the Jetta we called the navigation system a nightmare. In this review of the 2014 we're calling it the Obamacare Website of navigation systems: so messed up we gave up. We'll spare you the details. We have the fails documented for anyone who's interested. We do have one nice thing to say, which is that the speed limit is posted on the navigation screen, a big contribution to stress-free driving one long night, down I-5 from Seattle to Portland, on that dark freeway with speed limits that continually change between 55 and 70 mph, with scarce signposts.

The touch-screen tuning of the upscale Fender audio system wasn't as bad as the nav system, but it too was difficult and distracting.

The standard driver information display is big and easy to read, located neatly between the tachometer and speedometer. Fuel mileage, range, odometer and thermometer. There's more information on the touch screen. The climate controls are clean and easy to use. The radio tunes with a dial, best ever, so simple. If only we could have shut the navigation lady up, she kept interrupting the radio.

The steering wheel on our GLI was terrific, with its perforated leather(ette), thumb grips and flat bottom. Controls include the phone button that is too easy to bump, calling a voice from above (she seemed to inhabit the roof) telling us we couldn't do what we were trying to do, and wouldn't accept our explanation that we didn't know what she was talking about. Then we tried to shut her up, and couldn't do that either.

The SportWagen's interior could be in a car costing thousands more. Solid, soft-touch materials abound. There is less space for passengers, with 2.6 fewer inches of rear legroom and 1 inch less headroom. But if the sedan is more passenger friendly, the wagon is more cargo friendly. There are 32.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, and an SUV-like 66.9 cubic feet of space with the rear seats down.

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