The Volkswagen Jetta has long been a youthful, funky car — at least by four-door sedan standards.
If you’ve got to drive a four-door car, you might as well have some fun with it, right?
Well, the current generation Jetta seems to be growing up a bit. It’s still got some of that sprightly vibe, with a taut suspension that inspires smiles in corners, but it’s also grown into a more mature car that’s roomier and more comfortable for long road trips.
It appeals more to a driver’s logical side now.
Case in point: One of the Jetta’s funkiest features, its optional five-cylinder engine, has been dropped in favor of a more conventional design this year.
Dumping the 2.5-liter five, as happily odd as it was, should have been a no-briner for Volkswagen now that its turbocharged 1.8T engine makes the same amount of horsepower while getting better gas mileage. The new engine makes 170 horses and is rated for 36 mpg on the highway, a healthy 5-mpg boost over the model it replaces.
It also makes slightly more torque and delivers it at lower RPMs than the old engine, so you can feel the power flow in earlier when you zip away from stoplights.
Of course, the Jetta is still available with a wonderfully broad lineup of other engines, too. There’s the 115-horsepower four-cylinder in the base model ($16,720), the powerful 210-horsepower four-cylinder in the GLI ($24,255), the fuel-sipping powertrain in the Jetta Hybrid ($27,260), and the rockin’ diesel engine in the Jetta TDI ($23,195) that gets a 42-mpg rating on the highway.
My test car was an SEL model with the new 1.8T engine, and I was surprised at just how nice of a highway car it was. With contoured, supportive seats, a relatively quiet cabin and the impression of a long wheelbase for its size, it felt like the kind of car I could drive all day long without getting tired.
It’s got two things I’d like to see improved. The base engine could use some more power, and the interior materials ought to be more consistent. Hard plastics on the door panels, for example, don’t feel as upscale as the soft-touch, rubbery materials at the top of the dash.
In addition to the 1.8T engine swap, VW made a few noticeable improvements to the Jetta for 2014. All models now get the multilink rear suspension; the iPhone connector cable moved from the glove box to the center console to be more convenient; and VW Car-Net is available to offer services similar to GM’s OnStar system, like helping you after a wreck, providing roadside assistance and locating the vehicle if it ever gets stolen.
As a whole, I like what the Jetta is becoming. It’s gone from being a zippy, spunky little commuter car years ago to being more comfortable, roomy and refined these days.
But it still has some of that spunk deep down in its soul, thank goodness.