Jetta re­turns to its for­mer glory 2014 model with 1.8L Turbo proves far su­pe­rior to last year’s prod­uct

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - AUTOS - By David Booth

AVON, CALIF. — I don’t know why Volk­swa­gen ever pro­duced its 2.5-litre in-line five-cylin­der en­gine that served, be­tween 2005 and 2013, as the en­try-level power plant to so much of its model range. In­deed, I don’t think Volk­swa­gen did ei­ther, spokes­peo­ple and engi­neers alike of­fer­ing stum­bling syl­lo­gisms when­ever they were asked why, oh why, five in­stead of four or six?

A few have tried to jus­tify it as be­ing half of a Lam­borgh­ini V10, but even the most ar­dent of VW pub­lic re­la­tions flacks strug­gle to make a con­vinc­ing ar­gu­ment shar­ing a few odds and ends with a Lam­borgh­ini gen­er­ate the cost sav­ing the com­pany’s much pro­claimed “mod­u­lar-de­sign” engineering is sup­posed to cap­ture.

Like­wise, a few point to the fact Audi made some hay with five pis­tons all in a row, but truth­fully, its road-go­ing fives were a prod­uct of ex­pe­di­ency and the rac­ing ver­sions were the re­sult of spe­cific rally rac­ing needs. No mat­ter which way it was sliced, five was one short of an in-line six’s in­her­ent smooth­ness or one too large for a four’s com­pact de­sign.

And the 2.5L did lit­tle to en­hance that im­age, be­ing both rough run­ning and not ter­ri­bly pow­er­ful. It also sounded a lot like a phleg­matic, two-packs-aday geri­atric, never re­ally en­thu­si­as­tic about do­ing any­thing but lolling about in shop­ping mall park­ing lots. It was, at least, re­li­able, but even that was a dou­ble-edged sword, since you’d have to lis­ten to it longer wheez­ing un­der your right foot.

That’s why it is such wel­come news the Volk­swa­gen Group has de­signed yet another vari­ant of its small tur­bocharged four-cylin­ders, this one a Gen III 1.8L ver­sion of the en­gine that is my favourite in the en­tire Volk­swa­gen port­fo­lio. And even though it sports the same dis­place­ment as the orig­i­nal turbo four — and, in­deed, at 170 horse­power, the same max­i­mum out­put as the most pop­u­lar vari­ant of the first gen­er­a­tion — this 2014 is re­ally quite an ad­vance­ment over past en­gines.

For in­stance, though it seems a small de­tail, the new 1.8 has its ex­haust man­i­fold cast right into the cylin­der, the bet­ter, Volk­swa­gen’s pro­pel­ler heads say, to heat up to op­er­at­ing tem­per­a­ture more quickly, thus fir­ing up the com­put­er­ized emis­sions con­trol sys­tems sooner. The en­gine also, like so many other Audi gas en­gines, is also di­rect in­jected, al­low­ing the tur­bocharged en­gine to boast 9.5:1, an ad­van­tage, again, VW’s boffins say, that is one the Gen III en­gine’s big­gest ad­van­tages over pre­vi­ous Vee­Dub tur­bocharged en­gines.

The re­sult is yet another tur­bocharged four-cylin­der master­piece. Not just be­cause its 170 horses and its 184 pound-feet of torque mean it ac­cel­er­ates a six-speed au­to­matic to 100 kilo­me­tres an hour more than a half­sec­ond faster than the out­go­ing 2.5. No, the real rea­son to re­joice is that the 1.8T dis­plays all the so­phis­ti­ca­tion that is sup­posed to be part of Volk­swa­gen’s pre­mium po­si­tion among main­stream brands.

It revs past 5,000 rpm with both alacrity and smooth­ness, there be­ing nary a coarse note em­a­nat­ing from un­der front hood (again, in com­plete con­trast to the 2.5L, which was the very def­i­ni­tion of agri­cul­tural).

The Volk­swa­gen Group builds en­gines in all man­ner of guises, all the way from the Up!’s three-cylin­der all the way to the Bugatti’s W16. But few are sweeter than its small four-cylin­der tur­bos; they of­fer power and so­phis­ti­ca­tion be­yond their dis­place­ment.

It would feel even sportier if the Jetta’s six-speed au­to­box were a lit­tle less re­luc­tant to down­shift at mod­er­ate throt­tle open­ings. Much like Mercedes’ slush­box tun­ing, the Volk­swa­gen seems to want the Jetta’s au­to­matic to hold its gears more adroitly (prob­a­bly to max­i­mize fuel econ­omy), but in so do­ing, it makes the Jetta a lit­tle slug­gish at mod­er­ate throt­tle open­ings. There is a man­ual trans­mis­sion of­fered as well, but Volk­swa­gen Cheap Char­lied on this last with only five for­ward gears.

It does, how­ever, per­mit Volk­swa­gen to boast 5.6 L/100 km high­way fuel con­sump­tion and 8.1 L/100 km in town (5.6/8.2 for the au­to­matic), both num­bers ex­em­plary for some­thing with such ex­em­plary per­for­mance. In­deed, a 1.6L Honda Civic brought along by Volk­swa­gen for com­par­i­son av­er­aged just one mile per gal­lon more than the Jetta (which av­er­aged 28 mpg/8.3 L/100 km in a 25-kilo­me­tre run that en­com­passed both ur­ban and city driv­ing.

But, as much as the 1.8L en­gine is the news Volk­swa­gen wants to trum­pet, per­haps the big­ger news is Volk­swa­gen has re­versed the tech­no­log­i­cal de­vo­lu­tion that has been the Jetta sus­pen­sion. Much to the joy of Volk­swa­gen-lov­ing auto jour­nal­ists (and their num­bers are le­gion), all Jet­tas, not just the GLI, have re­turned to a multi-link rear sus­pen­sion.

As one might ex­pect, it re­turns the Jetta to its for­mer “Driv­ers Wanted” glory, the new Jetta’s road­hold­ing once again the class of the seg­ment and its sus­pen­sion com­pli­ance emu­lat­ing many a larger sedan. Only the elec­tri­cally en­hanced power steer­ing mars the new Jetta’s com­port­ment with its some­times numb feed­back.

Best of all, there’s been no at­ten­dant price in­crease in the 2014’s pric­ing. Thomas Tet­zlaff, Volk­swa­gen Canada’s pub­lic re­la­tions man­ager, says vir­tu­ally all the Jetta’s trim lev­els re­main sim­i­larly priced to the mod­els they re­place, there be­ing no price penalty for the en­gine and sus­pen­sion up­grades. That in­cludes the $14,990 Trend­line base model with its aged 115-hp, 2.0-litre four. Even the base Com­fort­line, with the 1.8T re­plac­ing the old 2.5L, is sim­i­larly priced at $22,290.

As good as this news is, it does beg the ques­tion of why Volk­swa­gen had to re­vert to the five-cylin­der and the ar­chaic beam-axle rear sus­pen­sion in the first place. If they save so much money, how can the com­pany now af­ford to spread the new higher-tech items across the en­tire prod­uct line with­out sig­nif­i­cant price in­creases? Ei­ther they were mak­ing scads of money be­fore or the profit mar­gin is very tight in­deed on th­ese new Jet­tas.

Eth­i­cal fi­nan­cial dilem­mas not­with­stand­ing, the 2014 Jetta is a far su­pe­rior prod­uct to the 2013 model. It’s the Jetta that should al­ways have been.

If the 1.8T matches the Jetta’s de­meanour well, it’s also pos­i­tively built for the Pas­sat. The 2.5L’s lack of so­phis­ti­ca­tion was an even big­ger fly in the Pas­sat’s oint­ment. And, though 170 horse­power doesn’t sound like much to mo­ti­vate a 1,465-kilo­gram fam­ily sedan, those afore­men­tioned 184 pound­feet of torque re­ally do get the Pas­sat hus­tling. And, it sac­ri­fices lit­tle to do so, with of­fi­cial fuel con­sump­tion fig­ures of 5.7L/100 km city and 8.7 L/100 km high­way.

Best of all, the six-speed au­to­matic seems bet­ter cal­i­brated than on the Jetta, more adept at kick­ing down and of­fer­ing pad­dle shift­ing for those look­ing to max­i­mize per­for­mance. The Pas­sat does of­fer a man­ual trans­mis­sion even though, like the Jetta, it’s a lowly five-speed gear­box.

It also han­dles much more adeptly than com­pa­ra­ble Asian sedans, straf­ing the sinewy roads of Cal­i­for­nia’s wine coun­try with alacrity.

The Jetta has re­turned to its for­mer “Driv­ers Wanted” glory.

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