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