2014 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8 driving impression: It’s on the A list

 Jetta action 3A while ago, Volkswagen announced that it was aiming for world domination — at least in the automotive realm. With 10 models and infinite variations of each, it had good reason to believe it could unseat Toyota or the General in terms of worldwide sales. Worldwide through November of 2013, VW has sold over 8 million vehicles. It’s going to be a tight race, and we’ll know who the winner is after the first of 2014. One of the reasons why VW is making such strides is the popularity of its small and midsize sedans, the Jetta and Passat. The Jetta currently is the 15th best-selling vehicle in America, and VW’s best-selling vehicle period, with about a third of the sales of the Toyota Camry. But as 2014 progresses, expect to see those numbers climb.

While 2014 doesn’t see a lot of design changes (the sixth-gen was introduced only three years ago), it will get a major change under the hood: a new 1.8-liter turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder engine. Because this is such a major change, we’ll spend most of our time here looking in the engine bay.

Jetta engineThe new inline-four engine is the EA888 Gen 3, made in Silao, Mexico. It produces 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. While the horsepower remains the same, the torque steps up about four percent over the previous engine. The new engine is lighter and more fuel efficient than the Gen 2 version, and weighs about eight pounds less, at a total of 290 pounds. The new 1.8 features a thin-wall crankcase casting, exhaust headers that are integrated into the cylinder head, small-diameter main bearings, roller bearings for the twin balancer shafts, and a crankcase that has four counterweights versus eight. The new technology helps the Jetta 1.8 achieve an improved fuel economy number five mpg higher than the.2.5-liter engine it replaces. With the automatic transmission, the Jetta 1.8 gets an EPA estimated 25 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway (26 city with the manual transmission); quite respectable for a non-hybrid vehicle. Plus the engine requires only regular unleaded fuel, so more savings at the pump.

Other benefits of the 1.8 include faster warm up times and cooler exhaust output. Volkswagen claims the Jetta 1.8 has a 0-60-mph time of 7.3 seconds. Compression ratio is 9.6:1, and the valvetrain is a double overhead cam with four valves per cylinder, maintenance-free hydraulic lifters, and variable intake timing.

Tech talk is all well and good, but how does that translate to on-the-road feel? We had a chance to take the new Jetta out on some great roads in Napa Valley, California, and we think VW did a great job reworking this engine. While we weren’t concentrating on fuel economy, the engine definitely produces more low-and mid-range torque, which is the range in which here most of us drive everyday.

What also bumped up the Jetta’s FTD quotient (that’s fun to drive for those new to the game) is the new independent rear suspension, replacing the previous torsion beam. It’s now a multilink setup with three transverse links and one longitudinal link per wheel. You can really feel the difference when pushing the Jetta harder around corners, and it also makes for a much more compliant ride on the freeway. When adding it all together, including new electric power-assisted steering on SE and higher trim models, the new Jetta is a much improved driving experience.

613-9967-02The 2014 Jetta also is one of the first VW vehicles to benefit from its new Car-Net connectivity system. First is safety. In the event of an airbag deployment or an accident, you’ll be connected to a VW customer service specialist who will call for help. This also includes you calling if you need help or Roadside Assistance. It also has stolen vehicle recovery, which is worth the cost to use Car-Net.

We like the geo-fencing feature that lets you know if the physical boundaries you set are crossed, or even the speed parameters have been exceeded. Other services include iPhone or Android app features that include remote door lock and unlock, a parking locator, remote horn and light activation, vehicle diagnostics via email, and scheduled dealer visits for your no-charge Carefree Maintenance Program covering two years or 24,000 miles.

While this sounds like it might cost a lot, the Volkswagen Jetta 1.8 SE starts at a reasonable $18,895. Add Car-Net and it bases at $20,420. A sunroof to that will be $22,065, and the SEL trim starts at $25,590, still incredibly reasonable because it comes with the six-speed automatic, 17-inch Joda alloy wheels, foglights, six-way power driver’s seat, rearview camera, touchscreen nav, and the awesome Fender premium audio system. The Jetta is also available in a 2.0-liter engine, either gas or TDI, and a GLI lineup, maxing out at a base of $28,495 for the GLI Autobahn with Navigation.

While there are a lot of worthy competitors out there (Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, and more), the Jetta is definitely a vehicle that should be near the top of your consideration list. You get a lot for your money, and that includes a vehicle that will be more enjoyable than ever to drive.