Written by james Hamel
Overview (Final Grade after 8 Categories: B)
The 2014 Volkswagen Jetta is a model that may seem to some new car buyers as a somewhat long in the tooth design that perhaps has seen more appealing days in previous generations of this iconic three box German sedan. The Jetta was created, quite simply, when Volkswagen decided that its top selling hatchback Rabbit needed a cousin in the lineup just with a trunk. And while the formula has changed and the Rabbit is now known as the Golf in the United States finally, the Jetta has remained pretty true to its formula even when now and again bad luck befell this still loved compact.
First there have been quality issues in the past that have put off buyers, the cost of repair and maintenance (part of why VW gives 2 years/24,000 complementary service and now has a parts and manufacturing site in Tennessee) but the biggest betrayal to Jetta loyalists had to be the latest redesign which saw the interior cheapened, a moaning 5-cylinder engine which you never wanted to push very hard made standard and most disturbingly the usual Germanic driving fun was somehow missing.
Volkswagen did have a point; the latest Jetta has been a sales success even with some slight interior built backsliding mainly because they also made it much cheaper to buy. And quite frankly, the Jetta's interior as it is may now look a tad plain and Spartan but we really aren't sure we could ask for more from VW given our SE tester tested out at only $18,895 with air conditioning, power everything, cruise, Sirius XM radio, an AM/FM/CD/Aux input jack audio system with surprisingly fine sound and a handy USB/i-Pod connectivity cable in the center cubby. Features like Bluetooth, moonroof, navigation, full leather, alloy wheels and a 6-speed automatic are all available.
Wait, what? Yes, you read that right. The 2014 Volkswagen Jetta is not only available with either a 5-speed manual (our test model was so equipped) and that autobox but the car was treated to a new entry level engine in the form of the now class-leading 1.8 liter turbocharged 170 horsepower/184 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder that simply out powers and outperforms the competition. When it comes to base engines no one can compete for driving fun—not Civic, Corolla, Forte, Elantra, Cruze, Focus, Dart or wait...there is one. The slightly pricier 2014 Mazda3 is quite simply a hoot and a half to drive, has an amazingly perfect manual gearbox option, has a more modern interior but still it goes without the VW's motor which might force us to make a purchase decision based on Eeenine, Meanie, Minie, Moe.
What We Loved about the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE 1.8 Turbo
What We Didn't Love about the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE 1.8 Turbo
- The 1.8 Turbo motor's endless power reserve and constant refinement
- The improved German handling characteristics are now as they should be
- The very, very affordable prices for this much car
- The seats are easy to clean but still the faux leather V-Tex upholstery feels less than premium
- No Bluetooth on Test unit (Yes, we are spoiled)
- The 1.8 liter turbo motor would be even better with a six-speed manual VW!
Exterior View (9 out of 10)
Now, if you are offended with the exterior styling of the current Volkswagen Jetta then we are pretty sure you get offended while watching G rated Disney movies. The Jetta is handsome and appealing in appearance but the simple, three box design is quite simple and in no way jars the senses. If you have been awake or alive for any of the past few decades then no doubt the Jetta will not shock your nerves based on how it looks. In fact, its solid angularity imbues the car with the appearance of solidity and strength. All good things in car design.
Interior Comfort, Quality and Overall Ease of Use (7 out of 10)
The 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE's interior is quite roomy with a backseat that can even accommodate three adults for relatively short trips. With four on board there is plenty of room to stretch out for everybody and thanks to a complaint ride the Jetta would make a great road trip car. Add in the fact that its trunk is 15.5 cubic feet of enormous hugeness and it is easy to see why we decided to test out exactly how big it was by climbing inside and closing it on ourselves. Thankfully, there is a glow in the dark release lever in the trunk so we safely escaped but to be quite frank we were perfectly comfortable in there. We wish we were joking.
As for interior quality, we liked that the V-Tex faux leather seats made it a snap to clean off any much, dirt or dog fur but do know that there are visible places where hard plastic rules the day on the dashboard and door panels. Nothing ever scratched or got damaged by us but some people can't live without squishy soft touch plastic to which we say perhaps you should wait until the 2015 Jetta's arrive as it will feature an updated dashboard modeled after the one in the newly released 2015 Golf and GTI.
Otherwise, the Jetta's dashboard and driver environment couldn't have been easier to figure out or simpler to utilize by those up front. The position of the manual gearshift level was perfectly judged from an ergonomic perspective and the climate controls are so simple a first grader could figure them out. Our only issue was with the stereo head unit and accessing certain iPod features like specific playlists and songs as it required you to take your eyes off the road momentarily and scroll through your possibilities one by one. Sound quality was excellent but we have 4,500 songs on our iPod so we occasionally found that inconvenient.
Technology (8 out of 10)
Our test unit was an SE model and wasn't exactly overloaded with the latest hi-tech features but the basics like air conditioning, power windows, locks and mirrors, cruise control, Sirius XM, an AM/FM/CD/Aux. input audio system with 6-speakers and full USB/i-Pod connectivity. Sure, if it were us we would have insisted on the Connectivity Package which adds Bluetooth, alloy wheels (instead of plastic wheel covers) and heated front seats.
But do be aware that you can specify your 2014 Jetta with lots more goodies like a power sunroof, a 400-watt 9-speaker Fender Premium Audio System, 17-inch high grade alloy wheels, a mutli-function steering wheel, back-up camera, navigation and Volkswagen's new Car Net system. Some have said it works much like GM's On-Star but it goes a few steps further.
VW Car Net gives owners automatic crash notification to the authorities should the airbags deploy, roadside assistance as well as maintaining a record of when you serviced the car last, any mechanical problems which may pop up along with being able to even lead you back to your car should you lose it in the Disneyland parking lot. Last but not least, Car Net can help parents keep track of teens by allowing them to set boundaries the car is not allowed to cross as well as speeds it cannot go above. Truly, the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta might be the perfect first car for a young person.
Fuel Economy (9 out of 10)
Impressively for such a powerful engine, the 2014 VW Jetta with the 1.8 liter 170 horsepower/184 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder returns an EPA estimated 26 city/36 highway on regular gas. The engine feels faster than those numbers suggest but we still managed to average a little over 31 miles per gallon during a week of mixed city and highway miles. That means the 14.5 gallon fuel tank affords a plenty long cruising range.
Predicted Reliability and Initial Quality Ratings (7 out of 10)
With its new 1.8 liter turbocharged 4-cyllinder engine, somewhat of a question mark is left in the air about how reliable this powertrain will prove to be for VW owners over the long haul. In J.D. Power's initial quality survey the Jetta overall averaged three stars out of five with owner reported fuel economy satisfaction getting an impressive four stars out of five.
We did sit through a technical presentation given by Volkswagen where they talked about the unique design aspects of this engine like an intake manifold not located on top of the engine so as to improve the durability and cooling abilities of the motor. According to VW they have proactively been combating any quality issues they may have faced in the past and have cut warranty claims in recent years in half. Impressive stuff but J.D. Power still predicts long term quality at 2 stars out of five. Only time will tell.
Safety (8 out of 10)
The 2014 Volkswagen Jetta was recently awarded a full five star safety rating by the Government run NHTSA which is definitely impressive. In the more difficult IIHS crash tests the Jetta managed a top score of "Good" in all areas except the new small overlap front crash test which mimics an impact with a pole or a tree in which the car got a still admirable "Marginal" rating. Owners of the Nissan Sentra and Prius V hatch may not want to know how well their cars ranked in that test as video footage of their impacts is somewhat frightening. While the Jetta suffered some cabin deformation, it didn't strike us as particularly startling given the impact forces involved in that particular test.
Performance (9 out of 10)
Quite simply, last year's Jetta with the 2.5 liter 5-cylinder engine was an uninspiring car to drive with mainly a bargain price to help it make its case for being purchased. Fast forward to 2014 and thanks to Volkswagen installing the simply brilliant 1.8 liter 170 horsepower/184 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder along with a fully independent rear suspension on all models (previously used was an archaic torsion beam) and a new fully electric steering rack that somehow manages to give the Jetta a more sporty and communicative demeanor.
Sure, we know that the 2015 Jetta is getting a new dashboard and some interior upgrades but if you care about owning a car that is fun to drive, that always feels planted during aggressive driving and encourages you to take the long way home then you will have no problem with the 2014 model. Our SE tester may have been one of the more basic trim levels but it never left us wanting for grins whenever we were behind the wheel. We even made up reasons to drive the Jetta SE and managed to finally go to a gorgeous overlook called Top of the World in Laguna Beach, California for the first time. This despite the fact we have lived here over a decade well within driving distance. So thanks to the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE for making us not quite so lazy when it comes to appreciating where we live.
Now, we have driven the Jetta 1.8 turbo with the optional 6-speed automatic and it is amazing how well that powertrain combo manages to carry the car forward with such seemingly endless thrust and hushed quiet. Our tester, however, came with a slightly notchy but very pleasing to use 5-speed manual transmission that really turned the Jetta 1.8 turbo into a bit of a speed racer on city streets. Suffice it to say, it's quite easy to chirp the tires from a stop light and watch as the traffic behind you quickly vanishes. So be sure to watch your speedometer because you may be going faster than you think.
The 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE 1.8T was simply a joy to have in our possession for a week so we are sure anyone looking for a budget priced German sport sedan will absolutely love driving this car. It is nicely hushed at cruising speeds and manages to absorb potholes and bumps very nicely. So as a commuter, this Jetta really will work well. But at its heart, this Jetta is yet again a German sport sedan and we couldn't love that any more.
Pricing and Value for Money (10 out of 10)
In this segment you really can't get much more car for the money than with the $18,895 Volkswagen Jetta SE which comes standard with a 1.8 liter 170 horsepower/184 lb. feet of torque engine, five-speed manual gearbox, air conditioning, power windows, locks and mirrors, an AM/FM/CD/USB-ipod connected 6-speaker audio system, Sirius/XM radio, cruise control, heated side mirrors and all the basic essentials. If you want features like alloy wheels, Bluetooth, navigation, a moonroof or upgraded audio system plan on paying from $20,000 to a little over $22,000. No matter how you look at this, especially given Volkswagen's 2 year free maintenance program, the latest Jetta is a bargain.
"The Final Numbers" and the Competition (67 points out of 80: 84%)
Simply put, we would place the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta in our top three choices for new compact sedans along with the Honda Civic and Mazda3. This truly is a transformed little sport sedan and the price simply can't be beat. Not even by a brand like Kia whose test Forte model we drove recently got perilously close to the $26,000 mark. Still, we do highly recommend the Forte which is now also available as a five door hatch or coupe. Sorry, Koup.
Our favorite American compact sedan without question is the Chevy Cruze thanks to its excellent interior and timeless style. The Dodge Dart and Ford Focus are both excellent models let down by the same problem—both use double clutch automatic gearboxes which are somewhat rough around the edges. While a Nissan Sentra may not thrill, we only don't recommend you buy one compact and that is the 2014 Corolla. Go ahead and read that review to see why.