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2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE: New 1.8-liter turbo engine, love that strudel

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We really like the Volkswagen Jetta, something we’ve said a number of times, but while we’ve liked the 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, we haven’t really liked it. Our descriptions, reading back on them, have been full of equivocations and qualifications, and while the thrum of the five-cylinder is intriguing, it’s less than inspiring.

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Enter the 1.8-liter turbocharged four.

It’s a new engine and replaces the the 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine in the Jetta SE and SEL trim lines. Turbocharged and with direct injection, the smaller engine makes the same horsepower as the larger naturally-aspirated five. The engine makes 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque (7 lb-ft more, and much lower in the rev range). With an automatic transmission, it also has EPA estimated fuel economy numbers of 25 mpg 36 mpg on the highway. The city number numbers are the same between the two engines but the new engine tops the old by 5 mpg on the highway. With the five-speed manual transmission, as in our test Jetta, the Jetta with the 1.8-liter turbo beats the automatic by one mile per gallon in the EPA city cycle. And unlike an earlier 1.8-liter turbo engine from the VW group, the new engine—officially designated EA888 Gen 3—runs on regular unleaded gasoline.

The 1.8-liter turbo, as we mentioned, powers the Jetta SE and Jetta SEL models, while the other models continue with the same engines from last year, including the naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter for the base Jetta S. The Jetta GLI gets a 200-hp 2.0-liter TSI turbocharged four and the Jetta TDI models naturally get the torquey diesel.

While the raw power output numbers for the 1.8-liter turbo in the Jetta are important, the new engine saves eight pounds of weight compared to the old engine. The new engine has a thinwall crankcase casting, part of the weight savings, along with exhaust headers that are integrated into the cylinder head. The engine also gets smaller diameter main bearings, roller bearings for the twin balancer shafts, and a crankshaft that has four counterweights instead of eight.

The engine transforms the car. While the 2.5-liter had more gum than gumption, the 1.8-liter sings. It’s smooth and has lots of zip, willing to rev on top—something the two-five was never crazy about—and the lower, fatter torque peak gives more pulling power, particularly around town, and in normal driving means there’s less need to rev the engine out in the first place. Consider that a win-win. Combine it with the smoother running and, well, how do you say “triple play” in German.

And really, the old two-five was frumpy, a hausfrau of an engine, and although the five’s sauerbraten was gute, check out the strudels on that 1.8-liter turbocharged fraulein. And that’s with no equivocations and qualifications, or ifs, and or buts.

2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE w/ Connectivity, price and key specifications as tested

Body style/layout: 4-door sedan, front engine/front-wheel drive

Base price: $21,520

Price as tested: $22,340

Engine

  • Type: 1.8-liter 16-valve DOHC turbocharged I-4
  • Displacement, cc: 1798
  • Block/head material: cast iron/aluminum
  • Compression ratio: 9.6:1
  • Horsepower: 170 @ 4800 rpm
  • Torque: 184 @ 1500 rpm
  • Recommended fuel: regular unleaded
  • Fuel economy, EPA est.: 25/36 mpg city/highway

Transmission:5-speed manual

Chassis/Suspension

  • Suspension, front/rear: strut / multilink
  • Wheels: 16 x 6.5-inch alloy
  • Tires: 205/55R16
  • Brakes: 4-wheel disc; 11.3-inch dia. front/10.7-inch dia. rear
  • Steering: electric power rack-and-pinion
  • Turning circle: 36.4 ft.

Dimensions

  • Wheelbase: 104.4 in.
  • Length: 182.2 in.
  • Height: 57.2 in.
  • Width: 70.0 in.
  • Curb weight: 3,021 lbs
  • Trunk volume: 15.5 cu. ft.
  • Fuel tank: 14.5 gal.

Safety

· Airbags: Front, front side, side-curtain

· Anti-lock brakes: Yes Traction control: Yes Stability control: Yes Electronic brake-force distribution: Yes Brake assist: Yes

· Other: Intelligent Crash Response

Warranty: 3-year/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper; 5-year/60,000 mile powertrain;12-year/unlimited-mile corrosion; 2-year/24,000-mile scheduled service, 3-year/36,000-mile roadside assistance

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