Full 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Review
What's New for 2014
The big news for the 2014 Jetta is its new 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine, which replaces the underwhelming five-cylinder that powered the Jetta for many years. There's also a handful of equipment updates, including a standard independent rear suspension, an available rearview camera and VW Car-Net telematics.
It took a while, but the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta is finally starting to feel like, well, a Jetta. That wasn't the case in 2011, when the current, made-for-America Jetta debuted. Its rock-hard plastic dashboard, reduced amenities, inferior rear drum brakes and basic semi-independent rear suspension were all notable downgrades from the previous, relatively upscale Jetta.
The idea, of course, was to make VW's venerable small sedan more affordable, but we felt Volkswagen had gone too far. Formerly a top pick among our editors, the Jetta quickly became an afterthought, even as it reached unprecedented sales heights. Like a hollow Hollywood blockbuster, the car was a commercial success but a critical failure.
To Volkswagen's credit, things have improved since. Although the cheap dashboard persists on SE models and below, a soft-touch dash is now standard in the SEL and TDI models. Four-wheel disc brakes have been standard since last year, while a more sophisticated fully independent rear suspension (previously exclusive to the GLI) is now the standard setup for 2014. Under the hood, a new turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine supplants the previous five-cylinder engine, bringing with it superior acceleration, fuel economy and overall refinement.
Other positive attributes are still here for the Jetta as well. Its spacious rear seat and trunk are more accommodating than the interior quarters in other top sedans in this class. And for many shoppers, the diesel TDI engine continues to be a draw as well. It's perhaps less appealing than it once was -- it's expensive, and the new 1.8-liter gas engine is nearly as efficient -- but it still does provide some of the best fuel economy and cruising range you'll find outside of a dedicated hybrid.
That said, there are other 2014 models that deserve your attention. The Ford Focus and redesigned Mazda 3 are nicer on the inside, and are also more fun to drive. Consider, too, the Hyundai Elantra, which promises distinctive style, quality and fuel economy for less coin. If it's fuel economy you're after, the Chevrolet Cruze, with its Eco and new Diesel models, is a very good pick, as is the Honda Civic Hybrid (or even the Jetta Hybrid).
Overall, though, we do feel the 2014 VW Jetta merits consideration alongside segment leaders, which is something we haven't been able to say for a while. It may not be the nicest Jetta ever, but in this price range, its roomy cabin and diverse engine lineup are tough to beat.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2014 Volkswagen Jetta is available in Base, S, SE, SEL and TDI trim levels. The Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen is reviewed separately, as are the Jetta Hybrid and the performance-oriented GLI.
The stick-shift-only Base model, which is technically available but must be special-ordered from the dealer, comes with a 2.0-liter engine, 15-inch steel wheels, power windows, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, height-adjustable front seats, cloth upholstery, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat and a four-speaker CD sound system with an auxiliary audio jack.
The Jetta S adds power heated side mirrors, keyless entry, air-conditioning, a trip computer, an optional automatic transmission, power door locks and a front-seat center armrest.
The Jetta SE steps up to the 1.8-liter turbo engine, electric power steering, 16-inch steel wheels, body-color exterior mirrors, cruise control, leatherette (premium vinyl) upholstery, two-way power front seats, a rear-seat center armrest, a trunk pass-through, and a six-speaker sound system with satellite radio and an iPod interface.
The SE with Connectivity adds 16-inch alloy wheels, heated washer nozzles, heated front seats with driver lumbar adjustment, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and Car-Net telematics. The SE with Connectivity and Sunroof adds (you guessed it) a sunroof, plus keyless entry/ignition and an upgraded sound system with a touchscreen interface and SD memory-card reader.
The SEL includes all the SE's optional equipment, plus 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, a soft-touch dashboard, a rearview camera, a six-way power driver seat, a touchscreen navigation system and an eight-speaker Fender premium sound system.
The Jetta TDI with its turbocharged diesel engine is equipped similarly to an SE with Connectivity, but it adds different 16-inch alloys and the soft-touch dashboard. Choosing the TDI with Premium nabs the sunroof, rearview camera and Fender sound system with touchscreen interface. When equipped with the optional navigation system, the TDI also gets 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, the six-way power driver seat and keyless ignition/entry.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Base and S trims come with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 115 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is optional. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 27 mpg combined (24 mpg city/32 mpg highway) with the automatic and 28 combined (24 city/34 highway) with the manual.
The Jetta SE and SEL upgrade to a new 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that cranks out 170 hp and 184 lb-ft. The SE gets the same transmission choices as the lower trims, while the SEL is automatic-only. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 30 mpg combined (26 mpg city/36 mpg highway) with the manual and 29 mpg combined (25 city/36 highway) with the automatic.
The Jetta TDI features a turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel four-cylinder that produces 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is standard and a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission (known as DSG) is optional. In Edmunds performance testing, a DSG-equipped Jetta TDI hustled from zero to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds. With either transmission, estimated fuel economy stands at an excellent 34 mpg combined (30 city/42 highway).
The 2014 VW Jetta comes standard with traction and stability control, antilock disc brakes, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. A rearview camera is included in SEL and TDI models. VW's new Car-Net telematics system, standard from SE with Connectivity on up, includes automatic crash notification, roadside assistance, remote vehicle access, stolen vehicle location and geo-fencing (which allows parents to set boundaries for teenage drivers). A Car-Net smartphone app lets owners control many of these functions on the go.
In government crash tests, the Jetta earned four stars out of five overall, with four stars for total front crash protection and five stars for total side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Jetta its best possible rating of "Good" in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests. In the IIHS's new small-overlap frontal-offset test, the Jetta posted a "Marginal" rating (second worst of four), though most cars the IIHS has tested for small-overlap posted similarly mediocre ratings.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Jetta TDI stopped from 60 to zero mph in 128 feet, which is a little longer than average for this class of car.
Interior Design and Special Features
While the 2014 Jetta has one of the least exciting interiors in its class, some might interpret this as tasteful restraint. Whereas rivals may use various curves, angles and textures to catch your eye, the Jetta just gives you simple, straightforward gauges and a no-nonsense control layout. The controls generally feel substantial and well-damped, which unfortunately makes the numerous hard, coarse plastic panels seem even more incongruous. At least a soft-touch dashboard has trickled down as far as the SEL and TDI models.
What the Jetta loses in finer details, though, it tries to make up for with interior space and features. The backseat is large enough for full-size adults to ride in comfort, which cannot be said of the Focus, for example, and the 15.5-cubic-foot trunk is one of the roomiest you'll find in this class. We also like the available touchscreen stereo interface and its redundant dial knob, which is ideal for controlling a portable music player. The associated navigation system, however, is a bit of a letdown due to the small screen and limited amount of display information.
When it comes time to pick an engine for the 2014 VW Jetta, the base 2.0-liter should be avoided, as it's seriously underpowered and returns subpar fuel economy. The new 1.8-liter turbo four-cylinder is the one to get, as this genuinely engaging mill is blessed with power, refinement and everyday docility. The automatic transmission executes smooth, well-timed shifts, too.
The Volkswagen Jetta TDI still gets you the best fuel economy, and its ample torque makes it seem more powerful around town than the horsepower spec suggests. More demanding drivers might prefer the manual transmission on the TDI model, because the DSG transmission exhibits a delayed response to gas pedal inputs when left in its normal Drive mode. Most owners get used to this behavior in time, though, and once you're on the move, the DSG provides quicker downshifts than you'd get with a conventional automatic transmission.
One thing that hasn't changed about the Jetta over the years is its solid, substantial feel on the road. The smooth ride quality is ideal for both rough city streets and long trips on the highway. Around turns, the Volkswagen Jetta is not especially sporty, but it's steady and its steering is precise. Small sedans like the Focus and Mazda 3 are significantly more fun to drive, though.