New Jetta is a fun car with staying power

The much-liked Volkswagen Jetta has been around forever, and the momentum continues for 2014 with the addition of a new 1.8-liter turbo four-cylinder engine for the SE and SEL models.

The exuberant new engine replaces the previous 2.5-liter five-cylinder, producing the same amount of horsepower (170), more torque (184 lb-ft as opposed to 177), better fuel economy (25 mpg city, 36 mpg highway – a five-mile increase over the five-cylinder’s highway rating), and a regular-unleaded fuel recommendation.

This could generate more merriment in Das Auto fans than an Oktoberfest beer tent.

In other news on Jetta mechanicals, models equipped with the 1.8T engine have their hydraulic power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering replaced by an electric-assist system, and all Jettas now have a multilink rear suspension, replacing the previous torsion-beam layout on the 2.0L S, 2.5L SE, 2.5L SEL, and TDI Clean Diesel models.

On the SEL model featured here, a six-speed automatic transmission, navigation system and backup camera are now standard equipment. The car’s general attributes include rock-solid construction, superior workmanship, and taut sporty handling, a top priority for people who want their car to be fun, not simply a mode of transportation.

Exterior design is subtly handsome. The head-turning excitement it doesn’t generate today will be redeemed soon enough, when the visual appeal of today’s exciters reaches its expiration date but the 2014 Jetta still looks great.

Interior design is also clean and understated. Controls are nicely arranged, symmetrical, and easy to use. The center dash touchscreen is smaller than most but it gets the job done, largely because the navigation system is plain and simple. Instead of going overboard with wildly colorful but unnecessary and confusing graphics, Jetta’s system sticks with the facts. Inputting the desired destination is incredibly easy, and the directions are precise and accurate. One might think precision and accuracy would be givens with any navigation system, but they aren’t.

My tester’s two-tone Cornsilk Leatherette seats and door trim provided dramatic flair in the passenger cabin. The sturdy, high-quality leatherette (imitation leather) looks and feels upscale, and is very comfortable. It has the same qualities as real leather but without the animal-cruelty connection, so it’s actually better than leather.

Tied for first place in providing dramatic flair is a sensational Fender premium audio system, standard equipment on the Jetta SEL. The 400-watt setup is a collaboration between Fender, the famous guitar company, and Panasonic. Its nine speakers include a trunk-mounted subwoofer.

Other notable standard features on the SEL include heated front seats and outside mirrors, heated front washer nozzles, fog lights, satellite radio, Bluetooth, MDI (Media Device Interface) with iPod cable, power-adjustable driver’s seat, multi-function steering wheel, and a power tilt and sliding sunroof.

Though a compact car, Jetta is spacious inside, including an enormous amount of headroom for the driver and front-seat passenger, and very generous rear-seat legroom, hard to find in this segment. The 60/40 split rear seat is foldable for extra cargo capacity when needed, and there’s a rear-seat armrest with pass-through to the trunk for even more flexibility.

There are 10 models in the 2014 Jetta lineup, starting with the 2.0L S at $17,540 and topping out at $29,315 for the 2.0T GLI Autobahn with navigation. The SEL is positioned midway in the lineup, at $26,410. There is also a Jetta Hybrid, with a base price of $28,080. All of these prices include the $820 destination charge.

2014 VOLKSWAGEN JETTA SEL

Base price, including destination charge: $26,410

Price as driven: $26,410

Mary Lowry has been reviewing cars for more than 20 years. She is a member of the Motor Press Guild and a board member of the Northwest Automotive Press Association. Vehicles are provided by the manufacturers as a one-week loan for review purposes only. In no way do the manufacturers control the content of the reviews.

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