2014 Volkwagen Jetta 1.8T First Drive
Think of it as 2.0T Lite
Volkswagen has taken plenty of ribbing in recent years for its 2.5-liter I-5 engine, offered as a lower-cost alternative to the more favorable 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 in the SE and SEL trims of the Jetta (as well as Golf and Passat models). With a reputation for being somewhat rougher than more modern I-4s and lacking low-end torque, the 170-hp, 177 lb-ft five-cylinder black sheep just hasn't gotten much love since its U.S. introduction in 2005. Why couldn't the cut-rate engine behave a little more like the 2.0T?
Well, now it does.
For 2014, among other improvements to the Jetta range, Volkswagen has ousted the 2.5-liter mill in favor of a 1.8-liter turbocharged I-4, based on the new third-generation 2.0 TSI engine, code-named EA888. Essentially the same engine, just downsized, the new 1.8T gets all the benefits that the larger 2.0T does, including the trick integrated exhaust manifold which, in addition to being more efficient, also aids in engine warm-up and weight savings. While skeptics may note that the new engine makes the same horsepower as the old I-5 and torque is only up 7 lb-ft, the full 184 lb-ft comes in at a measly 1500 rpm, improving drivability greatly.
And that's to say nothing of the engine's other advantages. Not only does the 1.8T save weight over previous versions, but its smoother revving and, arguably, better sounding than its five-cylinder predecessor. It's also more efficient, achieving an EPA estimated rating of 36 mpg on the highway on regular gasoline (a 5 mpg improvement over the automatic-equipped 2.5, and 3 mpg over the manual version), and it's quicker too, with a claimed 0-60-mph time of 7.3 seconds (7.9 sec with the auto), when equipped with the base five-speed manual gearbox. Driving through the Napa Valley, the new engine felt engaging and willing – a 2.0T "Lite," if you will -- zinging smoothly to redline and dishing out enough torque to get the front tires spinning unintentionally at stop lights. The price for all that low-down grunt is a power curve that flattens out over 4500 rpm, but that's fine considering the car's around-town purpose.
Both the five-speed manual and six-speed auto boxes hovered at 2000 while traveling at 70 mph in top gear -- obviously, this is key to their strong highway fuel economy. Both gearboxes are shared with the lowly Jetta S 2.0, the naturally aspirated, eight-valve, entry-level car, with VW claiming that most 1.8T customers will want a standard automatic, rather than the company's higher-tech dual-clutch DSG unit. VW also claims superior fuel economy with the five-speed manual, versus a six-speed, but the decision strikes us more as cost-cutting than anything else, given the car's slightly taller-than-preferable gearing. Nevertheless, the six-speed auto shifts smoothly and has a lever-actuated manual mode, and the five-speed rows through its gears without a hiccup, though clutch action is very light, as typical for the brand. If you can't decide between the two, the manual is more fun to drive and gives better acceleration and slightly better fuel economy by virtue of its 26 mpg city EPA rating, versus 25 mpg for the auto.
Those Jettas sold with the 1.8T engine also get a change from the hydraulic power steering rack of old, to the new electric unit that is also found in Jettas TDI and GLI. Though "going electric" with regard to a car's steering system is often met with jeering unheard since Bob Dylan did the same in 1965, Volkswagen has nailed the weighting, while keeping about as much feel as before the change (which is to say, not a ton). Also new for 2014, the independent multilink rear suspension in European Jettas and the GLI replaces the former torsion-beam setup. The newly-independent rear end felt well planted on Napa's twistier roads, we're looking forward to seeing if that equates to a higher lateral-g rating in testing, soon.
Available in dealers now, the Jetta 1.8T is available with SE and SEL trim, with a base price of $19,715 including an $820 destination charge (or $20,815 with the six-speed auto), a price roughly on par with Honda's EX trim Civic , but slightly more expensive than Toyota's LE trim Corolla. As true as ever, you get what you pay for.
|2014 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE ENGINES||1.8L/170-hp/184-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||5-speed manual, 6-speed automatic|
|CURB WEIGHT||3100 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||182.2 x 70.0 x 57.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.3-7.9 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||25-26/36 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||130-135 / 94 kW-hrs/100 mi|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.65-0.67 lb/mi|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Currently|