2014 Volkswagen Jetta
2014 Volkswagen Jetta
2014 Volkswagen Jetta. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Brendan McAleer

Napa Valley, California – Dorothy Parker once quipped that the greatest phrase in the English language is, “cheque enclosed.” That’s a good one, but I’m also particularly fond of seeing, “Winding Road Ahead,” especially when it’s printed boldly on a giant yellow sign atop a diagram of an arrow wriggling like a snake trying to eat a triangle.

VW’s full-line drive is here in the hills of Napa Valley, and after spending a good 15 kilometres following a sluggardly Toyota Echo coupe (which, despite its tortoise pace, kept wandering over the double yellow lines), there’s finally a clear road ahead down the canyon. The big orange sign, intended to warn, beckons, whispering of roller-coaster thrills.

Of course, it doesn’t matter how good the road is if the car you’re driving is a heavy, lumpen, squashy, cost-cutting, bean-counting, underpowered cynical heap; had I been on this road last year in a mid-trim VW Jetta, that might very well have been the case. Happily though, VW has seen fit to retire their 2.5L five-cylinder in favour of a new 1.8L turbocharged engine that’s essentially a smaller-displacement version of the punchy 2.0L you get in the excellent GLI sport sedan.

I’ll miss the odd growl of the 2.5L inline-five, but I won’t miss its so-so low-end response, and I especially won’t miss the way VW’s efficiency-tuned automatic effectively smothered the life out of it. Which, by the way, didn’t actually result in very good fuel economy, so why’d they bother?

That economy-minded focus hasn’t changed, but the new four-pot turbo has torque in abundance, a mesa-flat “curve” that gives great off-the-line punchiness and good mid-range passing response.

Also returning to the Jetta is a proper multilink rear suspension. Far be it from me to suggest that VW over-watered the schnapps by de-contenting their Jetta so that it could compete as a penalty-box price-point machine, but it would appear that the company is starting to reverse their decision. Bluetooth is now standard throughout all Jetta trim levels. The beam axle is gone. Disc brakes are now standard at all four corners.

Mind you, to keep that advertisement-friendly $14,990 entry-price, VW still uses their antediluvian 2.0L 8V four-cylinder to anchor the base model. Emphasis on “anchor”, as in, for instance, “boat anchor”. This 115 hp lump is so outdated, I’m pretty sure it was mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

2014 Volkswagen Jetta2014 Volkswagen Jetta
2014 Volkswagen Jetta. Click image to enlarge

Of the four trims available in the 2014 Jetta (Trendline, Trendline+, Comfortline and Highline), only the top two are available with this new 170-hp 1.8TFSI engine. It’s not standard either, and going turbo will set you back $2,200 at the Comfortline level over the 2.0L “power” plant. Mind you, part of that cost might be defrayed by the niceties packaged along with the turbo engine: chrome accents, leather-wrapped shifter, a trip computer and 16-inch alloy wheels.

From the exterior, all these cosmetic accessories have created a vehicle that’s about as exciting as a documentary on crocheting techniques. The Jetta remains the same machine it’s been for the past decade, slightly bland except for the sporting models – as generically German as a link of Bratwurst.

That’s fine, I suppose, but just take a quick peek at the mini-Audis that Kia is cranking out, and wonder aloud whether or not a little Euro-style zip might not be too much to expect from an actual European company. Oh well.

Inside, laughing time is over in an interior which is made mit functionality as its primary, uh, function. It’s fairly humourless in here, the single wonkiness being the door-mounted power mirror controls, but everything’s very sensible and should be both familiar to VW fans, and a respite from overstyling to those weary of the shiny-plastic-festooned weirdness you sometimes find in domestic manufacturers.

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