Volkswagen’s best-selling car looks to its past for a shot of MPG inspiration. Debuting on the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta is a new rendition of the 1.8T engine. Known internally as the EA888 Gen 3 engine, this turbo-4 supplants the old 2.5-liter 5-cylinder motor that used to power the Jetta’s higher trims. The venerable 2.0-liter engine soldiers on in the base Jetta S. Though the 1.8T badge no longer flaunts its power on the decklid as it did years ago, it does harken back to a time when the 2002 Jetta got a shot of adrenaline from this engine’s 180-horse predecessor. And to show how advanced it’s become, this 2014 Jetta with the 6-speed automatic, delivering 170 horsepower, is rated at 25mpg city/36mpg highway on regular gas while the aforementioned model returned 19mpg city/27mpg highway on premium. Big difference. This Jetta produces an energetic 184-pound-feet of torque, retains just enough of that VW hallmark turbo punch and operates with surprising smoothness for a small engine.It also provides the foundation for — not surprisingly — the Jetta’s best attribute: its solid, tuned, German driving goodness. The ride quality is all VW which is to say it has that perfect blend of sportiness and comfort. Also new for 2014 is electric power assist steering which is light to the touch, placing the front wheels with accuracy while the 6-speed auto with sport mode reminds you why we often denounce the CVT — it just feels and sounds right. The squared off, wide-screen windshield gives you that commanding view of the road while the 17″ Conti Grand Touring All-Season tires are a nice compromise between grip and suppleness. And where a bottom-feeder torsion beam rear suspension used to exist in the Jetta’s extensive lineup is now a sophisticated independent rear suspension from top to bottom. The only nick — the brake pedal has an uncharacteristically mushy feel. But not everything is ice cream and balloons.Yes, the Jetta mostly drives with, well that Jetta-ness we’ve come to love, but just look at it. I’ve been critical of VW’s recent designs but this one is the poster child for uninspired bodywork. And this is the high-end SEL trim. Yet, it’s is one of the most anonymous new cars on the road today. Unfortunately, the snooze fest carries over inside where the word “new” will not cross your mind. It’s not off-putting but it lacks any level of pizazz. You can’t complain about the spaciousness, however, as the Jetta’s
trunk packs in 15.5 cubic feet and legs can stretch out in all seating positions. As VW’s entry-level car, the Jetta is priced from about $17,000 while this top 1.8T SEL trim — adding the automatic transmission, 17″ Joda wheels, foglights, a soft-touch dashboard, a power driver’s seat, rearview camera and the navi unit with the Fender premium audio comes in at $26,745; an excitement per dollar quotient that’s too low for comfort and would definitely have me perusing the more enjoyable, competitively priced Jetta GLI. .