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Car Report: 2014 Jetta's smaller engine packs a surprising punch

Monday - 5/26/2014, 8:14am  ET

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The exterior styling is conservative. It's handsome, but it doesn't shout "Look at me." (WTOP/Mike Parris)
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WASHINGTON -- The 2014 Volkswagen Jetta is a compact sedan that's bigger than most of its competition.

And it doesn't have one of the downsides of larger cars -- lack of fuel economy. That's because VW has given the Jetta a smaller engine from the previous 2.5-liter, five-cylinder engines. Now it's a 1.8-liter turbo four- cylinder engine.

Usually, going to a small engine means better fuel economy but less performance, but in this case the smaller turbo engine is very peppy and quicker than the previous larger engine.

Volkswagen's carefree maintenance package -- providing the first two years of service -- makes for extra peace of mind and a little less money out of your pocket.

The 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SEL is the top-of-the-line 1.8T/2.0L trim level for the Jetta. There is also a TDI clean diesel, a Jetta hybrid and even a sportier GLI Jetta. It seems somewhat confusing, but choice is a good thing.

My $26,745 tester was loaded with touch screen NAV, sunroof, rear view camera and comfy power sport seats in leatherette. The back seats have plenty of leg room and the headroom is good as well. The Jetta was redesigned three years ago and changed from premium compact to a more mainstream cost-conscious sedan. This paid off with a bump in sales, but critics lamented the move.

VW listened, and now the interior is improved, with more pleasing soft touch materials on the SEL trim level. The VW interior isn't going to blow you away with sharp angles or flashy colors inside, but it does offer gauges and dials that are very easy to use and see.

The trunk is huge -- it stashed a stroller and other bags from stores. It really is one of the largest in its class.

The Jetta SEL comes standard with 1.8T engine and 6-speed automatic transmission; lower trim levels can be fitted with a 5-speed manual or the automatic. This new engine really wakes up the car and makes it a very engaging drive with plenty of passing and merging power, and it handles just fine and soaks the bumps up very well.

One plus is the fuel economy gains, with this engine rated at 25 mpg city, 36 highway and 29 combined. I averaged 28.6 mpg with regular gas. My test car had less than 800 miles, so, once broken in, this VW might beat the EPA estimates.

I have driven most compact sedans, and own one, and I can say the Jetta feels like a very solid car, much more than what you expect in compact sedans of old.

The styling outside is conservative, just like the interior. It's a handsome sedan, but it never really says "Look at me" like some of the other compacts.

There is a lot of competition in the compact sedan market and the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta offers a new fuel-efficient engine with good power. With its large interior space, it really seems like you're getting a mid-size sedan for the price of a compact.

Editor's Note: Mike Parris is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. The vehicles are provided by STI ,FMI or Event Solutions for the purpose of this review.

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