Automobiles, Motorcycles and Libertarian Politics
Channeling Mr. T, I pity VW.
The company has been Hiroshima’d by the fallout from the diesel “cheating” scandal. But the nuking was its own doing.
Not the “cheating” part.
The bending over part.
VW should have defended what it did – what it had to do. The EPA has become an out-of-control secular mosque occupied by rabid regulatory ayatollahs who – like the turban’d ones – are religious maniacs. VW harmed no one by “cheating” the EPA. And – arguably – helped a bunch of people, by offering high-mileage alternatives to expensive hybrids and electric cars, including its own.
The company should have pointed out that the cars at issue were (and are) “clean.” That the brouhaha is over fractional differences in the composition of the exhaust stream. That EPA’s standards are no longer reasonable.
Instead, they took it up the pipe.
And now, so will we.
The Jetta – still a great car – is less so now because it’s no longer available with the 46 MPG TDI engine, which also made it unique. No one else offered that kind of efficiency in a car that stickered for less than $22k to start.
And now no one does.
Luckily, there are other options, Jetta-wise. Including the now-standard 1.4 liter gas turbo engine that comes close to the mileage delivered by the 2.0 liter turbodiesel and at a lower price point (just under $18k to start).
Not-so-luckily, VW has decided to only offer the punchy 1.8 liter turbo engine in the more expensive SEL trim – and to no longer offer it with a manual transmission.
Once, again because Uncle.
The Jetta is VW’s almost mid-sized family sedan.
It is not as large on the outside as mid-sized standard-bearers like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, but has about the same interior space as well as a very large trunk (just as large as the Camry’s actually).
Base price is $17,895 for the S trim with the 1.4 liter turbocharged gas engine and a five-speed manual transmission. The same car with a six-speed automatic stickers for $18,995.
Two other engines are also available in the Jetta, but only in the higher (SEL and GLI) trims. They are a 1.8 liter turbocharged four (SEL) and (in the GLI) a 2.0 liter turbocharged four.
The SEL begins at $24,995 and the GLI starts at $28,995.
The previously optional diesel’s gone, but there’s a new turbocharged four that’s nearly as fuel efficient – and it’s standard. Though it doesn’t quite match the MPGs of the politically incorrect TDI engine, the 1.4 liter-equipped base trim Jetta costs about $4k less than the TDI Jetta did. This makes up for a lot at the pump and down the road.
The bad news – if you like to shift for yourself – is that the 1.8 liter engine is no longer available with a manual transmission and the engine is only available in the higher-cost ($24,995 to start) SEL trim.
Last year, you could buy a 1.8 equipped (and manual transmission) Jetta Sport for $20,895.
All trims get an updated touchscreen and suite of apps and a standard USB hook-up in place of VW’s weird “pig tail” hook-up.
As roomy inside as larger-on-the-outside cars like the mid-sized Toyota Camry while being much more reasonably priced to start.
New 1.4 liter four delivers near-TDI mileage for thousands less up front.
Two more engines to choose from.
Most cars in this class have a standard – and one optional – engine.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Getting into a 1.8 liter-equipped Jetta costs thousands more than it used to cost to buy a TDI Jetta.
Precarious prospects. The “cheating” scandal has hurt VW. And hurt resale values of VW’s cars, whether diesel-powered or not.
The Jetta’s base engine is a new engine.
It’s a turbocharged 1.4 liter four – a smaller engine than the Jetta’s formerly standard (but not turbocharged) 2.0 liter four.
Although it’s smaller, it is much stronger: 150 hp and 184 ft.-lbs. of torque vs. 115 hp and 125 ft.-lbs. of torque for the previous not-turbocharged 2.0 liter four, which needed about 11 seconds to achieve 60 MPH -in the same ballpark as a Prius hybrid. Which would have been okay if the Jetta 2.0 delivered Prius-like mileage.
Just 23 city, 34 highway – and the real world numbers were generally worse because the engine had to be worked like a Vietnamese Ladyboy just to keep up with traffic. Last time I test drove one, I averaged about 24 MPG. Which is no great shakes for a four cylinder-powered family car.
The new 1.4 engine is a huge improvement.
Not just power/acceleration-wise but also mileage-wise. With the standard five-speed manual transmission, the 1.4 liter Jetta gets to 60 in just over 9 seconds – and mileage is an excellent 28 city, 40 highway.
To appreciate the excellence of this, note that the mileage of the shoo’d off the stage diesel was 31 city, 46 highway – which is more excellent than the 1.4 gasser’s. But not by much. Just 3 MPG better in city driving and 6 on the highway. And even that advantage is washed away by the 1.4 Jetta’s $4k cheaper price.
Especially given $2 per gallon gas.
Uncle’ s emissions fatwas have not only killed off diesels, they killed their economy advantage. The design changes necessary to comply with the fatwas – things like particulate traps and urea injection – have greatly reduced the mileage delivered by diesels even before Uncle decided to sit on VW for “cheating” on the tailpipe tests.
Doubt this? Have a look at the Euro-spec Jetta (which has a smaller 1.6 liter TDI engine). It returns 60-plus MPG on the highway and 40-plus in city driving – better than any hybrid car you can buy in the U.S.
Better than most motorcycles you can buy in the U.S.
Even if Uncle gave VW permission to sell the 2.0 liter TDI again, it would be a hard sell vs. the 1.4 liter gasser given the U.S.-spec diesel’s marginal 3-6 MPG advantage and much higher buy-in cost vs. the 1.4 liter gasser.
But why can’t we have the Euro-spec. 1.6 liter diesel?
Be sure to send a thank-you note to Uncle.
Next up is a 1.8 liter turbo four. It makes 170 hp and 184 ft.-lbs. for torque. This version of the Jetta can get to 60 in 7.4 seconds and also gets 25 city, 36 highway – better mileage (and much better performance) than last year’s base 2.0 liter gas engine.
But VW no longer lets you buy this engine in the lower-priced S and SE trims – and it’s no longer available regardless with a manual transmission. It comes only in the SEL trim – and only paired with a six-speed automatic.
Again, because Uncle.
Uncle hasn’t issued a fatwa that says VW can’t sell the 1.8 liter engine with a manual transmission – or sell it in the lower-priced trims. But, Uncle’s fuel-efficiency fatwas put pressure on VW and every other car company to sell the most fuel-efficient engine/transmission combinations – which happens to be the automatic transmission combination. And to sell fewer cars equipped with less-efficient engines, because the more they sell, the lower their overall Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) numbers end up being. Which brings down fines.
So VW – like many others – still offers stronger (but less economical) engines. But only in the lower-production/higher-priced trims, to tamp down the downward pull on the CAFE number and (hopefully) reduce the fines it has to pay Uncle (or add to the sticker price of its cars).
If you want more power, there’s also a third option – a turbocharged 2.0 liter four (not to be confused with the previously standard and not-turbocharged 2.0 liter four). This one makes 210 hp and 207 ft.-lbs. of torque and is basically the same engine used in the Golf GTI. So equipped, the Jetta’s 0-60 run improves by almost 1 full second to about 6.4 seconds. Mileage is only slightly less than with the 1.8 liter engine, too: 24 city, 33 with the automatic (a manual – a six-speed manual – is still available with this engine and the rated mileage is only 1 MPG less – in city driving – when so ordered).
The optional automatic – uniquely available with the 2.0 engine – is VW’s DSG automated manual. It offers quicker gear changes (and better efficiency) than the conventional automatic used with the 1.8 and 1.4 liter engines but be aware that the DSG transmission is extremely expensive to service/replace, should that ever become necessary.
ON THE ROAD
VWs are unique in that they are the only mass-market/modestly-priced cars that are direct kin of luxury-brand/high-priced cars.
Well, ok, there is Lincoln – which re-sells tarted up (and heavily marked up) Fords.
VWs are close kin of Audis – sold at a discount. You get the same bones – the underlying chassis, suspension and many other foundational components – sometimes even the same (or very closely related) engines. These are the parts that make a given car feel (and drive) a certain way.
So, it’s no surprise that the Jetta drives a lot like an A3 or A4 sedan – which are its close kin. The A3’s standard engine is the same 1.8 liter engine that’s the optional engine in the Jetta and both the A3 and the A4 offer basically the same 2.0 turbo four that’s available – with ten fewer rated hp – in the Jetta.
They all feel like what they are: German luxury-sport sedans, whether the badge says “VW” or “Audi.”
The Jetta – designed specifically for the U.S. market and larger than the Jetta sold in Europe – is soft-riding for a German car, but (being a German car) still has formidable capabilities in the corners if you like to drive like a German. At first, you may be hesitant, precisely because the ride is so soft. That usually means lots of body roll and tire squeal if driven the way Germans drive. But the Jetta is made by Germans who are excellent engineers, who know that ride and handling are not necessarily mutually exclusive things.
Similarly, the steering feels light, but this does not mean it’s sloppy.
And now that the base engined Jetta has some balls, you can power out of the corners, too.
I’d prefer the 1.8 liter engine if I were going to buy a Jetta for myself – because it has bigger balls. But the huge price uptick (and automatic-only thing) would probably prevent me from checking that box.
The top-of-the-line 2.0 engine is nice, too – but the way VW structures it, you can only get it in the priciest-of-all GLI trim. Though to be fair to VW – if you cross shop the Jetta GLI against the V6-powered versions of larger-on-the-outside but not-much-roomier-inside mid-sized sedans like the Toyota Camry ($31,370 for a V6-equipped version) the GLI Jetta comes off looking not-quite-that-pricey.
The just-updated Camry, incidentally, is also automatic-only. With the base four or the optional six. The closer-in-size (outside) Chevy Cruz offers a manual – but just one engine (regardless of trim).
I liked the VW’s straightforward main gauge cluster, dominated by large speedometer and tachometer. Which by the way has a redline that starts at 6,000 – but the engine will spin to 6,800 before the rev limiter cuts in. This “over-rev” function works like a shot of Captain Morgan in a mug of hard cider.
It enhances the experience.
Similarly (and unlike a lot of new cars) visibility is enhanced by the single sheet of front door glass, which is not broken up by a fixed “wing vent” (with a frame to obscure your view). The pull-up emergency brake is great for emergency stops and steers … if you get my meaning.
The seats are (like the suspension/ride) both supportive and soft – and that’s a happy combination. They also have a wide range of up and down adjustment, such that the Jetta is very comfortable to pilot even for lanky geeks like me.
The Jetta is not flashy but has its own kind of inner beauty.
Though it is almost exactly the same overall size as other compact sedans like the Chevy Cruz (183.7 inches long overall vs. 183.3 inches for the VW) the Jetta has virtually the same space inside (and in the trunk) as much larger on the outside mid-sized sedans like the Camry (190.9 inches long overall)
Check the specs:
Up front, the Jetta has 41.2 inches of legroom; in the second row, 38.1 inches. The VW’s trunk has 15.4 cubic feet of capacity.
The Camry has just slightly more room up front (41.6 inches of legroom) and in the second row (38.9 inches) and its trunk is exactly the same size (15.4 cubic feet). But the Camry will take up almost a foot more room in your garage – and needs that much more leeway to slot into a space curbside. Arguably, it is wasted space.
The same-size (outside) Chevy Cruz, meanwhile, has a bit more front seat legroom (42 inches) but its backseat is much tighter (36.1 inches) as is typical of compact-sized (on the outside) sedans.
Getting back to the Audi -VW kinship.
The Jetta looks like what it is – a less flashy A3 or A4. Very similar overall shape, just less adorned. Same inside, where you get a cut above as far as the materials and fitment.
The updated touchscreen is well-designed in that it is designed to be easy to operate while the car is moving. Many are not. They are impressive when the car is not moving, on the showroom floor, and the sales dude is showing you all the Gee Whiz. But what’s trick for an iPad or your flatscreen at home is often not the hot ticket in your car.
Something you can’t see but which is nonetheless happy to have is the Jetta’s larger than most fuel tanks. It holds 15.5 gallons – about a gallon more than most same-size sedans (the Cruz’s holds 13.7 gallons) and that extra fuel takes you just that extra bit farther – and makes it seem like a full tank lasts a bit longer.
Which, of course, it does.
Gripes: The cupholders – located in the center console – are too small and not adjustable to accommodate anything larger than a standard-sized coffee cup.
VW still supplies a single-slot CD player, too. And there’s Bluetooth for your iPod/phone as well.
Audi-esque available features include a cooled glovebox (SEL trims), LED exterior and ambient interior lights and heated windshield washer nozzles (SE trims).
But it’s too bad about the diesel.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The loss of the TDI engines – both of them – is a tragedy. For VW and for us.
But the Jetta is more than just a shell for a great engine. And the TDI engine wasn’t the only great engine you could get in a Jetta.
And, still can.
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