Sitting still in the automotive world is a great way to be left behind. The days of the five-year model cycle are over, especially when sales are weak. In reaction to the harsh criticism levied at the 2012 Civic redesign, Honda thoroughly updated the Civic for the 2013 model and again for 2014. Now it’s Volkswagen’s turn.
|Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel, 150 HP, 236 lb-ft.
Fuel economy: 31 MPG City, 45 MPG highway.
Transmission: Six-speed dual clutch automatic.
Price: Base Jetta begins at $17,035 after destination charges; TDI SEL automatic comes in at $28,330.
When the lower priced, all-new 2011 Jetta hit showroom floors, sale spiked as expected. But since then, things have levelled off and Jetta sales have been slowly decreasing over the past two years. To inject some new life into the compact sedan, Volkswagen gave the Jetta significant updates last year, highlighted by a new 1.8-liter turbocharged engine and independent rear suspension. For 2015, the German manufacturer is at it again, overhauling the interior, tweaking the exterior and dropping a heavily revised diesel engine in TDI models.
Once Again Premium Inside
Reacting to complaints that the current Jetta’s interior is a too Spartan, Volkswagen has given the 2015 model a new interior that mimics the one fitted to the recently introduced 2015 Golf. Highlights include a new gauge cluster, new steering wheel, updated ambient lighting, new trim pieces and new seating fabrics.
The overall design isn’t radically different from the 2014 Jetta, but as a cohesive unit it feels marginally more premium inside. The one place where cost cutting is still evident is in the doors where the interior panel is finished with inexpensive hard plastic. At least the armrests are covered in a soft, spongy material.
The front and rear seats are comfortable and the steering wheel fits my hands perfectly. It’s evident that the car was designed with the driver in mind, but passengers don’t have it bad either. The rear seats are still one of the most spacious in the class offering a useable 38.1 inches of rear legroom, while the trunk remains a massive 15.7 cubic foot cavern.
Engines? What’s Your Flavor?
Once the rollout of the 2015 Jetta is complete, no fewer than five powertrains will be available, including three gasoline engines, one diesel powerplant and the turbocharged hybrid. For now, three engines are available. Base Jettas still come standard with a 115 HP 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that can trace its roots back to when Richard Nixon in office.
Next up the ladder is the 1.8-liter turbocharged engine that produces 170 HP and 184 lb-ft of torque. The big news under the hood for 2015 though is the 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel four-cylinder engine that undergoes extensive revisions; so much so that Volkswagen calls it an all-new mill.
Essentially, Volkswagen took old 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel’s block and rebuilt the engine from the ground up. Despite all these changes, power has only increased 10 hp to a total of 150 hp, while torque remains the same at 236 lb-ft. But Volkswagen wasn’t focusing on power increases for the new engine. The goal was to increase fuel economy and improve refinement.
The new diesel can now run the Miller cycle at low engine speeds for improved efficiency. This bumps up highway mileage significantly for TDI Jettas with highway ratings officially pegged at 46 MPG for manual versions while the automatic is expected to return 45 MPG. That’s an increase of three MPG for the manual and four MPG for the automatic over last year’s model. City ratings for both transmissions have also increased slightly, up one MPG to 31.
SEE ALSO: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Review
Despite the increased focus on efficiency, the new TDI engine is as torque rich as ever. Power delivery is smooth an instantaneous, with lots of low-end grunt followed by a linear power drop-off toward redline. NVH and overall noise produced by the diesel engine feel much lower now and unobtrusive.
Six-Speeds, Choice of Clutches
While the gasoline versions of the Jetta make due with a five-speed manual and conventional six-speed automatic, the Jetta TDI is available with a six-speed manual or a six-speed dual clutch transmission (DCT). I had the chance to sample the DCT Jetta TDI and found nothing has really changed. It’s a decent transmission that provides smooth shifts most of the time, but at slower speeds can be a bit jerky. As well, in normal mode gear changes feel delayed, a problem that can be fixed by putting the car in sport mode, which adversely affects fuel economy.
Even with the Jetta TDI being a 3,296-lb. “compact” car focused on efficiency, it is still somewhat entertaining to drive. The steering is light and gives a good amount of feedback to the driver. The chassis blends a great balance of sporty reflexes with a comfortable ride. It responds well to driver inputs and remains on the sportier side of compact cars. Despite subdued engine noise, other nuisances make their way into cabin such as road noise and vibrations.
Telling a 2015 Jetta apart from a 2014 may be a feat only a diehard Volkswagen fan will be capable of. There is a new grille, new bumper and optional HID headlights, but it all looks very familiar. The back end receives similarly subtle touches with minor changes made to the trunk lid, taillights, and bumper.
The factory-order-only base Jetta will cost $17,035 after destination charges while a fully loaded TDI SEL automatic like the car I drove will ring at $28,330. The changes made for 2015 were never meant to reinvent the current generation Jetta and they didn’t. But the car does have better efficiency and higher quality materials – changes Volkswagen hopes will entice sales. Trouble is, this really still feels like the same Jetta as last year.