The 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE has a manual gearbox and...

The 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE has a manual gearbox and what the automaker calls a connectivity package. Credit: Volkswagen / Scripps Howard News Service

Somewhere around the middle of the 20th century, boys roaming the streets had a favorite insult for any motorist who dared blow his horn at them.

"You got a horn, mister, now jack it up and build a car around it."

Volkswagen follows that taunt with a versatile new engine that it has jacked up to form the core of a whole garage full of 2014 automobiles.

It has a familiar designation: 1.8T, the name of a turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine that was used to power earlier VW models. But the new one has been engineered to be lighter, cleaner and more powerful, with better fuel economy.

It gradually is replacing VW's venerable 2.5-liter, five-cylinder engine as the basic power plant for the Volkswagen Beetle, Golf, Jetta and Passat, the company's lineup of economy and family cars.

The new 1.8T delivers 170 horsepower, the same as the old 2.5, but with increased torque, or twisting force, and improved fuel economy. Where the 2.5 had 177 pounds-feet of torque at 4,250 rpms, the 1.8T delivers 184 at 1,500 rpms.

The 2.5 has a city/highway fuel consumption rating of 22/31 in a Passat with a six-speed automatic transmission. With the new 1.8T, the EPA says the numbers are 24/34.

Even with its improved fuel economy, the 1.8T is no slouch. To determine that, look no farther than the subject here: the 2014 Jetta SE with a manual gearbox and what VW calls a connectivity package, which happens to be less about connectivity than convenience.

But there's only one connectivity item in the package: Bluetooth. The rest have nothing to do with it: The others: heated front seats and windshield washer nozzles; 16-inch alloy wheels; a leather-covered steering wheel, and carpeted floor mats.

These are part of an array of features that make the SE a complete car with a relatively low price of $21,240. It covers full safety equipment: stability and traction control, antilock brakes, side air bags and tire pressure monitoring. But it did not include a backup camera.

It also incorporates manual air conditioning, satellite radio, cruise control, tilt and telescoping steering column, remote locking, power front seatbacks, power windows and heated outside mirrors.

The upholstery is a high-quality manufactured leatherette, which like any of its ilk gets sticky in hot weather and fanny chilling in winter temperatures. If you want more comfortable cloth, it is available but only in the base Jetta 2.0L S model, which has a starting price of $17,540 but just 115 horsepower.

Volkswagen gives up some bragging rights, though not much in the way of performance, in equipping the Jetta with a five-speed manual gearbox at a time when lower-priced competitors have six speeds.

VW says its five-speed outperforms some six-speed gearboxes with equivalent or better fuel economy. That may be, but some consumers may simply shrug and say six is better than five. In any case, the more popular transmission will be the easygoing optional six-speed automatic, which has a manual shift mode.

With the five-speed manual, the company lists the zero to 60 mph acceleration time at 7.3 seconds, with fuel economy of 26/36/30 mpg on the Environmental Protection Agency's city/highway/combined test cycles.

On the road, the compact Jetta tilts more toward the sports sedan side of the spectrum than the economy end. Acceleration is lively and the handling around curves is taut and controlled. The five-speed's shift linkage is intuitive, with easy clutch action. Electric power steering provides modest feedback and tracks steadily in a straight line.

There's plenty of power from the new 1.8T. But because it is a turbo, you have to keep the revs up for maximum performance. Throttle response is leisurely until you reach about 3,000 rpms on the tachometer, when the Jetta surges forward.

The Jetta has supportive front seats with manual adjustments for height and fore/aft. Seatbacks are motorized for fine adjustment.

But in one of those sad attempts to save a tiny amount of money, the Jetta's left sun visor slides on its support rod to block sun from the side. But the one on the right does not. Chevrolet makes the same chintzy omission in its Cruze compact.

There's abundant leg room in the outboard back seats, with adequate headroom for people up to about 6 feet tall. The center position, with a big hump and an intrusive console, is impossible. But as is traditional with the Jetta, there's a huge trunk of nearly 16 cubic feet.


Model: 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE four-door sedan.

Engine: 1.8-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 170 horsepower.

Transmission: Five-speed manual.

Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.

EPA passenger/trunk volume: 94/16 cubic feet.

Weight: 3,021 pounds.

EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/36/30 mpg.

Base price, including destination charge: $21,240.

Price as tested: $21,240.

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