For 2014 Volkswagen made the right decision and dumped the old 2.5l 5 cyl in favor of their tried and true 1.8l turbo with direct injection. Teamed with a shiftable 6 speed automatic this car is a dream. So good is that power train combo I never bothered moving the gear selector over to the manual shift option as it was always on boost and ready to drop a gear when needed to merge in traffic or zip around some putz in Prius clogging the fast lane.
For the fam this was a much better choice than the Focus/Civic for one reason. And one reason only. Rear seat room. The Jetta SE though a compact in size is so well packaged that it has actual usable adult size rear leg room and head room. The other two are really relegated to small children and amputees in the back seat.
A week of driving around So Cal in a mix of urban, congested freeway and sprightly moving freeway yielded a respectable 25 MPG (225 miles on 9 gallons of regular unleaded). Sure the other two chief competitors post better mpg numbers, but I'm willing to sacrifice a couple of mpg for the refinement, power and urge the Jetta had.
What I found surprizing is that with the Jetta SE refresh to the powertrain they didn't address technology and material quality. On the former Ford's Focus owns the class, on the latter Civic and Focus have a much nicer almost premium feel. Jetta has vinyl seats that are comfortable and fit well the first 10 minutes or so on a hot day. Go a bit longer than that and you have a moisture puddle growning on your back and bottom. Not comfortable or pretty.
The technology factor is the only real disappointment with the Jetta. No Bluetooth standard in the SE, for 2014 it was an added cost option vs Ford that included it in the SE in their basic Sync MyFord. No navigation, but to be fair, its an extra cost option no one in the class and price point offer up as standard, yet. I didn't realize how dependant I was on Bluetooth, voice commands and navigation until I spent a week in the Jetta and kept reaching for the voice command button only to find a blank steering wheel.
Also missing were redundant steering controls for the entertainment system. Its nice to be able to change volume and stations without having to twiddle on a little knob on the dash and just thumb control on the steering wheel.
The car didn't even have a USB port! I don't know when the last time I had a car without this key feature. Even if you can't use it for your song library its a nice touch to keep your phone charge. (Luckily you can get a car charger for the power port/lighter for under $20 at Target).
Aside from the vinyl that does a good job of imitating leather in look and feel ergonomics overall were very good in the Jetta SE I drove. Everything was easy to find and intuitive to use. My complaint with the interior was the material choices for the dash and door panels. Lots of hard textured plastic the felt like, plastic. Not the premium feel you expect when you look at what the big 3 (Corolla/Focus/Civic) have been doing the last couple of years. When you are charging a premium over the competition a great powertrain isn't enough to sway most buyers when its the interior that they live in during bump and grind traffic.
Much of my complaints with the 2014 exist with the 2015 Model in terms of the Technology standard in the SE...its still an extra cost option that brings the base to 22.3K. Ford and Honda have basic connectivity with base prices of 18.4K and 19.9K respectively. With a premium of nearly 4K to 2.4K over the top two sellers in the class its hard to forgive material quality inside where you live with the car on a daily basis.
I really don't mean to sound like some Debby Downer as I really did like the Jetta SE, the drive train without a doubt is best in class for refinement and power. Its just the interior isn't up to what its competition is doing and with the cost difference its hard to keep the Jetta on the shopping list with the others are doing the whole pack so much better. I guess it will come down to your priorities.
More pics of the Jetta on flickr.