It took a while, but the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta is finally starting to feel like, well, a Jetta. That wasn't the case in 2011, when the current, made-for-America Jetta debuted. Its rock-hard plastic dashboard, reduced amenities, inferior rear drum brakes and basic semi-independent rear suspension were all notable downgrades from the previous, relatively upscale Jetta.
The idea, of course, was to make VW's venerable small sedan more affordable, but we felt Volkswagen had gone too far. Formerly a top pick among our editors, the Jetta quickly became an afterthought, even as it reached unprecedented sales heights. Like a hollow Hollywood blockbuster, the car was a commercial success but a critical failure.
To Volkswagen's credit, things have improved since. Although the cheap dashboard persists on SE models and below, a soft-touch dash is now standard in the SEL and TDI models. Four-wheel disc brakes have been standard since last year, while a more sophisticated fully independent rear suspension (previously exclusive to the GLI) is now the standard setup for 2014. Under the hood, a new turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine supplants the previous five-cylinder engine, bringing with it superior acceleration, fuel economy and overall refinement.
Other positive attributes are still here for the Jetta as well. Its spacious rear seat and trunk are more accommodating than the interior quarters in other top sedans in this class.