2014 Volkswagen PreviewPosted on August 31st, 2013
New engine, heritage styling and connectivity features spice up lineup
By Nina Russin
Riding on the wave of a 5.5 percent global sales increase, Volkswagen is adding a new engine, heritage Beetle model and Car-Net connectivity feature to its arsenal for 2014. A 1.8-liter direct injection turbocharged engine replaces the 2.5-liter block in the compact Jetta and midsized Passat sedans, offering more power and better fuel economy.
All Beetles get a rear independent suspension instead of a solid axle. Turbo models are now designated R-Line, with 19-inch wheels, bi-xenon headlamps and leather seating on premium grades. A GSR coupe recalls the yellow and black racecar of the 1970s. The new 1.8-liter turbocharged engine replaces the 2.5-liter block in the middle of the 2014 model year.
Car owners can access the Car-Net connectivity feature via an overhead console in the vehicle, mobile app or online. The system is similar to OnStar, including crash notification, remote lock and unlock, stolen vehicle location and parental controls. Owners can also use Car-Net to schedule service appointments.
1.8-liter engine boosts power and performance
The direct injection 1.8-liter block designated EA888 maintains a similar compression ratio to a naturally aspirated block. As a result there is virtually no turbo lag.
Turbocharging enables the engine to reach its peak torque, 184 foot-pounds, at 1500 rpm or just off throttle. It can maintain this torque until 4500 rpm, at which point horsepower takes over.
Torque is the power that moves the car off the line and gives drivers good performance on highway entrance ramps. On the compact Jetta sedan, the new engine improves zero-to-sixty acceleration by 0.7 seconds, and boosts the car’s highway fuel economy to 36 mpg when equipped with the six-speed automatic transmission.
Engineers combined the exhaust manifold and cylinder heads into a one-piece assembly, allowing water jackets from the cylinder head to cool the exhaust. As a result, exhaust gas recirculation, an emissions component that has robbed engines of power and performance since it first appeared in the mid-1970s, is much less invasive.
Because the engine is smaller, it is also lighter. A chain drive in lieu of a belt eliminates an expensive service procedure at about 60,000 miles.
Test drive in Northern California
I had the opportunity to test drive a number of the 2014 models at a media event in Napa Valley, California. Hilly terrain in the area was a good opportunity to assess the performance of the new 1.8-liter engine on the 2014 Jetta. I also drove the top-of-the-line Touareg full-sized crossover, Tiguan compact crossover, Beetle GSR and a Euro-spec Golf TDI that is similar to the yet-to-be-released 2015 US model. At the end of the day, Volkswagen made a compelling case that its current momentum will continue to build.
Power for the Touareg TDI comes from a three-liter clean diesel engine that delivers 406 foot-pounds of torque. With that much on the low end, it doesn’t take much throttle to power up a steep hill. All-wheel drive delivers engine power to the wheels with the best traction.
A new 360-degree camera enables the driver to monitor the entire periphery of the vehicle. The system uses four cameras mounted on the car, and also includes a birds-eye view. Cross traffic detection makes it easier to see oncoming vehicles when backing out of a parking space.
A hands-free liftgate lets the driver open the door by passing his foot underneath. It’s similar to technology that Ford and Mercedes-Benz employ, and is a boon to active types who load large cargo in back.
With a base sticker price of $60,860 for the test car, the Touareg is firmly entrenched in luxury territory. Standard convenience features such as a panoramic sunroof, 20-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, iPod and Bluetooth connectivity go with the territory.
The car’s biggest downside from a performance perspective is its mass. Curb weight is over 4700 pounds. That combined with the vehicle’s high profile made it much less nimble through hairpin turns along the test route than the smaller Tiguan.
Volkswagen engineers have transitioned from mechanical to electric power steering across the model lineup. Electric power steering systems have the two advantages over hydraulic systems. They take up less space, and they never develop leaks.
But none that I have driven to date have the on-center response mechanical systems do, including the one on the new Touareg. I was able to wiggle the steering wheel fairly vigorously without seeing much response at the wheels. While I didn’t have the feeling of being disconnected from the wheels, I did notice some lag in response when driving more aggressively.
New 1.8-liter engine boosts Jetta performance
The new 1.8-liter engine offers driving enthusiasts a lot to love, especially when paired with the six-speed manual transmission. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the Jetta because few vehicles in its competitive segment are as much fun to drive. The 2014 model raises the bar once again.
The difference in power off the line is noticeable immediately. Not only does the block sharpen throttle response, it offers a solid launch without the fall-off some small engines suffer from.
The six-speed manual gearbox shifts crisply with no gear lash. There’s plenty of range within the gears for daily driving. The clutch pedal is light enough to function well in stop-and-go-traffic.
Once again, I noticed some lag in on-center response from the electric power steering system. But I felt comfortable pushing the envelope on decreasing radius turns.
In addition to being a solid performer, the Jetta offer buyers on a budget a satisfying array of standard convenience features, including 16-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, heated seats and the new Car-Net connectivity feature.
A quiet cabin devoid of squeaks and rattles makes the newest Jetta look and feel like a much more expensive car than it actually is.
Beetle GSR harkens back to the 1970s
The third-generation Volkswagen Beetle appeals to fans of the original car with heritage models that celebrate its history in the US. Upon the car’s launch in 2013, Volkswagen introduced 50s, 60s and 70s editions, with color schemes reminiscent of those eras.
The GSR recalls the yellow and black racecar of the 1970s. The model rides on 19-inch wheels, with a flashy exterior and interior including special badging. Volkswagen is limiting production to 3500 units, to enhance the model’s collectability.
Power comes from a two-liter 210-horsepower engine and six-speed manual transmission. Unlike the second-generation Beetle introduced in 1998, the newest model is truly a driver’s car. The car’s dimensions are squatter than the outgoing model, the result of which is better stability at speed.
The engine develops peak torque, 207 foot-pounds, as low as 1700 rpm for exceptional launch characteristics. Shifting is crisp and precise.
The new four-wheel independent suspension makes a big difference on the type of hairpin turns common in this part of California. Four-wheel disc brakes stop the car in firm, linear fashion.
New Golf TDI is the trifecta
As much as I love the current Beetle with its enhanced performance and appealing styling, the Golf has the advantage of a more versatile interior and bigger cargo area. Combining power and performance that appeals to driving enthusiasts with exceptional fuel economy and cargo capability, it really is the trifecta.
2014 is the final year for the sixth-generation Golf in the US. The car will be available only as a sedan, with a choice of the 2.5-liter five-cylinder or turbo-diesel engine.
Europe gets the new model this year, powered by the 1.8-liter direct injection gasoline engine or a new two-liter turbo-diesel block that produces 150 horsepower and 236 foot-pounds of torque. It’s built on Volkswagen’s MQB (modular transverse matrix) architecture, which it shares with the new Audi A3.
The Euro-spec car rides on a longer wheelbase, is half an inch wider and 2.2-inches longer than the outgoing model. It also sits about an inch lower. Designers pushed the wheels forward to give the car a more aerodynamic profile. Using high strength steel, engineers were able to shave 220 pounds off the curb weight as compared to the US model.
The interior is sportier as well, with a flat-bottom steering wheel that’s a nod to racecar designs. The stretched wheelbase adds some legroom to the second row. The cargo space is also larger, and the trunk floor is removable to increase storage space.
The diesel engine doesn’t seem particularly powerful off the line, but gobs of torque make it an excellent performer on steep canyon roads. Despite being slightly larger than the current model, it still handles like a small, sporty car.
The electric power steering system has plenty of response on the low end for maneuvering through traffic. A new progressive steering rack design makes the soft on-center response typical of EPS systems less noticeable.
Bottom line: the newest Golf will offer everything the current model does, and then some. It will be more spacious, more powerful and get better gas mileage. So buyers who have the option of waiting should hang on till next year when the 2015 model comes to America.
For more information, visit the Volkswagen web site.
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