Engine: Turbo-Diesel 2.0L I4
Power: 150 HP / 236 LB-FT
Transmission: 6-Speed DCT
Drivetrain: Front-Wheel Drive
Engine Placement: Front
Curb Weight: 3,296 LBS
Cargo: 15.7 CU-FT
MPG: 31 City / 45 HWY
Base Price: $21,640
Volkswagen calls its 2015 Jetta "refined, redesigned," and countless man-hours have gone into its re-engineering, but you'd need to crawl all over the car, unbolt most of the body, drive it or spend some time on VW's website to fathom the changes. That's why we wrote, "2015 Volkswagen Jetta is new, we promise," when we first saw the car in New York last April.
While we wait for a sweeping next-generation overhaul to come, the marquee elements for now are the new structure underneath designed to win an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating, fuel economy increases and a heavily reworked 2.0 TDI diesel engine. Plus, there's ornamental detailing around the body and updated interior, and the revamped trim package and accessories matrix promises to provide more value. That makes it a better buy than the 2014 model, assuming it can find buyers ready to appreciate the subtleties.
Outside, improved aerodynamic prowess is the primary goal, and almost all of the visual refresh works to further that aim. A new grille with three cross fins sits atop a slipperier bumper and air intakes. On models with the 1.8T gas engine and new 2.0 TDI diesel, the grille is fitted with a shutter to decrease drag and, on the diesel, speed up the engine warming. There are sleeker rain gutters inside the A-pillars and paneling under the body by the rear axles. Attending to airflow in back is an altered decklid reshaped with an integrated spoiler.
Among the other changes are optional adaptive bi-Xenon headlights lined with 15 LED running lights and a chrome strip of brightwork. New fog lights are set in the flanks of the lower lip, and LED taillights can be had on the GLI and Hybrid models, with a tweaked VW logo sitting in between. The illuminating upgrades continue inside with ambient lighting and a crisper dash cluster display. Those cabin changes are joined by an optional "tunnel" theme for the gauges, a new steering wheel design with piano black accents and chrome, redesigned vent controls and new fabric options.
Changes to the front substructure from the bumper to the front doors, and strengthened A-pillars combined to win the 2015 sedan a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
We're here to focus on the diesel model, and the updated EA288 2.0 TDI engine and its modular packaging is the most visceral highlight for 2015, inserting new numbers on every line of the spec sheet compared to its predecessor, save for cylinder bore spacing. Developments such as a cross-flow cylinder head, integrating the intercooler with the intake manifold, reducing friction with roller bearings on one of the camshafts, and splitting valve operation so that one camshaft operates an intake and an exhaust valve for each cylinder raise horsepower from 140 hp to 150 hp
. Torque remains steady at 236 pound-feet. That extra oomph also comes 500 rpm sooner in the rev range, at 3,500 rpm.
What you will likely heed, however, is that highway fuel economy has jumped to 46 miles per gallon with the six-speed manual (an improvement of 4 mpg) or 45 mpg with the dual-clutch automatic, an improvement of 3 mpg. City fuel economy is 31 mpg, up one digit for both transmissions.
With no new mechanicals connecting the driver to the road, the Jetta rolls with the same German-lite handling we're used to. It's blunt but game, ready to be wound out and to have its size and weight gently thrown around; just how gently is heavily dependent on tire size.
We don't complain when horses are liberated from the corral, yet the ten surplus ponies freed from the 2.0 TDI don't get much chance to strut, because the torquey diesel is already such a capable puller. The most meaningful benefit will be the improved fuel mileage; opting for the manual transmission means you can maximize both fuel economy and control of the enhanced engine.
The interior changes come across small on paper, but large in the cabin. The new steering wheel in our SEL-spec model looks better and is no longer just a means to turn the wheels. The new gauge design, the extra chiseling and the chrome elsewhere lifts the controls from bland utility, conveying the effort of decor. Factor in available two-tone seating not seen in our test car, and you've got a shiny, happy space.
Now VW only has to make sure that buyers can feel the big change lurking in the numerous little changes – as a German engineer told us when we asked whether they considered this a minor or a major refresh, "Your American eyes might not notice the changes." We do like a spectacle, after all. Still, this Jetta offers better equipment, better fuel economy and better safety for less money. VW's 2014 sales didn't exactly set the world on fire – they were down 10 percent despite the booming wider auto market.
These model-year edits probably won't turn the situation positive, but if VW can get enough buyers to pay attention and spend time with the new Jetta, the changes might slow the slide.