Napa Valley, California – The Volkswagen Jetta had always had that aura, that certain something, especially with regard to driveability, that set it apart from the rest of the pack.

And for consumers who had been won over by the German compact, “Once a VW lover, always a VW lover.”

But the sixth-generation Jetta, launched in 2010, lost that aura.

The only things the sixth-generation Jetta had on the previous model? A base price of under $15,000, which was made possible with the resurrection of an old-timer: the 2.0 L four-cylinder engine generating just 115 hp.

This single overhead camshaft engine, which dates back to the 1990s, was certainly not as efficient as its modern counterparts, but nevertheless rose to (almost) any challenge.

Lost aura or not, that drop in price translated into a dramatic rise in sales, with nearly twice as many Volkswagen Jettas sold in Canada (26,904 units sold last year).

The most notable change for the 2014 model year is that Volkswagen decided to scrap its unusual five-cylinder 2.5-litre engine (something rarely seen on the market) and replace it…

…but not with the four-cylinder 1.4 L turbo engine that already equips the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. With “only” 150 horsepower, this engine would have been too big of a step down. However, according to Volkswagen execs, it’s in the long-term plans.

Because Volkswagen wished to replace (and improve on) a five-cylinder engine generating 170 hp and 177 lb/ft of torque that had been used for nearly 10 years, it developed a four-cylinder 1.8-litre turbo engine specifically for North America.

Stemming from the EA888 family, which includes the four-cylinder 2.0T found in the Volkswagen GLi and GTi, this new 1.8T represents the engine’s third generation. And no, it has nothing to do with the old 1.8T that was offered at the turn of the millennium.

The new 1.8T will be assembled in Mexico, at Volkswagen’s brand new Silao plant.

The new 1.8T engine produces the same power (170 hp), but generates a little more torque (184 lb/ft).

Obviously, direct injection is a must, hence the “TSI” badge. As expected, there is less internal friction and the engine weighs less (4 kg less).

However, what was rather unexpected was to find the exhaust manifold integrated within its cylinder head, making the former unusually confined. A series of coolant tubes wrapped around this piping hot system serve to cool it down.

So why go to all this trouble, both at the manufacturing stage and during maintenance and repairs, when complications could – only time will tell – arise?

Two good reasons: on the one hand, upon start-up, gases heat up more quickly, which results in quicker treatment of polluting emissions; on the other hand, once you’re on the road, these same gases are cooled down more efficiently before they reach the turbocharger, which translates into better fuel economy at cruising speed (20 percent better, according to Volkswagen).

OK, time to get serious: what exactly does this new four-cylinder 1.8T add up to?

For starters, it is smoother and more linear than the five-cylinder engine, thanks to the fact that peak torque is reached once the engine hits 1,500 rpm, which is nearly twice as fast.

This is especially useful on mountain roads, where other, less powerful competitive compacts (class average: 150 hp) were not quite up to the task.

Although the new 1.8T’s power is similar to that of the five-cylinder engine that is being retired, and although the car barely weighs less, the torque available at low engine speed allows the 2014 Jetta to accelerate more quickly from zero to 100 km/h: 0.7 seconds faster with the manual transmission (7.3 seconds) and 0.6 seconds faster with the automatic transmission (7.9 seconds).

Keep in mind that cars in the compact class go from 0-to-100 km/h in around 10 seconds, on average.

That said, with the manual transmission, the new Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T’s turbo hesitates ever so slightly when you put the pedal to the metal.

However, this hesitation isn’t as perceptible with the automatic transmission (still a six-speed). Indeed, the automatic transmission is well-suited to the new engine, whose power is delivered over a wide power band and whose sound is pleasing to boot.

We still prefer the sporty, precise handling, as well as the smooth shifting and good gear spacing of Volkswagen’s manual transmissions, so we won’t hold our noses up at the fact that the manual transmission paired with the new turbo engine still has only five gears.

Let’s just say that a wonderful opportunity was missed by failing to add the existing six-speed manual transmission, particularly on the Volkswagen Jetta TDI

Good news: the new 1.8T seems to be fuel efficient.

According to official fuel consumption figures, the 1.8T is between 10 and 18 percent more fuel efficient, both in the city and on the highway, than the five-cylinder engine.

On a 15-km mountain road, the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T equipped with an automatic transmission consumed a respectable 8.4 L/100 km.

For comparative purposes, this was barely three tenths of a litre more than a champion of fuel efficiency, the Honda Civic (also equipped with an automatic transmission), which followed behind us… frankly, the Civic was only just a touch better, with its 140 hp.

More good news: the new Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T takes regular fuel and does not require premium fuel, as is generally the case with turbocharged engines.

The price of the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T remains almost unchanged from the previous model year, with no more than an additional $400 to $500 for the different versions available.

In our opinion, this isn’t too much to pay to rediscover the “bite” we had grown accustomed to from this compact car.

(For 2014, the Volkswagen Jetta TDI is now available even with the Trendline version, which reduces the price of the diesel compact by around $2,000 (currently starting at $22,490).)

More sales means more cash in the bank, and Volkswagen reinvested in the Jetta by bringing back the independent suspension as of this fall. You might argue that beam-axle rear suspensions are found on nearly half of the compact cars on the market, and you’d be right. But from the VW Jetta, one expects more.

And does Volkswagen’s going back to its roots ever feel good on the highway! Even if the independent suspension is not the most disciplined of its kind on bumpy roads, it once again packs a punch, contributing to better contact with the road and providing for more refined handling.

Another new feature: all Volkswagen Jettas now come with electric power steering (except the base model, which retains the hydraulic system).

Although electric power steering is a necessary evil for reducing fuel consumption, you won’t find any complaints here: it was light and efficient at low speeds and nicely became more precise at higher speeds.

The Jetta’s steering system definitely has more soul than that of most of its competitors.

What can we expect in the coming months and years from Volkswagen in Canada?

  • Early 2014 will mark the arrival of the new 1.8T turbo engine on the Volkswagen Passat and Volkswagen Beetle. A short test drive in the midsize sedan suggests to us that the five-cylinder engine won’t be missed…
  • A new TDI diesel engine is being developed for 2015 (for the Volkswagen Jetta, Golf, Beetle and Passat). It promises to be even more efficient, despite being able to produce 10 or so more horsepower (for a total of 150 hp). Torque will remain unchanged at 236 lb/ft.
  • In late 2014, just in time for the 2015 model year, the highly anticipated seventh generation of the new Volkswagen Golf, which is already available in Europe, will roll off the assembly lines in Puebla, Mexico. This will be the very first Volkswagen Golf not to be assembled in Germany.
  • Two or three years from now, we can expect the arrival of the next generation of the Volkswagen Tiguan. This compact utility vehicle will finally be available with a diesel engine.