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We hit the road in VW's latest small sedan and hot hatch.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta

Refreshed for 2015, Volkswagen's Jetta hopes to continue as the brands leading seller in the U.S. market. Featuring new front, rear, and interior styling to go along with the multitude of engine choices, there really is no reason why the brand should expect anything else.

Riding on the same platform as the Jetta that was introduced in 2011, that car enjoyed a lengthening of nearly 3-inches. All of that remains, with a further strengthening of the outward appearance. The grill features a redesign incorporating three crossfins and HID headlights as well as available bi-xenon lamps with an Adaptive Front Lighting system. LEDs arranged in an L-shaped pattern do their part to accent an otherwise buttoned up front end. Together with the new grille, they combine to provide a wider stance to the 2015 model.

While the side appears similar to the outgoing model, the rear of the Jetta receives new taillights, a bumper and new trunklid.

Aerodynamics get their due through the redesigned bumper and air intakes, as well as flat-panel under trays to smooth under-car turbulence. Depending on engine choice, there are also grille shutters to help cheat the wind past the Jetta's front end.

The interior has undergone a refit, as well, with new higher quality materials and switchgear that give a more upscale appearance. The 104.4-inch wheelbase offers a spacious interior with head and legroom for three in the backseat, and 15.5-cubic feet of cargo space out yonder, in the trunk. New premium trim levels include six-way power driver's seat, a multifunction steering wheel, an RNS 315 Navigation system and Fender's stellar 400-watt Premium Audio System.

Engine choices range from the base 2.0-liter, naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine that makes 115 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque. Strictly a loss leader, it is a factory ordered item that's good for 25 city/34 highway. Second up is the third-generation EA888 1.8-liter turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder engine. Making 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, it will be the power of choice for most Jetta buyers, and can be mated to a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission that is capable of 25 city/37 highway.

The EA888 TSI engine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injection engine that powers the higher performance Jetta GLI. Now making 210-horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque, it is good for 24 city/32 highway when mated to Volkswagen DSG dual clutch transmission.

The EA288 is the totally new 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel with direct injection. Available in the European-spec Jetta since 2012, it is up from its previous power rating of 140 horsepower, by ten to 150 horsepower. Torque is really where this diesel mill matters, and it shows up with 236 lb-ft of twist between 1,750 to 3,000 rpm. The new diesel features an intake manifold-mounted intercooler and is smoothed out through two gear-driven balance shafts spinning at twice the engine speed. Emissions are reduced through AdBlue urea additive solution. The EPA says to expect 31 city/45 highway with the automatic transmission. Add an extra highway mile with the six-speed manual gearbox.

Finally, Volkswagen appeals to the ECO-set with it's Hybrid model featuring a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine and 27 horsepower electric motor that when combined, offer 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque.

The Jetta rides on a widely-used MacPherson strut kit with lower control arms and coil springs in front combined with a multilink kit that includes coil springs and dampers. It was equipped with anti-sway bars at both ends.

Road manners

We managed to spend time in the 1.8T and the 2.0 TDI versions of the Jettas and found enthusiastic performances from each. While the 1.8T managed quick getaways, we felt more at home with the tire-squealing torque that seemed just a stomp of the pedal away from the TDI oil-burner. Both vehicles were equipped with speed-sensitive steering that offered good road surface feedback. That's not to say that we thought they were perfect, as it did feel a bit light at higher speeds.

The Jetta's suspension offered great control through the twisty routes that took us on a tour of horse country. The DSG six-speed automatic transmissions in both Jettas (Jetti?) managed to flawlessly dance their way through the cogs until motoring nirvana was achieved, such as it could be, on excessively regulated backcountry roads in Northern Virginia.

What this state really needs is a good seeing to of the radar detector prohibition laws. Virginia certainly may be for lovers, but for enthusiast drivers, we'd look elsewhere.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta SEL base price, $25,380. As tested, $27,890

Lighting package, $995; Safety package, $695; Destination, $820.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TDI Diesel base price, $21,640. As tested, $22,460.

Destination fee, $820.


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2015 Volkswagen GTI

A perennial favorite and the actual creator of the term "hot hatch," back in 1975, the Volkswagen Golf GTI roars, er, rasps back with a vengeance for 2015. Although we didn't see it on these shores until 1983, it is now in its seventh generation, and according to Volkswagen, bigger, lighter, and more fuel-efficient than ever. Oh, did we mention it's faster, too?

Now checking in with 210 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, that's an increase of 10 horsepower and 51 lb-ft over the previous version. If you are lucky enough to score one of the Performance Package variants (+$1,495), you'll be gifted with an extra 10 ponies for a total of 220. The setup also includes an electronically controlled torque-sensing limited slip differential and larger brakes. More fuel efficient, the GTI jumps from the previous model's 21 city/31 highway mpg rating to 25 city/34 highway mpg.

Now constructed on the MQB vehicle platform, the GTI has shed 82-pounds, but is still better equipped than before. Some of those features include a standard 5.8-inch touchscreen infotainment center, leather wrapped multifunction steering wheel, VW Car-Net Connected services, LED fog lights, and a new Drive Mode selector with settings ranging from Normal, Sport and Individual modes.

The GTI can also be fitted with a Fender Premium audio system, automatic climate control, and an available DCC adaptive damping system for on-the-fly spring and steering adjustment ($800). Cargo hauling space starts at 16.5 cubic feet behind the rear seats. Fold them down and it grows to 52.7 cubic feet.

The GTI's outsides look more taut and shapelier than we've seen before, and the result is not unlike some 'bahn terrors we have seen on the highways of the Fatherland. Side skirts give a wider, longer appearance, while the roofline extends with a spoiler that trails along the rear hatch lid.

Backcountry ramblings

We loved the very characteristics that the GTI displayed from its ultra slick gearbox, to the nice, raspy voice that signaled when some serious skinny-pedal-squeezing occurred. Acceleration kicked us back in the seat, but not like the flying dropkick of a luchador from the Saturday Morning Lucha Libre (Freestyle Wrestling, Mexican-style) broadcast. Instead it was firmly placed fist to the chest that was thrilling and cagey at the same time.

Regardless, the highly bolstered sport seats kept us in place during maneuvers around the rolling hills in Virginia horse country.

Our brief stint behind the wheel of V-Dub's littlest overachiever in the country, save for the added cost performance model, had us thinking this GTI is a little race car in street clothing. Smooth acceleration, very direct steering and lots of European swagger goes a long way towards keeping you interested in the ride, which sadly many cars don't do these days. The steering has very little play and thesStick carves a silky-smooth path between the gates. Even though it's a six speed, they click right in place, in the right places.

It is so good that it makes an average driver into a good one, and a good driver into a better one.

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI Manual

Base price: $24,395; as tested: $25,215.

Destination fee, $820.

Photos by Mark Elias.