VW touches up Jetta with eye on safety, mpg

The 2015 Jetta looks similar on the outside, aside from its new fenders, grille and the now-obligatory bi-xenon headlights with LED running lights for higher trim levels.

NEW YORK -- Volkswagen has tried to position the Jetta as the driver’s choice in the compact sedan field, set apart from rivals by sprightly engines and spry handling.

That isn’t going to change. But to help the Jetta level the playing field in terms of crash safety and fuel economy with Japanese rivals like the Honda Civic and Mazda 3, VW has made substantial tweaks for model year 2015.

The car looks similar inside and out, aside from its new fenders, grille and the now-obligatory bi-xenon headlights with LED running lights for higher trim levels. The interior gets a redesigned instrument cluster and display screen.

Under the Jetta’s skin, however, the changes are more significant – a reflection of Volkswagen AG’s new push to give Americans meatier mid-cycle product updates.

Engineers strengthened the front end structure of the Jetta to perform better on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s small-overlap crash test, which simulates a collision in which the corner of a car is sheared by an object like a tree or pole.

VW's refreshed Jetta gets a redesigned instrument cluster and display screen for 2015.

The current version of the Jetta received a “marginal” score on that test – not good enough to qualify the car for the IIHS’ closely watched “Top Safety Pick” honor. Several key rivals, such as the Honda Civic and Mazda 3, aced the test.

VW also added a slew of optional safety features, such as blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning and parking distance warning.

The 2015 VW Jetta.

Though re-engineering crash structures tends to add to a car’s curb weight, VW offset that added heft with aerodynamic changes such as an active grille shutter.

Cars equipped with a gasoline engine will get the same or slightly better fuel economy. The freshened Jetta will get VW’s new EA288 diesel engine, a four-cylinder 2-liter engine that will deliver an estimated 37 mpg in combined city-highway driving, up from 34 mpg for the outgoing 2-liter diesel.

You can reach Gabe Nelson at gnelson@crain.com

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