Quick Spin
By Nick Caruso
on 1.6.14

Volkswagen has made some driver-friendly improvements to their 2014 model line. Good: they’re replacing the somewhat disappointing 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine option in the Jetta and Passat with a torquey (for its size) 1.8-liter, direct-injection turbo four. Better: five models will be given VW’s hot rod R-Line treatment for the 2014 model year. Best: we got to drive the whole line.

THE SMALLER SIDE OF MOTORING: Behind the Wheel: 2014 Ford Fiesta ST | Behind The Wheel: 2013 Fiat Abarth 500 Cabrio | Track Day: Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG

The 1.8-liter is more than just another teensy little motor. The mill tops out at 170 horsepower, which is potent enough to motivate these models acceptably, but the real news is in the torque curve: 100 percent of the 184 pound-feet of twist arrives at 1,500 rpm. If you’ve ever looked at a tachometer, you may recall that 1,500 rpm happens at but a whisper above idle; if you’ve ever driven in a spirited manner, you might appreciate how damn rad that figure is for these VWs. While base model VWs aren’t exactly drag strip contenders, keep in mind that even the mildest of automobiles can be peppy with a correctly configured engine under the hood.

We had the distinct pleasure of whipping multiple models around ripe grape-lined Napa Valley roads — almost entirely empty, and all twisty and goofy-level fun — and can report that in all 1.8-equipped models max torque at that low level means it’s easy to tackle turns in third gear, without shifting. The little engine simply pulls hard, away from every apex and through every gear. Improved sport performance is a huge plus, but mileage increases quite a bit over the outgoing 2.5-liter mills also — 17 percent, to be exact.

In addition to driving the more pedestrian Jetta and Passat, much of our time was spent wringing out R-Line models, each of which should come with a standard purpose-built storage compartment for all the extra thrills it delivers. We began our hooning casual afternoon of driving with the high-performance Beetle GSR, which looks like an insane amalgam of a chopped and channeled hot rod and something an evil Hippie would sketch. It certainly doesn’t drive like one of the cutest cars of the last couple decades; in fact, it moves around more like a steroidal hot hatch — which is right up our alley. Details from this limited-edition (3,500 units total) over-the-top yellow fella, like a sporty front fascia, 19-inch wheels and painted calipers, will be available on other models later this year. There are GSR decals all over, and three extra gauges on the dash hint at the turbo prowess underhood: a 210-horsepower version of VW’s 2.0 four-liter.

Much of our time was spent wringing out R-Line models, each of which should come with a standard purpose-built storage compartment for all the extra thrills it delivers.

The Touareg R-Line is equally as impressive, though far less ostentatious. We drove the TDI Clean Diesel V6 model, which pummels through corners with a sport suspension and about 400 pound-feet of torque. It rides on 20-inch wheels and features several other R-Line sporty bits like front and rear bumpers and oval tailpipes. Inside, the SUV is comfortable and pleasant as ever — luxurious in an accessible way and just right for families and off roaders alike. It’s clearly the smart man’s SUV, albeit for the smart man who also wants a modicum of performance.

We ended our thrilling afternoon with very brief seat time in the Euro-spec Golf TDI and the Scirroco R. There have been rumors recently about bringing the diesel Golf stateside, which seems like a no-brainer to us: plenty of room, killer looks, torque for days, a manual, great mileage…what’s not love? The Scirocco R, whose exhaust alone would be worth moving to Europe, corners like madness itself and deftly snorts through lightning gear changes, its turbo wastegate frightening small children for kilometers around.

Officially, Yanks won’t see those Euro models on this side of the Atlantic any time soon (especially the Scirroco), and few will have the privilege of owning a Beetle GSR (but if you can, do). But even if you don’t plan to shop VW’s 2014 R-Line, we still say you won’t drive off the VW lot disappointed. Pick up one of the 1.8 turbo fours, find a road, and drive.

FILED UNDER ,