Turbocharged 4-cyl. engines are permeating the powertrain world as automakers find ways to reduce cylinder counts, cost, weight and fuel consumption, without sacrificing performance.
Generally, they are succeeding as sophisticated engines such as Volkswagen’s all-new 1.8L employ the magical mix of gasoline direct injection and turbocharging. The technologies come at a price, which makes it easier for brands such as BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac and Jaguar to adopt them.
So consider it worth celebrating when a mainstream brand goes to bat against luxury players and hits a home run. Ford has struck pay dirt with its EcoBoost I-4, and Hyundai has the Veloster turbo-4.
But the latest offering from VW sets a new refinement benchmark for small-displacement engines with forced induction.
On their score sheets, WardsAuto editors tout this 170-hp engine’s “neck-snapping torque,” “very strong tip-in and acceleration,” “solid feel and good NVH,” “whisper-quiet idle” and “nice sound under hard throttle.”
And for bean counters, here’s the best part: The well-equipped ’14 VW Jetta that delivered this engine to our offices like a holiday gift basket arrived with a sticker price below $24,000.
The new 1.8L is part of the all-new third-generation EA888 engine family. Certain aspects carry over to the new engine, including the bore size and cast iron for the block.
But otherwise the EA888 is a clean-sheet engine with new turbochargers, an emphasis on friction and weight reduction and a cylinder head that integrates the exhaust manifold, which is liquid-cooled to help keep turbocharger heat in check.
The new 1.8L comes from good stock. The first-generation EA888 launched in 2006 and earned Audi three consecutive Ward’s 10 Best Engines trophies. The second generation arrived in 2009 and tacked on two more wins. Within the VW Group, Audi gets credit for leading development of the EA888 engine family.
But even before the arrival of EA888 in 2006, the VW and Audi brands were ahead of competitors in developing standout turbo-4s that collected five 10 Best Engines honors between 1997 and 2003.
Today, the big difference is fuel economy. The all-new 2.0L turbo-4 also from the EA888 family, evaluated in this year’s competition in the VW Beetle GSR, is rated 3 mpg (1.3 km/L) better on the highway than the second-generation engine that last made our list in 2010 in the Audi A4.
But the fuel economy of the new 1.8L obliterates every previous Audi and VW turbo-4, rolling in with a 25/36 mpg (9.4-6.5 L/100 km) rating. Our test drives confirm the EPA scores, as several editors achieved about 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km) in mixed driving.
At startup, the engine will be geared for maximum efficiency. Slap the 6-speed automatic into sport mode, and this bread-and-butter family car springs to life, holding gears longer and sounding cool and confident even when pushed to the limit.
If we like the refinement and power in a Jetta, imagine the first impression this engine will make with additional technology and more torque in the ’15 Audi A3.