We can’t think of a brand in the compact sedan space that is doing more with its car than Volkswagen is with the Jetta. You’ll be able to order up the refreshed 2015 Volkswagen Jetta in more than 10 trim levels, and there are multiple powertrain combinations. The pricing ranges from just over $17K to $28,000-plus (not including the Jetta hybrid and Jetta GLI). This is a well-rounded lineup and it’s no wonder the Jetta is VW’s best-selling car in the U.S.

Thanks to its midcycle freshening, the 2015 VW Jetta has undergone some nipping and tucking in an effort to create a more sophisticated looking, aerodynamic, and feature-rich package. We recently scored a few hours behind the wheel of a couple of new Jettas out in the horse country of Virginia to see what the changes have wrought.

More power, efficiency = neat trick

The name of the game with auto manufacturers these days is to continue to eke ever more efficiency out of their cars, all while delivering more power in the process. It’s a neat trick, and Volkswagen has been up to the challenge when it comes to the 2015 Jetta’s diesel engine. Known internally as EA288, VW’s newest 2.0-liter diesel is slightly more powerful at 150 horsepower, plus it’s also cleaner, emissions-wise. Most important, it also nets more mpg, as many as 46 mpg EPA highway with the manual-equipped Jetta, 4 mpg more than before. In addition to the myriad internal engine improvements, the car also carries grille shutters to reduce aerodynamic drag during cruising.

We drove a 2015 Jetta diesel paired with VW’s dual-clutch, six-speed DSG automatic, a transmission that like diesel power has become a hallmark of the brand. Stomp on the throttle and you can make the front tires chirp thanks to 236 lb-ft of torque available low in the powerband. At no time did this powertrain ever feel clunky or out of sorts at low speeds, and the transmission’s Sport mode helped dial up the fun factor a smidge.

Out on the winding country roads, the refreshed Jetta handled its business well enough, and it will prove more than satisfactory for most drivers. When we pushed it, we found the electric-assist power steering a bit too boosted for our taste at higher speeds with more than a little dead space on-center, and the brakes seemed on the soft side in hard stop situations. But that’s fine, because mpg and maximum cruising range will define the diesel Jetta’s personality for the overwhelming majority of its buyers, not charging into corners and smoking the brakes.

Gassing it up with the 1.8T

Our other short jaunt came in the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T equipped with a more traditional six-speed automatic. The overall experience was similar in scope to the diesel, sans the powerband differences. The turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine replaces the Jetta’s previous 2.5-liter inline-five, and it feels pretty sprightly with 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. It gets 25/37 mpg city/highway, so this engine is no slouch in the fuel economy department either. VW is offering a budget-priced sport version of the Jetta 1.8T that includes sport suspension, sport seats, and other enhancements meant to amp up the driving experience for those who can’t wait until the Jetta GLI arrives.

Occupying the low end of the pricing spectrum is the no-frills Jetta with its naturally aspirated, 115-hp 2.0-liter engine. This combination is actually the least fuel-efficient choice of the bunch, since it achieves 25/34 city/highway with the manual and 23/34 city/highway with the six-speed automatic. We didn’t get a chance to drive this variant and weren’t disappointed that we didn’t. When you see a 2015 Jetta advertised with a base price of $17,035, this is the engine that you get. And the fact that the bare bones base car must be special ordered from the factory tells you just how special it must be.

Wider, and with more stuff

All the variants of the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta One share a selection of exterior and interior enhancements designed to improve the car’s looks, aerodynamics, and safety. VW has taken more than a few slings and arrows over the Jetta’s “timeless elegance” appearance that more than a few have perceived as milquetoast, but it’s hard to argue with an overall footprint that is for the most part more substantial than its competitors’ in the compact sedan marketplace.

Wider is the key word here for the exterior changes, as in a wider, three-strake grille, a wider front bumper, and a wider air intake below the bumper, all of which are meant to enhance airflow into the engine bay. It’s wider out at the back as well with a new spoiler on the trunk, new taillamps, and a new bumper. Lighting is also improved, with an optional adaptive package with bi-xenon headlamps flanked by 15 LEDs.

The interior updates to an already spacious cabin are subtle, limited to minor changes to the air vent controls, trim, lighting, and seating fabrics. The steering wheel has also been upgraded, depending on trim. The trunk remains big, with a class-leading 15.5 cubic-feet of space. New safety systems are also now available for the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta, including blind spot warning, with front and rear cross-traffic alerts, and park distance control.

As you’d expect from any midcycle enhancement, the changes to the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta aren’t exactly revolutionary, but our drive suggests that they are significant enough to help the refreshed Jetta keep pace with the key competitors in its market segment.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Specifications

On Sale:Now

Base Price:$17,035

Engines:2.0L/115-hp/125-lb-ft I-4; 1.8L/170-hp/184-lb-ft turbocharged I-4; 2.0L/150-hp/236-lb-ft turbodiesel I-4

Transmissions:5-speed manual, 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic, 6-speed twin-clutch automatic

Layout:Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan

EPA City/Hwy Fuel Economy:23-31 / 34-46 mpg

Curb Weight:2850-3300 lb (mfr)

Wheelbase:104.4 in

Length x Width x Height:183.3 x 70.0 x 57.2 in

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