If only the Volkswagen Jetta had a little more oomph than the base 2-liter, 115-horsepower 4-cylinder delivers--without having to spend $750 on the optional 2.8-liter, 174-h.p. V-6, and without having to stop and pay a tithe to the OPEC fraternity.

Enter the turbocharged 1.8-liter, 150-h.p. 4--the same engine offered in the Beetle that's now available in the 2000 Jetta.

The turbo 4 performs like a V-6 when you need a burst of power from the light or when slipping into traffic from the merger lane. Yet it delivers 4-cylinder fuel economy for those times when the only thing you want to burst past is the gas station.

The 1.8 is rated at 24 m.p.g. city/31 m.p.g. highway with the 5-speed manual. With optional ($875) automatic, the rating is 22/28.

The vehicle we tested had the 5-speed manual--a smooth unit, though fourth gear seemed to have a mind of its own at times.

The Jetta 1.8T comes with automatic slip regulation (ASR) as well as electronic differential lock (EDL) as standard. In the Snow Belt, you'll find EDL goes to work first in applying the brakes to bring a slipping wheel under control. If needed, ASR then kicks in by limiting fuel flow to the engine to reduce speed to bring traction back to the slipping wheel.

If the Jetta has a shortcoming--and it does--it's that the compact we tested had seats that don't allow you to fully enjoy the performance the car delivers.

The seats are narrow and side bolsters almost non-existent. Plus, the test car came with optional slip-and-slide leather seats. If you drive the Jetta aggressively, the seats don't offer the same lateral support that the suspension does. If the car body doesn't lean in the corner, yours shouldn't.

Worse, the seat's bottom cushion makes you feel as if you're sitting on a mound. A mound is where Kerry Wood gets paid to perform, not where a driver is expected to try to balance while maneuvering a vehicle.

Cloth seats are standard. Stick--and we mean that literally and figuratively--with the cloth, which usually has more give than leather. It means giving up optional heated seats, but the reason for heat is to warm the cowhide mound you are sitting on.

Base price of the Jetta 1.8T is $19,200. Standard features i nclude four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, remote central locking, AM/FM stereo with cassette, front- and side-impact air bags, rear reading lights (which, in order to use, you must stoop over or hit your head on the roofline), cruise control, split folding rear seats, height adjustable/telescoping steering wheel, power remote trunk/fuel-filler door release, air conditioning with pollen/dust/ odor filter, power windows and power heated mirrors.

>> 2000 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T Wheelbase: 98.9 inches Length: 172.3 inches Engine: 1.8-liter, 150-h.p., 20-valve 4-cylinder Transmission: 5-speed manual Fuel economy: 24 m.p.g. city/31 m.p.g. highway Base price: $19,200 Price as tested:$21,520. Includes $1,175 for luxury package with power sunroof and 16-inch alloy wheels, $850 for partial leather package with leathe r heated seats and heated windshield washer nozzles and $295 for upgraded Monsoon sound system. Add $525 for freight. Pluses: Very lively engine with the fuel economy of a 4-cylinder, the response of a V-6. Very pleasant road-holding ability. ASR, or anti-slip regulation, and EDL, or electronic differential lock, are standard to detect wheel slippage and apply braking force (EDL) to the slipping wheel and/or control throttle response (ASR) to maximize traction and minimize slipping. Side-impact bags and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS standard. Minuses: Engineer who designed the seats should be sentenced to sit on one for a day or until he goes bezerk, whichever comes sooner. Finding fourth gear smoothly. >>