Review: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta rights the wrongs
Volkswagen has completely revamped the long-running Jetta sedan for the 2019 model year. After a week with the car, we noted a lot of improvement in this compact sedan compared to its previous generation. The 2019 Jetta is finally heading back to its roots, but doesn't ignore modern expectations.
The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta is almost completely new from the ground up. One tried-and-true powertrain remains largely intact, but the bodywork, chassis, and interior have seen complete overhauls. The Jetta is now a bit larger and wider than its outgoing generation and pushes the wheels towards the corners for a longer wheelbase as well. This adds some interior space and comfort and also upgrades the handling characteristics in a big way.
Back in the day, the VW Jetta was known as the poor man's precision handling sedan. It aimed towards a market of buyers tired of the same old boring compacts with their lack of style and drive quality, built entirely in lockstep with efficiency and cost as their only concerns. The Jetta helped buck that trend, offering a little bit of style and a lot of driveability.
After the 1970s oil crisis and the snooze-inducing 1980s (as far as autos were concerned), the Jetta began to change. As the competition got more astute, the Jetta began to get lost in the crowd. The most recent generations of the car have been competent and well-meaning, but largely lost in the parking lot as Japanese and Korean designs began to outpace the Jetta for comfort and appeal.
The 2019 Jetta aims to change all of that and is a solid step towards reclaiming the Jetta's original design qualities. This seventh-generation of the Jetta was unveiled at the 2018 North American International Auto Show in Detroit and measures 185.1 inches (4,702 mm) in length and 70.8 inches (1,799 mm) in width. That's about two inches longer and nearly an inch wider than the outgoing Jetta. To go with those changes, the 2019 Jetta's wheelbase has been extended to 105.7 inches (2,686 mm), versus 104.3 inches (2,650 mm) for the previous-generation.
That growth translates to a little more roominess inside and a bigger curb presence outside. We like the new Jetta's look, with its stronger lines and more well-defined grille and fascia. The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta is far more standout than was the previous generation or even the one before that.
Inside, the Jetta now has a more modern appeal to its design. Volkswagen added texture to the plastics and more thought to materials choices. The signature "function makes form" that VW has always held remains inside the new Jetta, but there is far more style to it. Monotone is still the general theme, however, and that's to the new car's detriment.
The infotainment system helps with that a bit, breaking up the dash thanks to its larger screen. A 6.5-inch touchscreen is now standard, where the previous model year had a 6.3-inch screen as its largest offering. The base inclusions for technology are a rearview camera, a USB port, Bluetooth connection, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a few app-connections for streaming music from a smartphone. Upgrading adds an 8-inch touchscreen plus navigation, VW Car-Net Services for safety and connectivity, and another USB plug.
Seating is very well done and despite, on paper, losing some legroom both front and rear, the reality is that there feels like there is actually more. That's because the redesign of the Jetta's fitments has meant more lateral legroom, decreasing the pinch felt in earlier models.
Getting in and out of the 2019 VW Jetta is easy with high roof entry and low sills. We like the step-in height and the cradle of the seating once one has dropped into place. Driver's controls and adjustments are very good and the new all-digital gauge display is amazingly crisp and clear.
The rear seat can sit three across, but adults will find it tight (as they would in any compact). The Jetta's trunk is now a bit smaller than before, but only by about a cubic foot. The new deck opens wider and has a lower lip, though, so loading that trunk is easier. The rear seats are split-fold as standard, expanding that space when needed.
More good additions are drive assistance and safety systems such as adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and more. These are nearly all options for the base model 2019 Jetta and are standard equipment on the other four trim levels of the car.
Underneath the new bodywork and more stylish interior is a much more livable chassis and drivetrain. The 2019 Jetta is designed on Volkswagen's new MQB Platform, upon which both the Golf and the big Atlas are also based. This change means a stiffer build and more precise steering.
To simplify and keep costs low, Volkswagen also dropped all but one of the engine options for the 2018 Jetta in this new 2019 model, opting to keep only the well-vetted and nicely-matched 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. This power plant outputs 147 horsepower (109.6 kW) to the transmission. That can be either a six-speed manual shift or an eight-speed automatic. The manual will appease most of the enthusiasts and the relatively large number of VW buyers who opt for shifting gears themselves. The automatic is similar to the previous-gen car's auto, but has smoother shift points and makes for a better drive overall.
This engine is not going to win the Jetta any competitions for fastest, best, or loudest, of course, but it's a near-perfect match for the Jetta's needs as a daily driver and occasional road trip vehicle. What's more, the front-wheel drive vehicle now achieves excellent fuel economy numbers that realistically pan out in the real world.
The 2019 VW Jetta is EPA-rated at 30 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway (with the automatic trans) and we averaged 33 mpg overall in our week of driving, which consisted of mostly in-town runs. It's hard to beat those numbers without electrifying the drivetrain. On that note, we expect a hybrid version of the Jetta sooner than later, given VW's new post-dieselgate penchant for electrifying everything in the shop. For sport sedan enthusiasts, VW has also promised a GLI variant for the 2019 model year, but has yet to release specs.
To summarize, after a week with the new 2019 Volkswagen Jetta, we're impressed with its improvements. Gauged against the market on the whole, it's competitive, but other options will offer more roominess or more sportiness. Mainstays on the market like the Honda Civic aren't as compelling, however, given the Jetta's generally lower price point and generous feature set. The Jetta's starting price is about US$18,500 and our near top-tier SEL test model rang in at $24,400.
Product Page: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta