While America is in the midst of Crossover Fever, there are still many buyers who prefer the lower stance and slinkier silhouette of sedans. And in the compact segment, there are some very good ones on offer. The Volkswagen Jetta has been in the mix for decades, but in its attempt to find more mainstream US appeal, the result as of late has felt, well, uninspired.
Thankfully, the 2019 model is sharper in every way. It’s prettier, better equipped, nicer to drive and (accounting for inflation) less expensive. This new VW isn’t just a better Jetta, it’s a better car than most of its compact competitors.
Mature, but not exactly boring
The 2019 Jetta rectifies the anonymous design of its predecessor by adding better-defined character lines along the side, a little more creasing in the hood, a sloping rear roofline and LED taillights that appear more Audi than Volkswagen. In fact, LED headlights are standard across the lineup — a nice touch, considering halogens are generally still par for the course at this price point.
The interior stays rooted in German minimalism, retaining a low dashboard and a focus on a few choice horizontal lines. However, there’s a bit more character around the driver’s side, where the new infotainment system blends into the gauge cluster. It’s most impressive on higher trims, which not only pack a larger infotainment screen but also Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, which replaces the gauge cluster with a 10-inch configurable display.
This new Jetta lacks the outright wackiness of the Honda Civic both inside and out, but it looks better than the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus and Subaru Impreza. The Jetta’s interior quality is ahead of all those competitors, too. My only complaint about the interior is that the driver’s seat doesn’t go as low as I’d like it to. That’s it.
A little dash of character never hurts.
Andrew Krok/Roadshow A pleasant drive
Now built on Volkswagen’s do-it-all MQB platform — which underpins the Arteon, Atlas, Golf, Passat, Tiguan and about 20 models we don’t get in the US — the Jetta doesn’t take much driving to make a positive impression.
It’s not as Euro-grade stiff as the Golf, which is designed with a bunch of markets in mind. The Jetta’s suspension tuning errs on soft, and additional plushness arrives by way of thick all-season tires, which wrap around standard 16- or 17-inch alloy wheels on all trims. Even when the roads get rough, the Jetta never brings that harshness inside — hell, sound barely permeates the wonderfully hushed interior.
Under the hood is a 1.4-liter turbocharged I4 that puts out 147 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. The Jetta isn’t going to win any races, but this engine provides more than enough torque for driving and passing in the city or on the highway. The new eight-speed automatic operates smoothly, save for the occasional clunky downshift to first when stepping on the gas below about 5 mph. A six-speed manual is available, but only on the base S trim.
The EPA rates all 2019 Jetta trims — S, SE, R-Line, SEL and SEL Premium — at 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. With a mixture of driving across all three modes (Eco, Normal and Sport) on all manner of roads and showing little regard for fuel economy, I see about 37 mpg in my SEL Premium tester, which is better than the EPA’s combined rating of 34.
Speaking of modes, Jetta owners get three, accessing them through the infotainment screen. Eco does a great job of dulling the throttle, while Sport sharpens it up equally well. I prefer Normal, as it’s