If you’re going to redo your best-selling model in the U.S., you’d better believe blood, sweat and tears went into it. And it shows when it comes to the all-new 2019 Jetta. The formerly aging four-door is no more, and in its place, a sportier, more stylish and tech-laden compact sedan that steps up in its class.
2019 VW Jetta SEL
My test vehicle is the SEL trim, slotting below the top of the line SEL Premium. It also comes in S, SE, and R-Line. They all share one turbo engine option and the only 8-speed automatic in its class, except the S trim equipped with a 6-speed manual. Prices start from just over $18,000 and end up over the $27,000 mark.
Riding on VW’s new MQB platform, the 7th-generation Jetta is longer, wider and taller than its predecessor. You can see hints of the Audi A3 in its exterior. Especially with the pronounced character nose to tail lines and rear taillights. Up front, its wider grille, flanked by standard LED headlights, is all Volkswagen. My test model sports good-looking 16″ Rama Black alloy wheels. But hate to disappoint you, those are fake dual exhaust tips in the rear.
Much-Improved Cabin Game
While not perfect, the thoughtfully designed and well-executed cabin is a vast improvement over past generations. The curvy, flowing soft-touch dashboard is exceptionally done. An 8-inch infotainment touchscreen (with navigation and rearview camera) is artfully integrated into the center, angled slightly towards the driver.
I felt at home in comfortable leatherette seats which gave a similar feel lumbar support-wise to my personal vehicle, the Audi A3. The A3 cues don’t end there. The inside of the door panels bow out slightly lending a spacious feel to the already roomy interior. The Jetta’s leather-wrapped, heated (late availability) steering wheel is another nice touch. The center stack and console are minimalist with simple access to dual-zone climate control, the gear shifter, push-button start and drive modes. But the low placement of the center A/C vents did perplex me a bit.
For me, the Jetta’s weak spot is the back seat. Soft-touch materials don’t carryover to the door panels and there are no rear air vents. Also, while it technically seats five, I have to warn you that a large hump in the back seat middle floorboard makes legroom pretty non-existent for that unlucky passenger. Also, the rear windows don’t go all the way down.
P.S. On a personal note put the trunk lid all the way up, else it will come down and hit you in the head, every time.
VW Digital Cockpit
VW’s colorful 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit steals the show when it comes to cabin technology. It looks great and even integrates navigation. (I also think it’s pretty amazing to get this in a $25,000 vehicle.)
The tachometer also changes colors with ambient lighting choices, too, all ten of them. Let me tell you the red puts on quite a light show in the entire cabin at night.
Infotainment, Connectivity, And Audio
My test model’s 8-inch touchscreen (a 6.5-inch is standard) is super quick and responsive. VW’s MIB II Infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility is easy to navigate. From the touchscreen menu you can access things like vehicle status, trip information and tire pressure monitoring system. However, I missed having a knob controller for the infotainment system on the center console. Sound comes at you from a premium Beats Audio system with tweeters in the A-pillars and rear doors. You can control volume and station choices via steering-wheel-mounted controls or by voice command if you want to keep your touchscreen fingerprint free. One USB port is standard on the lower trims. The upper two trims get two.
Power, Handling, and Ride
You don’t buy a Jetta for its performance, because a sporty, German, exciting Autobahn drive it is not. You do buy it for its pleasant, mostly quiet, commuter ride. (Road noise was relatively quiet for a compact sedan, but the same can’t be said for highway wind noise.) The Mexico-built Jetta delivers light steering and a soft suspension that lends itself to some body roll. You can choose between normal, eco, sport, and custom drive modes.
Power is good. At times I’d even call it spirited. The 1.4-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine is peppier than 147-horsepower might suggest. While horsepower falls in the middle its class, its 184 lb-ft of torque outdistances the pack. The Jetta is also notably the only one in its class to sport an 8-speed automatic, a selling point if you don’t want a 6-speed or a CVT.
The bottom line is that the Jetta excels as an easy to drive commuter car (not to mention makes 30 mpg combined.) But if dynamic handling and more power are important to you, look to the more fun-to-drive Golf.
Standard Features, Options
Standard features across the lineup include auto stop/start with a disable button (automatic trims), push-button start (except S trim), rearview camera, an electronic parking brake, LED taillights, power-operated side mirrors, and cruise control. The SEL is also equipped with a sunroof, 10-color ambient lighting, along with heated seats. Remote engine start is coming later.
All trims feature Automatic Post-Collision Braking System that brakes after you’ve crashed to avoid additional collisions. Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking along with Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Traffic Alert come standard on all but the base trim. My SEL tester also had Lane Assist, High Beam Control, and Adaptive Cruise Control.
The 2019 VW Jetta is the best Jetta ever and will no doubt win commuters over with its higher quality materials, roominess, stepped-up technology, and value.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this review incorrectly noted the trim level as SEL Premium.