2019 Volkswagen Jetta – Hawaii Cars

2019 Volkswagen Jetta

VW’s small sedan grows up and goes toe-to-toe with the category’s best

By MALCOLM GUNN
www.wheelbasemedia.com

Volkswagen’s entry-level sedan is new from the ground up, but it’s a whole lot more than the sum of its parts.

The 2019 Jetta — now on sale — exudes a much different attitude, one that’s decidedly more upscale, even though the car’s price tag and content is commensurate with its more popular peers.
Despite the current buying trend that skews toward utility vehicles of all sizes, there remains plenty of interest in models with trunks. For many first-time buyers, affordability and fuel economy are paramount, as is gripping the wheel of something stylish and fun to drive.

The Jetta fulfills those basic needs and an increase in size results in a car that’s a bit less compact. There are slight gains in length, width, height and distance between the front and rear wheels. The little sedan also looks less frumpy than the previous model. The slippery sheetmetal, with its tautly drawn lines and a Passat-like grille, might convince you that the Jetta is larger than it actually is.

A corresponding increase in interior volume is good news, particularly for rear-seat passengers, while the cockpit-style dashboard is well laid out and the gauges — especially the optional digital versions — are easy to assimilate. The front buckets are comfortable and well bolstered, but some drivers might find them a bit narrow.

The Jetta perches on Volkswagen’s latest MBQ platform that’s used as the foundation for a number of VW and Audi models. It’s more resistant to bending and twisting, which is important for overall driving quality, comfort and reducing noise levels.

The 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine carries over essentially unchanged from 2018. Output is rated at 147 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque.

Buyers can select from a six-speed manual transmission (standard with the S trim) or available eight-speed automatic. Both are upgrades from the previous five-speed manual gearbox and the extra-cost six-speed automatic.

Fuel economy with either transmission is rated at 30 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway, up from 28/40.

The previously optional turbocharged 170-horsepower 1.8-liter is nowhere in sight, but the hot Jetta GLI — sporting a turbocharged 220-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder — is expected in early 2019.

In urban settings, the Jetta is mostly fun to drive, especially when the Sport model is selected. The turbo engine delivers plenty of torque at lower rpms, making the car snappy enough to chirp the front tires from a stop. The eight-speed automatic shifts imperceptibly and always seems to have the right gear instantly available when accelerating. Cornering precision is also first rate, without undue body lean.

The only serious quibble is the Jetta’s behavior over rough pavement, where an inordinate amount of bumping and booming is evident. For cost- and weight-saving reasons, Volkswagen installed a torsion-beam (solid) rear axle in place of the previous independent multi-link setup, which is a possible culprit. Anyone preferring a multi-link-equipped Jetta should wait for the GLI to show up.

Pricing for the base Jetta S (one of five trim levels) starts at $19,400, with destination charges. That includes most standard gear plus an electronic parking brake and 16-inch alloy wheels (no wheel covers). The next-in-line SE costs about $3,800 more and adds a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, 17-inch alloy wheels and blind-spot monitor with rear-traffic alert.

You can go all-out with the R-Line, SEL and SEL Premium trim levels, the latter being equipped with navigation, leather seats, heated steering wheel, remote start and crash-avoiding/mitigating dynamic safety tech. The SEL Premium costs $28,000.

In terms of popularity, the Jetta’s challenge is to close in on the front-running Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Chevrolet Cruze. Fortunately, a good-looking and roomy shell, spunky turbo engine and sharp driving manners should assist in achieving that goal.

What you should know: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta

Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive compact sedan

Engines (h.p.): 1.4-liter DOHC I-4, turbocharged (147)

Transmissions: Six-speed manual; eight-speed automatic (opt.)

Market position: Jetta sales lag the rest of the pack, including the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra. About two million new compact sedans are sold in North America every year, out of total of about 19 million vehicles.

Points:
• Redesigned model is now larger and more attractive.
• Carry-over turbo engine is peppy and thrifty.
• Eight-speed automatic transmission is one of the best on the market.
• Stylish interior, especially in upper trim levels.
• Fuel economy is among the best in its class. Only the rough-riding rear suspension keeps the car a step or two from greatness.

Active safety: Blind spot monitoring with rear-traffic alert (opt.); Forward-collision warning/intervention (opt.); Adaptive cruise control (opt.); Lane-keeping assist (opt.)
MPG (city/hwy) 30/40; Base price (incl. destination) $19,400

BY COMPARISON

Honda Civic
Base price: $19,850
Class-leader is strong on style; performance. Coupe version available.

Toyota Corolla
Base price: $19,500
Rock-steady reputation wins over buyers. Stylish wagon impresses.

Chevrolet Cruze
Base price: $17,850
Turbo I-4 matches Jetta for power. Hybrid and hatchbacks also offered.