Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta

RALEIGH, NC – The Jetta might be Volkswagen’s biggest seller in Canada and the US, but in the hierarchy of compact sedans, the Jetta trails big players like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Hyundai Elantra. As they say in show business, “Tough room.” With this all-new seventh-generation 2019 Jetta, VW is coming at the competition with some slick technology, a roomy cabin, the expected signature Volkswagen driving experience, and crucially for this segment, aggressive pricing.

There’s a solid, planted, and highly engineered feel to the Jetta that separates it from others in this segment.

Built in Puebla, Mexico, this Jetta now rides on VW’s modular MQB platform, which underpins most Volkswagen models from the Golf to the Tiguan to the Atlas. The 2019 Jetta is marginally bigger in every dimension than the outgoing car (largest in class they tell us), and benefits from this platform’s greater rigidity and reduction of unit cost.

VW is keeping it simple in Jetta-land. At launch the 2019 Jetta runs with one engine – a 1.4L turbocharged four with auto stop-start technology that makes 147 horsepower and a healthy 187 lb-ft of torque from 1,500 rpm. It is mated to either a six-speed manual (replacing the old five-speed) or an eight-speed auto that replaces the old six-speed unit.

Trims and Packages

Volkswagen further streamlines the Jetta experience by offering only three trim levels – Comfortline, Highline and Execline. The entry-level Trendline of Jettas previous is gone, largely because the only real function of that “stripper” model was to advertise its bottom line. In the real world nobody bought them.

Canadian pricing for the 2019 Jetta starts at $20,995 for the Comfortline with six-speed manual. Add $1,400 for the eight-speed auto. The Comfortline is nicely equipped with standard LED headlights, LED taillights and LED running lights, 16-inch alloy wheels, disc brakes at all wheels, heated fabric front seats, 6.5-inch touchscreen interface with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, USB, back-up camera, heated washer nozzles, heated exterior mirrors, four-speaker audio, cruise control and more.

Stepping up to the Highline ($24,095/$25,495) gets you different 16-inch alloys, leatherette seating surfaces, 60/40-split rear seats, auto-dimming interior mirror, blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, proximity key with push-button start, 8-inch touchscreen with six-speaker audio, SiriusXM, CD player, voice control, auto climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, and rain-sensing wipers.

The Execline ($27,695/$29,095) ramps up the luxury with leather, six-way power driver’s seat with lumbar, ventilated front seats, navigation, 400-watt Beats audio, 17-inch alloys, special interior décor, ambient lighting, front fog lights with cornering lights, selectable driving modes (Eco, Normal, Sport, Custom), and Volkswagen’s cool Digital Cockpit that replaces the analogue gauge cluster with a 10.2-inch configurable digital screen à la Audi’s Digital Cockpit.

Upgrades include the $1,700 R Package (unique 17-inch alloys, 15-mm-lowered sports suspension, specific trim and badging, ambient lighting, XDS Cross Differential, fog lights, remote start) for Highline only, and the $995 Driver Assistant package (for both Highline and Execline) that adds adaptive cruise, autonomous emergency braking, lane assist and auto high-beam.

While Volkswagen US only offers the six-speed manual in their lowest-spec S model, up here in Canada we can get the stick right across the entire Jetta lineup.

Performance and Handling

The turbo four and eight-speed auto make a fine pair. It’s a smooth, eager, lag-free, and generally quiet powerplant that packs a healthy whack of torque, allowing for effortless getaways and easy passing. The auto is also a smooth operator, not averse to kick-downs and, when the shifter is tapped into sport mode, it responds instantly to manual operation (forward for upshifts, back for downshifts).

Opt for the six-speed manual and you get smooth clutch take-up and easy shift action, although its operation is more pleasant than outright sporty, and the engine has an annoying tendency to rev-hang between upshifts. The manually equipped Honda Civic is similarly afflicted.

Within the first few hundred metres of piloting the 2019 Jetta, you get what this car is all about. If you’re used to the Volkswagen driving experience, all will be familiar. Whether you pick the auto or manual transmission, the little 1.4L turbo spins a lazy 2,000 rpm when cruising at 120 km/h. This car has legs.

Handling is accurate and progressive with no surprises – the Jetta carved these sinuous roads with typical VW poise, showing a bit more of said poise on the 17-inch wheels. The steering might be a bit light and vague for some tastes. This seventh-gen Jetta uses a less sophisticated (and less costly) torsion-beam rear suspension as opposed to the multi-link setup found on the Golf, but out on the road you don’t feel any penalty.

The Execline’s Driving Profile Selection lends a little more zing to the proceedings with some extra heft to the steering and slightly more aggressive shift mapping and throttle tip in. But even this has been expertly judged to not upset the comfort side of the 2019 Jetta’s equation, which rules supreme. Those looking for a hotter Jetta will have to wait for the GLI, which will sport a multi-link rear suspension and probably the GTI’s drivetrain.

There’s a solid, planted, and highly engineered feel to the Jetta that separates it from others in this segment. All the controls work with expensive precision, and the suspension strikes a fine balance between comfort and handling. The cabin is remarkably quiet inside too, adding to the sense of maturity and refinement.

Ergonomics and Comfort

Like the car’s exterior, the cabin is an exercise in subtle restraint, going for timeless as opposed to flash. It is built to a high standard, and while it appears a tad bland in the lower trim model, it exudes a premium aura that is a gift that keeps on giving. The centre console is angled toward the driver and all the controls are simple, logical, and work with smooth precision.

I tried all the seats – fabric, leatherette, and leather – and they all provided exceptional comfort with plenty of support. V-Dub knows how to do seats. Back-seat leg- and headroom is generous for the class. Front heated seats are standard, and praise be, a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats will be on the menu in a few months. And the trunk? Ginormous.

This new Jetta jumps on the four-door coupe bandwagon with its elegant fastback roofline. The body panels are more sculpted than before, and with its broad grille and C-shaped LED headlights, it comes across as a more grown-up version of the last Jetta.

Granted, it’s hardly flashy, and on this launch event it went largely unnoticed as we coursed the rolling countryside surrounding Raleigh. It’s a slippery thing though, bragging a drag coefficient of 0.27, helped along by active low front grille shutters and sculpted underbody panel.

All this benefits fuel economy, and with the 2019 Jetta, Volkswagen has snagged the coveted 40 mpg mark for highway duty. In Canadian, that translates to 5.9 L/100 km, with 7.0 combined and city mileage of 7.8 (auto)/7.9 (manual).

As noted earlier, the cabin is a model of serenity, especially on the highway where the Jetta’s German-breeding shows laser-like tracking and the ability to hum along effortlessly at well above… ahem, the posted speed limit. Great outward visibility too.

Indeed, Volkswagen wants to make new Jetta ownership as easy as possible. Service intervals of 15,000 km and a four-year bumper-to-bumper warranty are fine incentives, but I suspect the sedan’s biggest draw will be its comfort, excellent on road manners, premium feel, and available tech and safety features. The 2019 arrives in Canadian showrooms in late April.