Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta

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This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
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There’s an old legend about the phoenix, a mythical bird that burned but rose renewed from the flames. That may well describe Volkswagen, which weathered its scandal and is now pushing forward in several directions – more luxury with its upcoming Arteon, family-sized with the Atlas, and “green” with its electric Golf. And now, with its all-new 2019 Jetta, it’s injected some upscale maturity into its entry-level sedan.

Slips into the segment as a very viable contender.

A new platform, sleeker styling, and higher-tech interior are all on the plus side. It doesn’t stand out spectacularly in the segment, but it does enough things right, and with reasonable pricing, that I expect it’s going to end up in a lot of driveways.

One difference from the last generation is one you can’t see: the new Jetta is built on Volkswagen Group’s MQB architecture (Modularer Querbaukasten, which translates to modular transverse matrix). It’s a flexible platform of sorts – think of it as a template, rather than a fixed design – that’s squeezed or stretched to form the basis of everything from the subcompact Audi A3 to the three-row Atlas.

The big deal is that it streamlines production and allows for several common components, which in turn improves efficiency and makes each vehicle cheaper to build. That doesn’t affect each vehicle’s individual platform per se, but with its new underpinnings, the Jetta feels tight and smooth, with a well-planted, well-balanced feel and comforting composure over broken roads that can turn some cars skittery.

This new Jetta comes in three trim levels: Comfortline, Highline, and my top-trim Execline tester. All carry a turbocharged 1.4L four-cylinder engine making 147 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque that carries over from the last generation (the performance GLI model is expected to return to the lineup soon). While a stick shift is usually relegated to the entry-level trim in this compact sedan market – if one is offered at all – you can get a six-speed manual at all three levels, along with an optional eight-speed automatic. These new choices replace the last-generation’s selection of five-speed manual or six-speed automatic.

With the manual, the Comfortline starts at $20,995; the Highline at $24,095; and the Execline at $27,695. Adding the automatic tacks another $1,400 onto your bill. A limited number of options are available for each trim level and my tester had a Driver Assistance Package of adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and automatic high-beam headlights for an additional $995.

Sedans everywhere are falling victim to the average consumer’s love affair with sport-utes and crossovers, and with no base Trendline trim this time around and only one engine (the last-generation Jetta offered a 1.8L in the pricier level), it may look as if Volkswagen is just keeping it around for the sake of having something in the segment. Once you look closer, though, this is a car that stands on its own as a pretty decent machine.

Although the automaker touts a “bolder design”, I find the changes more of an progression: better flow from grille to headlight, some sharper edges and body lines, swoopier taillights, and a more chiselled rear end. That said, on this car, I prefer evolution to revolution. While some think the Jetta’s design is too muted – some have even said dull – I think the styling is brilliantly classical. Years from now, when its current competitors will likely seem startlingly weird or hopelessly dated, the Jetta’s still going to look good.

The new model is longer, wider and taller than the last generation, but the differences are minimal, and the most drastic change is an additional 74 millimetres in overall length. The trunk shrinks by 45 litres, but it’s still impressively deep for the car’s size. There’s also a decent amount of legroom in both the front and rear chairs.

The lack of a base Trendline trim means that the now-entry-level Jetta Comfortline includes some decent goodies even at the $21,000 level, including alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights, heated seats, rearview camera, and smartphone integration through Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and MirrorLink. The middle level adds items that include a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming mirror and faux-leather chairs, while my Execline threw in a BeatsAudio system, eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, ventilated front seats clad in cow leather, and an electronic differential system, called XDS Cross Differential, that brakes a front wheel as needed to reduce understeer.

All models are covered by a four-year/80,000 km just-about-everything warranty (save for wear-and-tear items), while the powertrain is covered for five years or 100,000 km.

Along with the sleeker exterior styling, the cabin receives a more premium-look makeover. The Execline trim features a configurable digital dash, housed in a pod that flows into the centre stack and holds the infotainment screen. The climate control system continues unchanged from the last generation and that’s a good thing: the simple dials and buttons are quick and easy to use, with a minimum of distraction. The infotainment system is equally intuitive, with icons that magically appear whenever your hand gets close enough, and the voice control allows you to input a navigation destination by saying the entire address at once, rather than requiring you to rattle off the city, street and house number individually after each beep.

The little turbo engine has a gruff idle, which is far more noticeable outside the car than when you are inside the well-insulated cabin. All is forgiven once you put your foot down. Acceleration is quick and even, with virtually no lag, and the eight-speed automatic’s shifts are buttery-smooth. The automatic stop-start system shuts off the engine at idle, but it can be disabled if you prefer.

The steering is dialled in for commuters rather than enthusiasts: in its regular setting, it’s light and vague. The Execline’s drive selection feature lets you set it into “sport” configuration, where it tightens up to a much better weight and a bit more feedback. Handling is responsive, and the car takes corners and rough roads with confidence.

Overall, it hits the mark well with buyers who simply want a comfortable, smooth-riding car, while I expect the upcoming GLI will go much farther in satisfying those who prefer more sport-tuning to their sedans. This new Jetta doesn’t spectacularly outshine the competition, but it slips into the segment as a very viable contender. The question of whether Volkswagen could overcome its fall seems to have been positively answered.

Engine Displacement 1.4L
Engine Cylinders I4
Peak Horsepower 147 hp @ 5,000 rpm
Peak Torque 184 lb-ft @ 1,400 rpm
Fuel Economy 7.8/5.9/7.0 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space 399 L
Model Tested 2019 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
Base Price $29,095
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,645
Price as Tested $31,835
Optional Equipment
$995 – Driver Assistance Package (adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane assist, automatic high-beam headlights) $995