By on April 13, 2018

Most of us mature as we age, sanding off the rough edges and perhaps muting some of the rowdier aspects of our characters for the sake of grace and politeness. This often accompanies a shift in behavior to accommodate some more upscale habits and hobbies – dressing better as your bank account grows, for example. Or maybe taking in operas instead of rock concerts.

Not all youthful spunk is lost, however – even the most cultured of the gray-hair set cuts loose once in a while.

Peek at the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta, which marks the car’s seventh generation, and you can see this process in action. Interior materials and road manners suggest a car that prefers a gentle life rather than a sporty trashing, but the exterior design, which remains conservative overall, uses details such as character lines to infuse some enthusiasm that was missing in recent years, possibly in a bid to cut a bit loose.

Full disclosure: Volkswagen flew me to Durham, North Carolina and paid for a night in a very nice hotel right downtown so that I could drive the new Jetta. The company also fed us several nice meals and snacks, but gave no gift to my knowledge, which I am A-OK with.

Compact car buyers as a whole care less about “sport” than most of you reading this piece (that’s true across the industry, as you no doubt know). Value, comfort, fuel economy, space – that’s what matters now in this class, especially with the dreaded rise of the crossovers. If customers are still going to buy mainstream compact sedans (and hatches, and coupes) instead of leaving store behind the wheel of yet another car-based CUV, the new breed of compacts will have to be strong in these categories.

MQB to the rescue. That platform is seemingly everywhere across the brand these days – it’s under the Atlas, the Golf, the Arteon, the Tiguan and even the Tanoak concept truck. In English, it means Modular Transverse Matrix (the “MQB” comes from the keyboard-breaking German: Modularer Querbaukasten).

In this application, it gives the Jetta a longer wheelbase, wider track, and a shorter front overhang compared to the previous-gen car. It’s now also longer overall, wider overall, and taller, with more interior space.

Jetta buyers can choose from five trims (S, SE, R-Line, SEL, and SEL Premium) and two transmissions (well, sorta – the manual is only available on the S), but when it comes to engines, there is only one. It’s a 1.4-liter turbo four that makes 147 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. As mentioned, you can get a six-speed manual transmission on the base car. Otherwise, it’s an eight-speed auto for you, bucko.

At $18,545, the base car undercuts the minimum price for the previous Jetta, and standard features include aluminum alloy wheels, smartphone mirroring, USB port, Eco mode, rearview camera, automatic post-collision braking, and LED lights throughout. Base cars cost $18,545 with the manual and $19,345 with the automatic.

A Driver-Assistance Package can be added to the base model. It adds Front Assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear-traffic alert, and heated sideview mirrors.

Pop for the SE that I drove, and you now add in a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a trip computer, sunroof, dual-zone climate control, leatherette seating, heated front seats, keyless entry, push-button start, front assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic assist. That’s $22,155 before D and D.

Our prescribed drive route was mostly gently curving rural two-lane, with a little bit of around-town and freeway driving mixed in. With no Sport mode in the SE (available on the higher trims, which I did not drive), there was no way to firm up the suspension or steering of the Jetta. The steering feels a bit artificial – it’s appropriately sporty at times but light at others.

Not that I really needed to. The car isn’t exactly tuned to sport, but it’s not soft, either. It’s a comfortable, compliant commuter cruiser that felt at ease on the road. I don’t know how it would hold up on a seriously challenging road, but most buyers won’t care – they just want a calm commute, and this car achieves that. If you want sport in your compact, VW will happily sell you a Golf, and Honda’s Civic also offers sporting character.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta

Certainly, don’t expect much from the engine. It’s loud and trashy in the upper rev ranges, and freeway passes felt a little labored. I did find the manual-transmission prototype car to be peppier (having a stick will do that), but the stick-shift base car has cheaper seating material and, as much as I love rowing my own, I am not sure I want to save the manuals so badly that I would give up even the SE’s content.

At least the clutch is firm and engaging, even if the shifter’s throws are a bit long. Brakes felt firm and easy to modulate, although our cruise never truly put them to the test.

I dig the exterior styling – it’s conservative without being nearly as bland as the previous car. A nice mix of character and anonymity. One complaint: The fake exhaust vents on the higher-trim cars look great – until you spot the muffler hanging out below. You can’t unsee that, and it ruins the look. I wish VW would’ve just spent more – and yes, probably charged more – for a true dual exhaust outlet.

The interior materials remain quality for the class, with a soft-touch dash being a highlight. The center stack is now angled towards the driver, which takes some getting used to. The infotainment system and gauges in the SE are by now very familiar to VW.

I shot photos of a higher-trim car with the virtual cockpit digital gauges and the larger 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system seen in other new VWs like the Atlas (lower trims get a 6.5-inch touchscreen unit that still has physical buttons around the edge). I couldn’t put it into practice on the road, but it looked nice in the Carolina sun.

Space isn’t an issue. Cars are growing across the board – the ‘90s Accord I once owned probably had less passenger space than a modern Civic, by a fair bit – so “compact” doesn’t mean what it once did, but my tall frame was comfortable in both the front and rear seats, and getting a good driving position was easy. Trunk space is 14.1 cubic feet – plenty for luggage.

New for 2019 is the availability of an R-Line trim on the Jetta. This is mostly an appearance package that includes 17-inch wheels, a black grille, and fog lamps as its highlights, but it also includes the XDS differential, which is essentially an electronic limited-slip differential that apply the brakes to the driven inside front wheel if a reduction in understeer is needed. The R-Line rings the register at $22,195.

Step up to SEL, and you add in LED headlamps, a second USB port, a drive-mode selector, satellite radio, the 8-inch infotainment display, telematics, adaptive cruise control, Beats audio, lane assist, and light assist. That car will set you back $24,415.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta

Two grand and some change more gets you to the $26,945 SEL Premium, which adds aluminum-alloy wheels (still 17s), fog lights, turn signals in the side mirrors, the rear bumper from the R-Line, leather seats, cooled front seats, sport comfort seats, power driver seat, navigation, an alarm, and later this year, a Cold Weather Package (heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, remote start, and a heated windshield-wiper rest along with heated windshield-washer nozzles). Destination fee for each trim is $850.

Stacked up against the closest competitors, the Jetta presents an interesting business case. The Honda Civic sedan’s price is just a bit more, but you have to step to the next trim to get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the feature deck is a bit different. Still, each Civic trim is cheaper across the board, despite the fact that Jetta pricing has dropped as VW adds features.

Meanwhile, the lower-grade trims are in line with Jetta pricing but a tick more, while the Premier-trim Cruze undercuts it a bit.

Volkswagen has cooked up a car that retains a lot of the conservatism of the previous-gen car, yet the styling shows that it can cut loose and enjoy the party. Too bad the thrashy engine lacks punch and refinement — it’s a bummer, though understandable, that VW left most of the sportiness to the platform-sharing Golf.

Commuters looking for value won’t be disappointed here, thanks to quality interior materials, a nice content mix, a smooth ride, and oodles of space.

Which is fine. That’s how most cars are used these days. Aging gracefully sometimes means accepting the hard truth and making the best of it.

[Images © 2018 Tim Healey/The Truth About Cars]

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65 Comments on “2019 Volkswagen Jetta First Drive – Moving Forward Gracefully...”


  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Looks like a Chinese knockoff A4. “2019 Volkswagen Jetta. The automotive equivalent of an indifferent shrug.”

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      I said it when 1st picture appeared – doesn’t look German, period. Front is wort Jetta had [ever?]

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        I see a lot of Ford Focus sedan in the styling which is quite attractive. Nonetheless a GLI version with the 2.0 would be worthwhile.

        • 0 avatar
          VW4motion

          The latest GTI engine in this new Jetta will be a crowd pleaser. At least for those that enjoy driving.

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          Why on Google Earth would anyone get this in GLI trim over a GTI? Odds are high it will still be equipped with the old ~200HP 2.0T, or even worse the 1.8T in the base Golf.

          • 0 avatar
            dantes_inferno

            >Why on Google Earth would anyone get this in GLI trim over a GTI? Odds are high it will still be equipped with the old ~200HP 2.0T, or even worse the 1.8T in the base Golf.

            Your attempt at speculation appears to be close, but no cigar:

            “The new Jetta GLI is expected to gain a Golf GTI-sourced 2.0-liter turbo gas motor with 220 hp (164 kW) and 258 lb-ft (349 Nm) of torque. It will make the model slightly more powerful than the outgoing version, which had 210 hp (156 kW) and 207 lb-ft (280 Nm) of torque. ”

            Source: “https://www.motor1.com/news/239101/2020-volkswagen-jetta-gli-rendering/”

            Thanks for playing. Contestants will receive a $20 gift card as a parting gift (actual value = $0.20 after being taxed into oblivion by federal, state and local revenue collection agencies)

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    The wheels look like the cheap Chinese RTX wheels I see everywhere in Quebec, used mostly as winter wheels. Not a good look.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Huh, I really like the MQB Golf but I’m not sure about this one. The outgoing Jetta was easy to pillory due to its age and rapacious amenity cost-cutting from the MkV, but this one doesn’t seem to really improve upon it in the ways I would care about. I’m not digging the styling at all. It’s still not really a handler either, not very tactile, and its 1.4T only. I really don’t care about the latest & greatest infotainment and big LCD screens (in fact I really don’t like the way this new Jetta has a giant one carved into that ridiculous trapezoid above the center stack), and that seems to be the main calling card of this new one over the old.

    The MkVI Jetta had great driver ergonomics, decent road noise control, stable freeway manners and a pretty good ride/handling balance, and it felt like solid goods. It was fundamentally strong despite being outdated and that’s enough for me. I think I’d pick up a leftover 2017 1.8T SE Sport before I’d be wooed by the extraneous content and squishy dashboard of this new one.

  • avatar
    BoogerROTN

    Looks like VW is still partnered with Ambien Design Studios, GMBH.

    [Yeah, I know, “understated class”…blah, blah, blah.]

    I’d rather buy one of those old pontoons in the background and use the balance of the $20K to bribe some age inappropriate hotties to party with me all day long. It certainly would be more memorable than five years in VW’s boring blob…

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    This is a good example why manuals are dying.

    I want a stick I don’t even get a leather wheel?!

    So yeah, I’d probably be looking at the SE as well and boom now I’m in a car with an automatic and VW is saying nobody is buying the manual.

    But really I guess even I’ve about given up. Kinda finding that the only solution going forward is whatever normal car you have and hopefully space for a Miata or Mustang with the stick shift still available.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Get Mazda6 lowest trim. You will have leather wheel, stitched leather dash, 17″ alloys, lumbar support, signals in mirrors, hd radio, cd player. For another $150 you can get a navigation and fog lamps.

      • 0 avatar
        VW4motion

        Nice options for a base model Mazda6. But your still driving a Mazda6. Have you driven the newest model, any update on road noise?

        • 0 avatar
          bullnuke

          @VW4motion – He’s driving around in his 6 right now and can’t hear you for all the road noise. LOL! I’m just kidding Slavuta. ;)

          • 0 avatar
            VW4motion

            @bullnuke, great point. LOL
            But really did Mazda fix the road noise. Last one I tested sounded like a 2000 Subaru Outback. If Subaru can fix road noise, Mazda should make the attempt.

  • avatar
    CincyDavid

    I like it…not blown away but I like it. The conservatism of VW design makes them age well, like a 1980s era Mercedes or Volvo. I’m a fan of the upright seating position in my ’17 Jetta also, I feel like I’m sitting on the floor in Honda Accords and Civics, and it makes my hips hurt.

    The 1.4t isn’t a powerhouse by any stretch, I’m surprised VW didn’t spec a 1.8t of some sort for upper level trims.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      I wouldn’t be surprised if a GLI becomes available for 2020 with a stick and some nicer features, not sure what engine. This isn’t something I heard first-hand — another journalist was speculating and it made sense. I didn’t have enough facts to mention it in the review or do a post.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    It’s a Dodge Dart with a back end from the Audi A3/4/3.5.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    @Tim:

    Any word on when the GLI comes out?

  • avatar

    Think what Lexus looks like now, and thank VW for boring…

  • avatar
    tonycd

    “Quality interior materials” weren’t in evidence on the Jetta I examined at this year’s auto show. They were brutally cheap, even worse to look at than the previous car. Compared notes afterward with an enthusiast friend and his impression was the same. BTW, this is also somewhat true of the new Arteon.

  • avatar
    RangerM

    A previous TTAC article sums up my expectations of anything VW nowadays:

    “Meanwhile, the remaining examples of that “best sedan” were busy showing their owners just how VW had been able to sell a car like that for a price like that. The interior bits rubbed shiny and then fell off. The electronics went maddeningly dark. The engines died with numbing regularity. Some of them even rusted. The ’98 Passat didn’t exactly deliver the hammer blow to the face of VW’s millennial renaissance — that task was easily accomplished by the “Emm Kay Eye Vee” Jettas with their list of failures that seemingly owed equal allegiance to Robert Bosch and Hieronymus Bosch — but they turned a lot of True Believers into Toyota Owners.”

    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/capsule-review-1998-volkswagen-passat-the-g-o-a-t/

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      “Soft touch” VW interior reminds of my peeling ’00 Passat detailed in that article linked above. Never again VeeDub.

      For those complaining about the look of the Jetta don’t worry it will soon stand out in a crowd. You’ll recognize it due to the duct tape holding up the glass because the window regulators broke… again.

    • 0 avatar
      tekdemon

      They’ve improved significantly in terms of reliability. Plus they’ve thrown in that six year warranty anyways for people who don’t believe them. It’s not going to be Toyota reliable but if you have a good local dealer I wouldn’t mind buying a new VW.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Well that takes ME out of it, as my local VW store is the very definition of sucktastic, especially their service department!

      • 0 avatar
        ernest

        Count me extremely sceptical.

        1. I HAVE Toyota reliable in the garage. NFW am I going backwards on that.

        2. “…If you have a good local dealer.” Three dealers within 30 miles of our house, and past experience (’12 Jetta tdi Sportwagon) tells me they’re simply varying degrees of annoying. Fortunately, no real reliability issues with the Jetta, but a lot of niggly little annoying things. Gave the car to our daughter on the suggestion of my wife. It was her DD… that’s a clue.

        2 1/2 years and almost 30K miles on the Camry- not the tiniest hiccup. I’m gonna smack the next person that calls these cars boring. “Built like a Rolex” is a better description.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          Call me crazy, but i don’t see 30k trouble free miles as a barometer of reliability. IIRC our year one 1985 mk I Jett a gave us 30k without issue and it was an absolute pile.

          • 0 avatar
            ernest

            I certainly don’t think 30K is a benchmark, just a starting point. To be fair, though, we’ve owned 3 VW products in the past 20 years and have NEVER been able to make it to 30K miles without some type of failure. The statement was one of comparison, and should be taken in that context.

            In the longer term, the Camry has to beat my last Marquis (200K miles) or the past two F150 pickups (almost 600K miles combined) to set any family records. But yet again- “boring” cars the never failed their owner. Fords, no less!

  • avatar
    Ermel

    The Jetta — by any name, of which it wore quite a few over here — disappears from VW’s Euro lineup for 2019. It doesn’t surprise me that the new one for the US has become this boring.

    The car was never a huge success in Germany, but at least I noticed generations 1 through 5 on the streets. The sixth iteration, first Jetta designed specifically for America and completely removed from the Golf, was so bland that I can’t recall ever having seen one in the wild. So actually, the fact that I definitely won’t see a Jetta 7 means no change for me at all.

  • avatar
    dougjp

    Dull and boring exterior, except maybe the headlights adds a tiny bit of interest.

    Nothing to see in this one, move on.

  • avatar
    tylanner

    Ford Fusion eeewwwwww

  • avatar
    Garrett

    Peak VW desirability was circa Mk IV.

    I don’t really understand the point in buying a “German” car that isn’t made in Germany, nor available there.

    Probably why I could never get excited enough about the US spec Passat, even with the TDI engine.

    It’s like going to an “Oktoberfest” in mid to late October, and drinking beer from a plastic cup.

  • avatar
    brettc

    I like the looks of it overall. It might be comparable to a Civic on paper, but it’s much nicer looking since there aren’t stupid black plastic vents in random locations.

    The front looks a little bloated, but the back is nice. And it looks like for the first time since 2005, actual amber turn signals! (for those who care)

    I’m sure they’ll sell some, but they’ll sell more Tiguans and Atlases based on recent sales results.

  • avatar
    tallguy130

    So no stick unless you punish yourself with the base model and the “R-Line” has the same engine but is tarted up……yeah I’ll pass.

    Honestly VW couldn’t hit water if they were in a boat. (And stop with the bull [email protected]&# R-line. If it don’t go faster putting sprinkles on it won’t help)

  • avatar
    RedRocket

    In profile and rear views it reminds me of the departed Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart. Front end is OK enough I guess. Too bad the 1.4 engine seems less likable here than it is in other applications.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    As the owner of a Cruze Premier with every available option (even the RS package), it isn’t nearly as nice as the Civic or the new Jetta. Or the Mazda3 or the Golf. But it’s a decent little car.

  • avatar
    jalop1991

    So my GTI is built on the Modular Queerbasket platform???

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    Hm. This Jetta is one of those cars that needs a mid-cycle face-lift just as it’s coming out. I think it has potential, but it needs work, front and back. With a new grille, possible new light design, and certainly different wheels, it could come across as a lot more elegant than this.

  • avatar
    make_light

    So right now, you could probably get a prior model 18 Jetta with 1.8t, independent rear suspension, and (arguably) classier styling for a steal. Sounds better to me.

  • avatar
    scott25

    I have a sneaking feeling this might be the last Jetta. Since most of VWs customers (especially the ones buying cars and not crossovers) are Europhiles, so are generally more disposed towards hatches and wagons, the Jetta keeps getting more decontented and cost-cut with each generation while the Golf keeps getting better and more indicative of the VW archetype, and now it’s not even for sale in Europe. It’ll have a market in Asia so I guess that could keep it going for another generation but its days are numbered. The lack of effort with this is evidence. Not to mention VWs EV focus and a small electric sedan defines pointless.

  • avatar
    OzCop

    It is way past time to kill off this poser, which I view as not even remotely related to it’s former self. I I bought a new Jetta GLi way back in 89, and a better driver would have been hard to find. As I recall, only trans available back then was a stick shift. I drove that car for a couple of years, then built it into a pretty danged good autocross car…and sold it to a guy who competed in it for several years. My wife decided she had to have a new Jetta (the sport model with leather(ette) seating etc. in 2008…I hated that car so badly I refused to drive it. Underwhelming to say the least, but she liked it…the best thing about that purchase was it was not a real purchase, rather a 36 month lease. I turned it it gleeflully with much less than the allowed lease mileage…

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Looks like a Chinese knock off and very bland with mixes of insert brand here____. The 1.4T sounds like a weak effort and those fake exhaust inserts are a joke. The interior is the one aspect that actually looks better to a degree in the higher trim levels of course. Will probably sell okay but the recent move to SUV’s isn’t helping the cause.

  • avatar
    Testacles Megalos

    Those flanks are taken from the early 1990’s Pontiac Sunbird, and the hood from the 2000s Chrysler rental fleet cars.

    Both were ugly when new, and combining them on a VW doesn’t change anything. It only shows the German engineers are no longer in charge.

  • avatar
    TDIGuy

    From the world of strange marketing decisions: All new Jetta models in Canada get manual transmission options. US manual available on base model only.

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