Volkswagen styling has been inspired by American practice for as long as there has been a Volkswagenwerk. You may well think the original Porsche-designed KdF proudly presented to the world by one A. Hitler in 1938 was patterned on a ladybug, but in fact most of its styling lines are copied from the 1934 DeSoto Airflow coupe, minus the radiator grille on its down-sloping front end and with the headlights moved onto the fenders. The lovely Karmann Ghia coupe in the 1950s was a design done pretty much as an aside by American designer Virgil Exner during the time he was working on Chrysler concept cars in Turin. And that early connection with Turin flowered for VW with the brilliant Giorgetto Giugiaro design for the Golf in the early ’70s. Over multiple generations that Italian masterwork and its derivatives led to what must be Wolfsburg’s second-most prolific product over its eight-decade history.
The new 2019 Jetta’s styling is neither American nor Italian, coming as it does from the company’s German studios, though it seems very definitely created to an American-market product plan. (It will be manufactured in Mexico.) It’s a decent package with ample interior volume, but it does not have an abundance of personality. The big VW badge on the grille and a smaller one on the decklid are its only marks of identity. This Jetta has a nice, if bland and generic, profile, a straightforward frontal facade, and a rear fascia that seems to be an endless stack of dead-straight horizontal lines, broken only by a slight curve to the rear spoiler lip and a tiny bit of crown at the base of the backlite. It is all executed very professionally, especially the handsome interior, but there is not so much as a gram of fantasy or fun in the design.
Because it’s quite long and relatively narrow, the Jetta looks tall in photos, but as VW PR people are eager to explain, “people at the Detroit auto show [where it made its debut] thought it looked quite substantial.” What strikes me most of all in this car is the incredible number of simple straight lines, many of them with a kink or two in them. Looking at the right front door inner panel, I count at least 19 discrete straight-line elements. Each of the front seat cushions features four transverse lines that kink forward at each end, giving 12 lines. It actually looks pretty nice, if not exciting. That probably doesn’t matter to the new Jetta’s commercial prospects. We know from past experience with the VW Group’s common platforms and engines that the mechanicals and dynamics will be good, that build quality is above average, and—not an inconsequential matter—resale value will be good.
1. A good thing the badge on the front is relatively big. This, the smaller one on the trunk, and four even smaller units in the wheels are the only way one can know which marque built this sedan.
2. The kink-and-straight element shows up throughout, though the main grille bars are curved in plan. Aerodynamic penetration of the Jetta is quite good because of its chamfered corners.
3. It’s not quite AS extreme as a Chrysler Crossfire or Citroën 2CV, but there sure are a lot of lines on the Jetta’s hood and atop the front fenders. They give some directional thrust visually.
4. The gap between hood panel and windshield glass is unusually large. It provides space for the wiper arms to lie below the principal airflow over the nose, but it seems unnecessarily big.
5. The six-side-glass upper structure gives real substance to the car, making it seem bigger than it actually is—and the car already enjoys a long wheelbase and substantial interior volume.
6. Locating the door handle levers exactly on the peak of the crease line in the side treatment shows a great deal of confidence in the accuracy of the sheetmetal stamping process and puts them at a good, convenient height.
7. Tucking the door skins inward toward the bottom then turning them outward to provide a sky-reflecting surface for a visual detail with no cost involved is a nice design idea.
8. Extending the lower grille around the front corner in the form of an untrimmed slot is an interesting detail.
9. This diagonal plane sweeping down and aft counters the hard line above sweeping upward into the headlamp assembly.
10. Yet another kinked straight line, from the bottom of the upper grille to the base of the headlight, stays true to the unstated but observed overriding design theme.
11. Start counting the horizontal grille bars, the radii in the painted skin, and the origins of the lower lip, and you have a stack of horizontals as dense as that on the rear.
1. The ventilation outlets are handsome, once again a composition of straight lines.
2. The designers also flattened the bottom of the steering wheel with a straight segment of the rim.
3. Sticking with the theme, there are four transverse straight lines on the seat cushions, each of them kinked into two forward-pointing diagonals.
4. Perimeter trim for the gauge panel is again a collection of straight lines with kinks in them.
5. Once again the framing for the recessed warning lamps panel is made of straights and kinks. At least the designers remained consistent throughout the interior and exterior execution.
6. For the interior door panels, numerous lines run at different angles and directions. There is no clarity to the composition of the lines, and at times they just continue for no observable reason, as in the rear of the lower door pocket, where a horizontal highlight continues past the upward kink in the perimeter.
1. It appears as though the lip at the bottom of the lower grille, not the bumper strike face, would be the first part of the Jetta to touch a flat wall.
2. The absence of a chrome piece here is a marked improvement over the up-level trim versions.
3. The high point of the roofline curve over the B-pillar assures that all occupants have very good headroom, helped by the long upper structure.
4. The body-side undercut is extremely subtle. The line rises from the front fender origin to the middle of the rear door handle, where it begins to slope downward, creating emphasis for surfaces around the rear wheel opening.
5. The maximum length point at the rear is more normal: on the bumper strike face.
1. In this view the rounded profile with a flattened base actually does recall the original VW sedan shape.
2. The roof profile is quite nice, maintaining good headroom for the back-seat passengers and a nice aerodynamic flow.
3. Here we see YET another example of the straight segment with a kink leading to the next straight segment, which seems to be the overriding design theme.
4. Because the upper structure is so unusually long, there is a severely shortened rear deck, which changes cross section from a nearly straight curve at the base of the backlite to a quite rounded crown at the trailing edge of the spoiler.
5. The stack. There are almost too many straight horizontal lines to count across the Jetta’s rear. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, but it’s unimaginative and without interest.
6. At the bottom of the rear facade we are treated to rather nice chrome-rimmed exhaust outlets. Except they’re fake, with the exhaust dumping out of an ordinary pipe beneath the bodywork.
7. There is a hint of a rise in the shadow of the side treatment line beginning on the front fender above the rear wheel. It’s subtle and quite a nice effect, adding a bit of visual interest on the body side.
8. Five three-element spokes that do not connect with the center visually are rather complex and fussy, but they will look quite good in motion.