New Car Reviews

Quick Take: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta

Searching for the immeasurable measure of VW’s latest compact sedan

I’ve spent far more time agonizing over my review of the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta than I’d care to admit. After all, the Jetta is a car that ticks all the boxes, delivering just about everything anyone would want in a compact family sedan. But I’m having a hard time getting excited about the new Jetta—and it’s driving me to the very edge of sanity.

Let’s talk about all the things the new generation Jetta does right. First and foremost is the engine, a 1.4-liter turbocharged mighty mite that puts out 147 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Forget the numbers, because the bottom line is this thing scoots. Our colleagues down the hall at Motor Trend timed the automatic version I drove to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds—not as quick as the Honda Civic 1.5T but respectable performance. I also found the Jetta has plenty of mid-range punch. Yes, it’s an overused phrase, but one that accurately describes what a small turbo four does best.

What small turbo fours often don’t do best is fuel economy, even though this is supposed to be their raison d’etre. A few years back, I did a back-to-back drive of sixth-generation Jettas, one with a 1.8-liter turbo four and the other with the then-new 1.4T. The smaller engine actually delivered worse fuel economy. It needed to keep the turbo boiling in order to stay on the pace, and when the turbo is working, the fuel is a-flowin’. So I took the Jetta’s 34 mpg EPA combined figure with a grain of salt.

I shouldn’t have, because here, too, the Jetta delivered. The Automobile staff sampled two different Jettas, a base-model Jetta S and a top-of-the-line SEL, and both averaged in the low 30s on the car’s instant readout, a good showing considering we have an office full of lead-footed car hacks. If the trip computer is to be believed, the SEL managed 40.9 mpg on one leg of my commute, a mix of stop-and-go traffic and high-speed freeway running, while the S strained credulity by returning better than 45 mpg on the same route.

Handling? That’s all good as well. Though I didn’t have a chance to really wring either Jetta out on my favorite curvy roads, I have enough experience in other MQB-platform based Volkswagens to express confidence that they know their way through the tight turns. I like the Jetta’s light steering and steady ride, which delivers decent feedback but doesn’t kick over sharp bumps. Why can’t everyone engineer suspensions this competent?

Complicated interiors are a pet peeve of mine, so Vee Dub’s no-nonsense cabins fit in nicely with my ethos. Every Volkswagen model features easy-to-read gauges and well-labeled, easy-to-find switchgear. The new 2019 Jetta comes with regular analog gauges in the low-end models, while the SEL can be had with an optional video-screen panel that—surprise, surprise—mimics the analog gauges in the low end car. Whether you get the basic air conditioner or one with dual-zone climate control, everything is simple and sensible. Even the touch-screen infotainment system is easy to use. I drive a different car pretty much every day—hazard of the job—and I like Volkswagens because I know I won’t run off the road as I stare at the dash trying to figure out how to turn on the mother-loving defroster.

The problem with Volkswagen interiors is that they can easily veer off into dreary. And while the Jetta’s cabin isn’t exactly what you’d call bright and cheery, material quality is praiseworthy, with substantial fabrics and soft-touch plastics, even in the base-model S. (VW got lambasted for getting this wrong in the 2011 model, and they haven’t made that mistake again.) Space? There’s plenty of it for front-seat passengers, and back-seaters get adequate legroom and enough headroom that they need not fear clonking their noggins when getting in.

Not that the new 2019 Jetta gets everything right. While many have praised its exterior looks, to me it seems though the grille and headlights are sliding off the front of the car and the trunk is growing down over the taillights. Add in all those creases in the bodywork, and it leaves the impression that it’s been left out in the sun too long, where it’s withered, dried out, and started to melt. (One man’s opinion, mind you.)

Then there’s long term quality and reliability, areas where Volkswagen has historically struggled. In an effort to counter that reputation and provide new owners with peace of mind, the automaker has just introduced an epic 6 year/72,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty which is fully transferable to the Jetta’s second owner. Smart move.

So why am I still agonizing over this review?

The problem I’m having is that I simply don’t find the 2019 Jetta all that interesting when taken as a whole. Now, one might argue that when you’re shopping for a daily driver priced in the low 20s, excitement isn’t on the menu. But I’d argue that you only need to go back a few years to look at the fourth-gen Jetta, sold from 1999 until 2007 (and still sold in China if you’re up for the trip). That Jetta occupied the same niche, and it was interesting.

It’s a point that’s magnified when you consider the cars the Jetta competes against. First and foremost is the Mazda3, the enthusiasts’ delight, though it’s short on back-seat space compared to the Jetta. The Honda Civic drives well and possesses some of the same character that marked the Mark IV Jetta. And let’s not forget about the Ford Focus. It may have one foot in the grave, but it’s still good to drive. Even the Chevrolet Cruze seems marginally more interesting than the Jetta, although this may well be an illusion. Heck, I’d even prefer Volkswagen’s own Golf.

From all the measurable data points, the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta is a great car: Powerful, efficient, roomy, and good value for money. But then there is that which cannot be measured, that inherent sense of fun some cars have and others don’t. At least to me, the Jetta doesn’t seem to have that it factor. And it’s driving me nuts.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $20,195 / $27,795 (S/SEL)
ENGINE 1.4L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/147 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 184 lb-ft @ 1,400 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 30/40 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 185.1 x 70.8 x 57.4 in
WHEELBASE 105.7 in
WEIGHT 2,959 lb
0-60 MPH 7.6 sec
TOP SPEED 127 mph (est)

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2019 Volkswagen Jetta

2019 Volkswagen Jetta

MSRP $18,545 1.4T S (Manual) Sedan