One of the great ironies of buying a new car is that many of them aren’t really new. The architectures now deployed beneath so many shiny clearcoats are engineered to last for years upon years—decades in some cases—so even cars billed as “all new” often aren’t. This is not a value judgment; there are obvious benefits to the tried and true, especially when it comes to reducing costs to the automaker, which can translate into more features and amenities for the buyer. Which brings us to the seventh-generation 2019 Jetta, in which Volkswagen has deftly blended its best small-car technology into a welcome update to its compact sedan.
The biggest change to the Jetta comes in adopting VW’s MQB architecture, which debuted in the United States in the seventh-generation Golf for 2015 but was used in other parts of the world even earlier. The Jetta is the sixth American-market VW Group nameplate to use MQB, and it’s also the least expensive. In fact, sticker prices have dropped across the board, with the new Jetta starting at $19,395 for the base S trim, which is $100 less than the outgoing car; even the S trim’s optional automatic transmission now costs $800 instead of $1000.
When VW last redesigned the Jetta for 2011, it slashed prices by extreme de-contenting, including fitting drum brakes and a 1993-vintage engine in base cars. Calling these measures cutting corners would be too kind—it was more like driving right through the infield. VW spent much of the rest of the sixth-generation Jetta era undoing the damage. This time, however, the move to MQB seems to have helped the bottom line enough that there’s little evidence of VW taking shortcuts.
Quite to the contrary, as the new car offers more standard features including full-LED lighting and a much-improved infotainment system, as well as high-end options like the Digital Cockpit that replaces the speedometer and tachometer with a 10.3-inch screen in the instrument cluster. A new sport-appearance R-Line model ($23,845) with trim-exclusive brake-based torque vectoring and a top SEL Premium trim ($27,795) that includes leather upholstery will no doubt help VW raise average transaction prices and improve overall profitability of the line.
The 2019 Jetta is marginally bigger than the old car, continuing a trend that has seen the Jetta grow to roughly the size of the fondly remembered B5-generation 1997–2005 Passat. The Jetta’s wheelbase has been stretched 1.3 inches to 105.7 inches, which helps the car maintain its proportions even with an overall length that has grown to 185.1 inches. That’s as long as the Tiguan crossover, another MQB platform-mate from which the Jetta borrows some of its exterior styling. Interior volume has increased only nominally, with legroom actually decreasing and headroom virtually unchanged. The trunk, however, has shrunk from 16 to 14 cubic feet. The numbers are better when it comes to mass, with Volkswagen quoting sub-3000-pound curb weights for both the manual and automatic versions of the 2019 Jetta, which it claims are lighter than the old models.
Ready for Takeoff
From a standing start, a heavy right foot causes the Jetta to surge forward rapidly enough to spin its front tires and trigger its traction-control system. Throttle response is excellent, with almost no lag, as the turbo four is tuned for low-end grunt. Its 184 lb-ft of peak torque comes at just 1400 rpm, making the Jetta seem like a much more powerful car, an illusion it can maintain right up until encountering a freeway on-ramp. It’s there that the shortcoming of having just 147 horsepower reveals itself, especially as the engine passes 4000 rpm, where its intake sound grows louder and coarser as the tach ascends to the engine’s 5000-rpm power peak. The automatic will shift by the time you get to 6000, and although you can rev 400-rpm higher with the manual, winding out the gears in the Jetta isn’t much fun.
But this is no enthusiast-spec car—that will come next year with the new version of the GLI, powered by VW’s 2.0-liter turbo four making at least as much horsepower (220) as it does in today’s GTI. Which is why Volkswagen has reverted to a torsion-beam rear suspension for the standard Jetta, just like the one that was so criticized when it appeared in the original sixth-generation car. This is one of the only cases of obvious parsimony in the 2019 model, although we suspect weight more so than cost contributed to the decision.
The Jetta’s cabin is quiet and comfortable, with supportive seats whose cloth and leatherette upholstery are both high enough in quality that the new leather option seems altogether unnecessary. Volkswagen’s somewhat tarnished reputation for building nice interiors receives something of a polishing, as the new Jetta has more soft-touch surfaces than the outgoing car, including nicely padded armrests and front-door inserts—although it desperately needs more than its single standard USB port (a second port is standard on SEL trims). It’s a strange shortcoming for a vehicle that seems to push technology to the forefront, with a cockpit that outshines even its pricier platform-mates. The standard 6.5-inch center touchscreen in the Jetta is integrated into the binnacle and canted toward the driver, offering exceptional ergonomics. And with the available 8.0-inch screen and Digital Cockpit taking over the instrument panel, the Jetta’s striking dashboard looks like it could have been lifted from an Audi.
We can say unequivocally that the move to MQB has been good for the Jetta. We can’t say we’re surprised, not with the seventh-generation Golf winning four consecutive 10Best Cars awards. (And the MQB-based Audi RS3 also making this year’s list.) This new Jetta is certainly competitive, not just with the rest of the compact-sedan segment but once again even with its Golf relative.