2019 Volkswagen Jetta driving

For four decades, the Volkswagen Jetta has been positioned as a classier, more sophisticated choice than rival compact sedans. Now entering its seventh generation, the redesigned Jetta focuses more intently on American car shoppers, with more room, comfort, connectivity, and value for the money.

The Jetta is now based on Volkswagen’s current scalable architecture that underpins many of the brand’s models, from the Golf to the Atlas three-row SUV, which helps VW reduce costs through shared development and production. Consumers will see this reflected in a symbolic $100 drop for the base model and a list of features that has expanded compared with the outgoing Jetta.

We sampled a top-of-the-line version that we rented from Volkswagen; we plan to buy our own Jetta when they go on sale in May.

What we drove: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta SEL Premium
Engine: 147 hp, 1.4-liter turbo 4-cylinder
Transmission: eight-speed automatic
Base price: $18,545
Total cost: $26,945

How It Drives

Unlike other cars in this segment, and thanks to its turbocharging, there’s no need to push the engine to high revs to really get going.

The Jetta's turbocharged four-cylinder engine does a commendable job, delivering an energetic initial spurt off the line and shifting smoothly, thanks to its eight-speed automatic transmission. For die-hards who prefer shifting themselves, a six-speed manual transmission is available on the base car, but VW says it won’t bring any fuel economy advantage.

And that fuel economy is likely to be among the best in the segment. The EPA pegs it at 34 mpg combined, and we observed 33 mpg on our drive, according to the car's trip computer. 

Previous Jettas were taut, agile, and enjoyable to drive, but this new one is a bit dull. Its handling is sound, but this is not a car suited for brisk, entertaining drives.

Pushing the car a bit harder results in notable body lean, and the steering is neither particularly quick nor brimming with feedback. That said, taking the Jetta to its modest limits on the sharp turns of our track revealed a balanced behavior.

The ride is comfortable thanks to the compliant suspension that absorbs most road imperfections well. However, some sharp bumps tend to punch through as if the shock absorbers don’t have enough resilience to keep those impacts at bay. Some occasional thuds from the suspension hurt its overall refinement.

It’s a relatively quiet car, particularly among compact sedans, and it suppresses road and tire noise well, but wind noise at highway speeds is noticeable.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta interior

Inside

Thanks to its stretched dimensions, the Jetta is quite roomy for a compact sedan. In fact, at 185 inches, it’s the longest one in the segment.

The base S trim is the only one that comes with cloth seats; the next trim, the SE, comes with faux leather. The top-shelf SEL Premium gets real leather and power seats with two-way lumbar adjustment, a setup that proved comfortable even on a long drive. The upright driving position is well sorted, but the driver’s right knee tends to rub against the center console.

The SE also throws in automatic climate control, front heated seats, and a sunroof. And the soft-touch upper dash gives the Jetta an interior ambience edge over most of its competitors.  

There are plenty of storage places, including a bin under the nicely padded armrest that can accommodate an iPad mini, as well as generous pockets built into the doors for water bottles, umbrellas, and whatnot. One odd miscue is the low dash vents, which are likely to freeze the right elbow and knee of the driver.

The controls are just about as simple as they come these days. The optional 8-inch touch screen is vivid and responds quickly to commands. Despite the tilted, driver-cockpit design, the infotainment screen is a bit of a reach for drivers, particularly tall ones who must sit farther back. Steering-wheel shortcuts are easy to use to interact with the audio system, and even for starting phone calls through a list of recent calls.

Among the standard gadgets in higher trims is a configurable full-color instrument panel that, at a press of a button, hides the traditional round gauges and expands the display of trip info, audio selection, phone task, or navigation map. It’s a neat approach that will impress passengers.

All Jettas will come with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility standard. The SEL and SEL Premium trims get navigation, as well as VW’s Car-Net telematics system for emergency notification and remote lock/unlock/start functions.

In the back, the seats offer ample space and a comfortable seating position.

Safety & Driver-Assist Systems

Forward-collision warning, low-speed automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot warning are standard on all trims except for the base S trim, where they are optional. SEL and SEL Premium trims get adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and a wider range of automatic emergency braking.  

Bottom Line

In an era when Toyota is making an effort to make its cars more engaging to drive, Volkswagen, at least in its mainstream models, seem to be walking away from its once-defining trait. Clearly, the new Jetta is no longer a budget sports sedan. Instead, it’s an easy-going car that piles on the room, comfort, ease of use, modern connectivity, and upscale features.

Check back with us as we buy our own Jetta this spring and put it through our testing.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta rear