One of the longest-running compact nameplates, the Volkswagen Jetta, is all-new for 2019. The Jetta remains a front-drive, 5-passenger 4-door sedan. Riding the same platform that underpins the Golf and Tiguan, the new Jetta is slightly longer and taller than the model it replaces. However, interior room remains the same and trunk capacity shrinks by 1.6 cubic feet. Competitors include the Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza and Toyota Corolla.
Five trim levels are offered: S, SE, R-Line, SEL and SEL Premium. On hiatus is the sporty GLI trim. All 2019 Jettas are powered by a turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 147 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. The engine mates to either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission and drives the front wheels. All-wheel drive is not available.
S models list for $18,525 and include LED headlights, 16-inch alloy wheels and standard touch-screen radio with Bluetooth. The SE has an MSRP of $22,155 and adds keyless access and push button start, sunroof and blind-spot monitoring. The $22,995 R-Line adds 17-inch alloy wheels, two-tone leatherette seating surfaces and fog lights. The SEL lists for $24,416 and adds 10-color interior lighting, Beats audio system and VW's digital instrument cluster. The line topping SEL Premium is priced at $26,945 and adds 17-inch alloy wheels, 8-inch touch screen with navigation and leather seating surfaces.
The Jetta's 1.4-liter turbo four is tuned to provide loads of low-end torque. That makes it a great around-town grocery getter but somewhat sluggish in high-speed passing maneuvers. When pushed, the new Jetta will run from 0-60 MPH in about 8 seconds. That's class average. Overall, the engine provides smooth and progressive power, though it can get a bit gruff and noisy at higher RPM.
While the 6-speed automatic is smooth and provides prompt downshifts when more power is called for, the real gem is the slick 6-speed manual. Short throws and positive action make this transmission a joy to drive and a great improvement over the notchy 5-speed found in the 2018 model. Clutch action is progressive with great take up feel.
EPA numbers for both the manual and automatic are 30 MPG city, 40 MPG highway and 34 MPG overall. Those numbers trail the class leading Civic a bit but mostly match other competitors. In routine driving it is easy to match or even top the EPA numbers with the manual transmission. Over a week-long stint of suburban commuting the Jetta average 42.5 MPG overall and approached 50 MPG on some gentle highway trips. The engine runs fine on regular unleaded and the 13.2-gallon fuel tank provides a range of roughly 448 miles per fill up.
Perhaps the biggest change drivers of the previous generation Jetta will notice is that the 2019 model rides with significantly more road presence and confidence. The chassis seems to be much stiffer and the longer wheelbase allows for better composure over bumpy roads. Steering and brake feel are greatly improved as well. Overall, the Jetta provides a smooth and composed ride while still feeling somewhat sporty on twisty roads. Stepping up the model ladder brings progressively larger wheels and tires. While ride quality remains consistent, the SEL's 17-inch tires provide the best dry-road grip.
With ample sound insulation, the Jetta is perhaps one of the quietest highway cruisers in the class. There very little wind rush and the tires remain quiet on all but the roughest of roads. Accelerating around town and in hill climbs, the turbo four gets a bit coarse and tiresome.
Save one misguided generation in the early 2000s, Jetta has always boasted class leading interior room. That's a tradition that's thankfully been passed to the 2019 model. Front-seat passengers are treated to generous head and leg room and the rear seats can comfortably seat two large adults -- three in a pinch. As is practice on most VWs, the seats are firm and well bolstered. Entry-exit is easy thanks to a "just right" step-in height and large door openings. A reasonably low beltline and tall windows give Jetta best in class outward visibility.
In base trim, the new Jetta sports a functional, if not somewhat Spartan, interior. Materials are class and price appropriate. Stepping up to SEL brings lots of luxury trimmings including a programmable all-digital instrument cluster and 8-inch touch-screen audio system. Perhaps the R-Line, with its leatherette seats, offers the best overall bargain.
Digital or analog, the instrument cluster is clear and easy to read -- day or night. The center stack features an easy-to-operate touch-screen infotainment system that provides Android Auto and Apple Car Play functionality with no price premium. Auto or manual, the climate system is controlled by simple dials and buttons. Window, lock and mirror controls are well located in the driver's door armrest. One price concession from the previous model is a center console cover/arm rest that's no longer height adjustable.
Despite being slightly smaller this year, the truck is positively cavernous. The opening is large and the rear seats fold to increase cargo capacity. Interior storage is good, highlighted by a deep center-console bin and large glove box. But the small-item storage to the left of the steering wheel didn't make the model-year jump.
Bottom Line -- Volkswagen's all-new Jetta is a quantum leap forward compared to the old model in terms of refinement and comfort, the engine remains as serviceable and efficient as before and base prices actually dropped. All of that should make the Jetta a great compact competitor -- and it does. Those looking for a performance GLI version will have to stay tuned ...