Starting Price: $19,395
Engine: 147-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder
Fuel Economy: 34 mpg combined (manual and automatic)
Warranty: 6 years or 72,000 miles
Similar: Honda Civic, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra, Kia Forte

 

A Volkswagen mainstay

It might not quite have Beetle status, but the Jetta is now old enough and VW has sold enough models for it to earn its place as a Volkswagen icon. This German compact car has been around since 1979 and over 17.5 million have been sold, with more than 3.2 million Jettas sold in the United States alone.

For 2019, the VW Jetta is all new and set to go on sale soon. Now in its seventh generation, the latest Jetta returns with the taut and Teutonic driving manners cherished by those who see a car as more than an appliance, plus a strong roster of the latest driver-assistance and safety systems. To bolster its battle against best-selling rivals like the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, the latest Jetta even packs a few surprises like optional ventilated seats and a new partnership with BeatsAudio. And it arrives at a starting price of $19,395, which VW is quick to point out is slightly less than the outgoing model.

Following our initial review of the 2019 VW Jetta in prototype form at the company’s secretive Arizona Proving Grounds, Volkswagen invited us to Durham, North Carolina, for the main media launch of its new compact sedan. Here are our first impressions of the Jetta in production form from an all-too-short visit to this idyllic college town.

Driving manners – still pleasantly European

If you’re considering buying a Jetta, you probably already know – and value – something many other small-car shoppers aren’t that concerned with: driving dynamics. As the only mainstream European small sedan available to today’s shoppers, the Jetta brings with it a reputation for, well, European driving manners.

For the uninitiated, “European driving manners” can best be described as taut yet still comfortable, with the ability to have fun in corners but not at the expense of rattling your spine to oblivion during normal commutes. In our relatively brief exposure to the Jetta, where we drove it just over 50 miles on a variety of roads and highways outside of Durham, we can confirm the Jetta’s European manners remain.

This comes despite cost savings in the hardware department. Whereas the outgoing Jetta used a multilink rear suspension, the new one has a simpler, less-expensive torsion beam setup. Still, the Jetta feels crisp in turns, comfortable on the highway, and confident in general. In fact, we liken it to a smaller Passat, the Jetta’s midsize sibling. That’s quite a compliment.

Power is also adequate and not much has changed. As with the outgoing generation, the new 2019 Jetta uses a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that makes 147 horsepower and a respectable 184 lb-ft of torque. That horsepower figure is technically down 3 from the engine in the outgoing model, but fuel economy has improved slightly thanks to new transmissions.

Before we get to those, we’ll assure you that the new Jetta is peppy enough. Yes, we’d have loved to see the availability of the 170-horsepower, 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder in this new model, as is the case with the 2018 Jetta, but the small mill makes the Jetta feel pretty spry. If you want more power, you can A) wait for the new Jetta GLI or B) look to a competitor with more – and more powerful – engine choices. For a quick overview of all the contenders, see our Compact Car Buyer’s Guide.

New transmissions, including a manual

While the 1.4-liter engine is familiar, the 2019 Jetta’s transmissions are new. And yes, that’s transmissions with an “s.” Most buyers will opt for the automatic, which improves from six speeds to eight. Volkswagen has a knack for making refined automatics, and that’s certainly the case with this one. Shifts proved smooth, and the auto was eager to kick down when prodded.

We are also a fan of this transmission for the fact that it has gears. While more and more rivals are using linear and sometimes unnatural feeling continuously variable transmissions (CVTs), this small VW sedan has a traditional automatic with set shift points.

The 2019 Jetta moves forward with an improved automatic, but it hasn’t forgotten traditionalists who want to shift for themselves. The new Jetta also still offers a manual transmission, and that too has been upgraded, moving from a 5-speed to a 6-speed.

In our even briefer time with the manual transmission 2019 Jetta, we found it a cinch to use. This would be a great vehicle in which to learn to drive stick. In addition to having total control, more driving satisfaction, and the overall enhanced sense of engagement that comes with a manual transmission, you also get around having the idle start/stop system. This system is standard in automatic transmission models, and aims to further fuel economy by shutting off the engine at stop lights. It isn’t as obtrusive as other such systems and can be defeated with the press of a button, but if you opt for the manual, you won’t have to deal with it at all.

The one big caveat for manual models is that the do-it-yourself transmission is only available on one trim level -- the bottom-barrel Jetta S. (Again, if you want a manual and extra oomph, that will likely come in the next-gen Jetta GLI.)

Safety and driver-assist systems

A new-car introduction wouldn’t be complete without enhancements to safety and driver-assistance systems, and here the Jetta returns with a stronger roster of each.

Among the good news is that you can get forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring on even a base model that starts at $19,395. At only $450 extra, those two highly recommendable features mean you can get a Jetta with them for still under $20,000 for a manual transmission model or $20,645 for an automatic.

The not-so-good news is you have to step up to the $25,000-plus Jetta SEL to get adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist. On a Honda Civic, you can add both to a base model with automatic transmission and still be out the door for around $21,500. No Civic, however, offers dual-side blind-spot monitoring; it instead uses Honda’s LaneWatch, which shows real-time video of what’s happening in the lane to the right of the vehicle.

Appreciated options

The 2019 VW Jetta also packs some nifty surprises. It is among the only sedan in its class to offer ventilated front seats (the Kia Forte does, too), and can be had with a “digital cockpit.” This latter technology debuted a few years ago in a distant cousin, the Audi TT, and replaces the standard dashboard gauges with a 10.25-inch digital display that can be configured to show a navigation map, audio info, and of course speed. It’s slick and looks like the future.

Some other available and unexpected features include rain-sensing windshield wipers and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Also, the new sporty R-Line model uses VW’s XDS electronic front differential, which migrated down from the performance-based GLI and Golf GTI, for better handling.

Infotainment

The new Jetta has upped its game in infotainment, one of the most important aspects for not just new-car buyers, but specifically the younger owners the Jetta targets. Every Jetta now includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and even the lesser-known MirrorLink. This means it will directly integrate with the majority of smartphones and allow the driver to do things like listen to and respond to texts while keeping his/her hands on the wheel.

Broadly called Car-Net, Volkswagen’s basic setup for the Jetta includes a 6.5-inch touchscreen with AM/FM radio, Bluetooth streaming and a single USB input. The upgraded system has an 8-inch screen, adds HD Radio (free digital broadcasts), two USB inputs and a CD player, something that more and more automakers are dropping. Navigation is also available with this higher-spec setup.

The 2019 Jetta also marks Volkswagen’s partnership with BeatsAudio, the company co-founded by Dr. Dre and now a subsidiary of Apple. This premium audio system replaces the Fender system formerly available in the Jetta (but still offered in other VW cars). The system boasts eight speakers plus a subwoofer and pumps out 400 watts. In our trial run, we found the sound good, clean and powerful, without suffering from bloated bass.

Interior roominess and utility

This seventh-gen Jetta has increased slightly in size, and with the expansion comes additional interior roominess. Front-seat room still trails that of the slightly smaller Honda Civic, but hardly feels claustrophobic. At 37.4 inches, rear-seat legroom has decreased slightly from the previous generation but still matches that of the Civic and is commendable for a compact car.

The Jetta’s 5-passenger cabin remains Euro chic -- a dash that has just the necessary buttons and a layout that is canted toward the driver. Simple cloth is reserved only for base models. Higher trims get faux leather, while the topline Jetta SEL Premium has the real stuff.

Our biggest gripe with the interior came from an unexpected place -- the shelf behind the rear seats. For some reason it’s slanted up, which decreases outward visibility (thank heaven for a standard backup camera). When asked why this was the case, the best a VW spokesperson could come up with was something about the trunk hinges. Adding to this, the whole thing is made of a plastic material that can reflect the sun, causing glare on bright days.

Exterior design

One look at the 2019 Jetta’s exterior and you’ll still know it’s a Jetta, but one that has been freshened in the right ways. The new Jetta remains handsomely conservative. It may not be flashy or have a ginormous grille, but we anticipate its design will hold up better over time.

One of its best design features is a crease that runs along the sides just below the windows. It may seem minor, but getting metal to do that is pretty special. Below the surface, the new Jetta is now based on Volkswagen’s Modular Transverse Matrix platform. That’s a mouthful, and the reason it’s simply known as MQB. It’s the same platform that underpins everything from the Golf hatchback to the Atlas midsize SUV.

Speaking of, the new Jetta is solely available as a sedan. But if you want a wagon variant, you don’t have to look far in the VW family -- it’s called the Golf Sportwagen.

Warranty

We’d be remiss to not mention Volkswagen’s new warranty. Called the People First Warranty, it covers a VW for 6 years or 72,000 miles. That’s impressive, and among the best in the business depending how you slice it (Hyundai and Kia cover 10 years/100,000 miles, but that’s for the powertrain). Moreover, the warranty is transferable. So, if you sell the car, the remainder of the coverage goes to the new owner.

One engine for now, but new Jetta GLI is coming

As we already mentioned, whereas the outgoing Jetta has a choice of a standard 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder or a more potent 1.8-liter powerplant, the new one comes out the gate with only the smaller and less potent engine. The previous generation’s flirtation with a hybrid model also hasn’t made a return, at least yet, and if you’re hoping for a new diesel Jetta, well, that just isn’t in the cards. (If you really want a small diesel sedan, try the Chevrolet Cruze.)

So unlike rivals such as the Honda Civic, Mazda3, Ford Focus and even the Nissan Sentra, that leaves the Jetta with only one engine, the 1.4-liter 4-cylinder turbo, as the sole mill under the hood. But if you want something more potent and have patience, it will eventually pay off in the form of a new Jetta GLI, likely as a 2020 model. While details are still TBA, we would expect a 2020 VW Jetta GLI to house a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder.

Trims, Specs and Sticker Prices

The 2019 VW Jetta is offered in five trims: S, SE, R-Line, SEL, and SEL Premium. The R-Line is a new trim for the Jetta and promises sportier handling thanks to the XDS electronic differential.

Jetta S
Starting Price: $19,395 (all prices include $850 destination charge)
1.4-liter turbocharged engine
Manual transmission ($800 extra for automatic)
6.5-inch touchscreen display
Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, MirrorLink smartphone integration
4-speaker AM/FM radio, USB port and Bluetooth connectivity
Rearview camera
Cruise control
LED headlights
16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels

Jetta SE
Starting Price: $23,005

Automatic transmission
Panoramic sunroof
Blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert
Forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking
Dual-zone climate control
Keyless access and push-button start
Leather-wrapped steering wheel/shift knob
Leatherette seating
Heated front seats
Heated side mirrors
Front parking assist
Rear-seat armrest with cupholders

Jetta R-Line
Starting Price: $23,845
XDS electronic differential
Gloss black grille, black mirror caps and other R-Line aesthetics
17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels
Fog lights
2-tone seating

Jetta SEL
Starting Price: $25,265
Driving mode selector (including Sport mode)
10.25-inch virtual cockpit digital dash display
8-inch touchscreen infotainment display
BeatsAudio system with satellite radio, dual USB ports, and CD player
Adaptive cruise control
Lane-keeping assist
LED projector headlights
Auto-dimming rearview mirror
Rain-sensing windshield wipers
10-color selectable interior lighting

Jetta SEL Premium
Starting Price: $27,795
Leather seating
Ventilated front seats
8-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support and position memory
Navigation
Heated steering wheel
Heated rear seats
Alarm system
Side mirrors with integrated turn signals

 

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