2019 Volkswagen Jetta Buying Advice
This is the best compact car if you care more about looks and features-per-dollar than about the driving experience. Model-year 2019 signals the debut of the all-new seventh-generation Jetta. This fully redesigned compact sedan rides on a new underskin architecture, has updated styling, and expands availability of safety and convenience features.
The original Jetta launched in 1979 as a sedan version of VW’s Golf hatchback and has been one of the automaker’s best-selling U.S.-market nameplates. Today’s model comes only as a four-door sedan, but body styles over the years included a two-door sedan and a four-door wagon. The 2019 redesign enlarges the Jetta and moves it to VW’s sold MQB understructure, although some suspension components are less sophisticated than those used for the MQB-based Golf. That’s partly to keep prices down as VW seeks to sell Jettas in a market skewed toward crossover SUVs of comparable size and cost. Indeed, sales of compact cars are down nearly 12 percent through the first half of 2018 and Jetta has been among the hardest-hit, with demand off 40 percent during its transition from the 2011-2018 sixth-generation design.
Should I buy a 2019 model or wait for the 2020?
Performance-minded drivers should wait for the 2020 Jetta. That’s when Volkswagen is expected to return the sporty GLI model. The GLI should elevate this newest Jetta’s road manners from moribund to marvelous. In contrast to the barely adequate engine used in the other Jetta’s, the GLI will borrow a much more powerful engine from in the Golf GTI. And in place of the cost-saving solid rear axle used by the other Jettas it’ll have a handling-enhancing independent rear suspension, as employed in the Golf.
Otherwise expect the 2020 Jetta lineup to mirror the 2019 roster — but with higher asking prices. It should reprise the base S model, the volume-selling SE, the sport-styled R-Line, and the more luxurious SEL and SEL Premium grades.
Styling: The 2019 redesign adds about an inch to Jetta’s wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles) and about 2 inches to its overall length; the new car is wider and taller, too. Interior volume grows slightly, mostly in shoulder room, and the cabin has a refreshingly upright, airy feel.
As with its compact-class Tiguan and midsize-class Atlas crossover SUVs, Volkswagen stylists took no real risks with the 2019 Jetta. That’s not a bad thing: the car exudes an understated, classy vibe and looks more expensive than it is. Several design elements, including the headlights, taillights, roofline, and cut lines on the doors would look at home on a sedan from VW’s premium Audi division. All ’19 Jettas come standard with aluminum wheels and LED headlamps and taillamps. The R-Line gets a unique grille, bumper, and wheels to distinguish it from the rest of the Jetta line without going overboard.
Similarly unfussy is Jetta’s interior design. It comes across more as serviceable than imaginative — again not a bad thing, given the way some competitors compromise function for snazzy controls and tricky interfaces. Materials quality is a price-appropriate combination of grained and smooth plastics, hard and padded surfaces. The SEL Premium gives you high-grade leather upholstery, the S comes with cloth, and the rest of the line gets VW’s very creditable imitation leatherette.
The dashboard layout is straightforward, with clear gauges and, on SEL and SEL Premium, VW’s nifty Digital Cockpit, which replaces standard analog instruments with a 10-inch widescreen LCD that can be customized to the driver’s preference, including a navigation-map display. It’s interesting technology that has filtered down from expensive Audi vehicles to more affordable, mainstream ones.
Dual-zone automatic climate operation is standard on all but the entry-level S. VW’s fine infotainment system is included on all, along with a responsive touchscreen with support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. The screen is canted toward the driver for ease of access. S, SE, and R-Line use a 6.5-inch display, SEL and SEL Premium have an 8-incher. Imbedded GPS navigation that doesn’t require cellular data service is standard exclusively on the SEL Premium. SEL and Premium’s standard interior ambient lighting features 10 color choices.
Passenger space is laudable, ample headroom and legroom front and rear. Kudos for extra-long front-seat travel, which will help very tall occupants get situated easily. Seat padding errs on the firm side, but that should mean good support on longer journeys. Interior storage opportunities are many, though Jetta lacks the height-adjustable center-console armrest lid common on other VWs. The console itself is about average in volume, but the door pockets and glovebox are generously sized. Trunk volume shrinks to 14.1 cubic feet from 15.7, but this is still a roomy bay. However, the intrusive trunk-lid hinges are bare metal goosenecks that’ll scythe whatever luggage or foodstuffs are in their path when you close the lid.
Mechanical: The 2019 Jetta becomes the latest Volkswagen to adopt the automaker’s modular “MQB” platform, which also underpins the Golf, the Tiguan and Atlas crossovers, and even some Audis. It’s a lightweight, rigid structure that contributes to Jetta’s smooth, quiet ride. Give VW credit for resisting the trend toward large wheels and low-profile tires; it specifies modest 16-inchers for the S and SE and sensible 17s for the other Jetta grades. They soak up most bumps, and keep costs down, too. (Expect the 2020 GLI to have wider, 18-inch wheels and tires, plus a firmer suspension.)
The 2019 Jetta’s sole engine is a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder producing 147 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. This is modest output for the class, though torque peaks at a low 1,400 rpm, which can make the Jetta feel surprisingly spritely from a stop. The power delivery fades quickly after that, with little verve around town and just enough vigor at higher speeds to take the drama out of rationally considered highway merging and two-lane passing maneuvers.
A 6-speed manual transmission is standard on the S grade, an 8-speed automatic is optional there and standard otherwise. Automatic-transmission 2019 Jettas we’ve tested suffered rough upshifts and delayed downshifts at lower speeds, which made the car borderline irritating to drive on congested urban streets and ladled another layer of frustration over this generally lackluster powertrain.
We’re also not enthralled with the new Jetta’s handling. With no excess of grip in turns and some unsettled bobbing on uneven pavement, road manners feel a generation behind class leaders such as the Honda Civic and Mazda 3 and light years adrift of the wonderfully composed and responsive Golf. Lack of road feel through the steering is a particular fault. In all, it marks this latest Jetta’s turn away from German-honed precision and toward a pitch for lower-expectation buyers who find more value in a stylish, roomy transportation device at affordable prices.
All 2019 Volkswagens are underpinned by the company’s “People First” 6-year/72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty. It’s a play to renew customer confidence after decades of poor reliability. During our R-Line evaluation, the dashboard’s low oil-level light came on; we checked, and the level seemed normal. After restarting, it didn’t come back on for the remainder of our testing. Still, this is disconcerting because we do believe VW is working hard to improve dependability.
Features: Despite our reservations about the car’s mechanicals, there is a compelling value story here. Safety wise, every ’19 Jetta comes standard with blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, forward-collision warning, and autonomous emergency braking that can automatically stop the car to prevent a rear-end collision. SEL and Premium add automatic high-beam headlights and lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction.
All models have LED front and rear lighting, aluminum wheels, automatic headlights, Bluetooth connectivity, CarPlay, Android Auto, and a backup camera. SE and R-Line versions add heated front seats, VW’s V-Tex leatherette upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and keyless access with pushbutton engine start.
The SEL has the ambient lighting and 8-inch touchscreen, plus an extra USB charging point, satellite radio, upgraded Beats audio system, and Digital Cockpit instrument panel. Standard on the SEL Premium are a power driver’s seat with memory function, ventilated sport bucket front seats, genuine leather upholstery, heated outboard rear seats and steering wheel, remote engine start, and imbedded navigation.
Along with greater interior volume, VW’s goal with this new Jetta was to make it more affordable, and that it has done, with the bonus of class-above styling and more technology and safety. Base prices here include VW’s $895 destination fee.
The 2019 Jetta S with manual transmission starts at $19,440 with manual transmission and at $20,240 with automatic. Base price is $23,050 for the SE, $23,890 for the R-Line, $25,310 for the SEL, and $27,840 for the SEL Premium.
Options are few. The SE’s safety-enhancing driver aids are available on the S as part of the $450 Driver Assistance Package, which we are pleased to see is available with manual transmission. The Cold Weather Package costs $450 on the SE, R-Line, and SEL. It adds the SEL Premium’s heated steering wheel and outboard rear seats and remote engine start.
At $19,890, the S with manual transmission and Driver Assistance Package is our choice for best value. We realize likely 5 percent or fewer Jetta buyers will select this configuration, but given the automatic’s spotty performance in our evaluations, it’s the best way to wring out some responsiveness from this otherwise underwhelming powertrain.
The upside of the 2019 Jetta’s modest performance are its impressive EPA ratings. With either transmission, it rates 30/40/34 mpg city/highway/combined. Our R-Line test car returned a respectable 33.9 mpg in mostly suburban commuting. The turbochanrged engine uses regular-grade 87-octane gasoline.
The sporty GLI is slated for release in calendar 2019 as a 2020 model. It will go toe-to-toe with the Honda Civic Si and Hyundai Elantra Sport. Otherwise, we wouldn’t expect any major styling or content updates to the Jetta lineup until at least model-year 2021 or 2022. At that time, we are hopeful Volkswagen will outfit all grades with an independent rear suspension and revised steering.