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2019 Volkswagen Jetta: First Drive Review

Soon rolling into a showroom near you, the redesigned 2019 Volkswagen Jetta is designed for America, engineered for America and will be sold only in the Americas. How’s that for putting America first? Oh, and it’s being built in Mexico. Indeed, Volkswagen will only market the seventh-generation Jetta in the Americas: North and South.

Clearly, VW wanted to do something special to win back any American fence sitters disappointed with the brand as a result of the recent diesel-engine dust-up. To that end, it’s turning out a larger, sleeker, better contented Jetta targeting American tastes. Historically, Jetta has been Europe’s best-selling nameplate in the U.S., and Volkswagen would like to keep it that way. With consumer interest in sedans waning, that’s a steep hill to climb; but in the 2019 Jetta, VW is giving it its best effort.

The Players

Volkswagen is offering the Jetta in five trims, anchored by the $19,395 (including destination fee) S grade and going all the way to the $27,795 SEL Premium trim. In between are the $23,005 SE, the $23,845 R-Line and the $25,265 SEL. All grades include more content than last year, and all but the top-end SEL Premium cost less.

First Impression

Typically, we form first impressions on appearance. Does a person’s or thing’s looks appeal to us? In the redesign, Volkswagen has changed just about everything, but not radically. No one will see the re-imagined Jetta for the first time and wonder: "What’s that?" There are, however, definite differences that are appealing.

Although not to a great degree, the 2019 Jetta is longer, wider, taller and sports a somewhat longer wheelbase than the previous generation. Most differences are an inch, give or take a fraction. In profile, it’s sleeker and more coupe-like than its predecessor. A bold character line not found on the 2017 version stretches from nose to tail. While sporting a somewhat familiar VW-like grille with its horizontal lines, the grille on the new version is bolder and surrounded with chrome, staking out more front-end territory. Not only does this better define the grille, but it adds a certain degree of elegance.

Flanking the grille, yet set within its outer confines are LED headlights surrounded by LED daytime running lights standard on every new Jetta. Around back, the standard taillights are LED, too. Standard LEDs are one of those made-for-America benefits. Directly below the headlights and outside the grille’s chrome border are functional air ports directing air around the front wheels, improving aerodynamics. In fact, the coefficient of drag is 0.27, which is down 10 percent from the 2018 sedan.

The color palette strays a bit from the conservative with dynamic takes on red and blue, as well as a burnt orange. Most grades get 16-inch wheels; while the top-end trims feature 17-in ones. Opt for the R-Line trim and not only will you get 17-in wheels, but a gloss-black grille, black outboard mirror caps and a unique rear bumper with dual exhaust ports.

Fire It Up

Only last year’s 147-horsepower 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine survived the redesign. In fact, it’s the only mill VW offers in Jetta, at least for now. Miss the TDI yet? We do. Spinning the front wheels falls to either a 6-speed manual (entry-level S trim only) or, standard for most grades and optional ($800) on the S, an all-new 8-speed automatic. Although the 8-speed is driver shiftable, that’s only doable through the console-mounted shift lever. Steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters are being held back for the sportier Jetta GLI arriving later.

No matter the transmission, mileage is the same. The government estimates 30 miles per gallon city and 40 mpg highway, working out to 34 mpg combined.

Beneath the Skin

Although saving a buck probably entered into the decision to use VW’s delightful MQB (Modular Transverse Matrix) platform for the next-gen Jetta, the architecture promotes an ideal compromise between handling and ride quality. It’s also found underpinning the new Atlas and the redesigned Tiguan, among others.

Because the latest Jetta targets U.S. consumers’ tastes, the suspension tuning leans more to ride quality than handling; but be assured, this sedan upholds VW’s reputation for precise steering and acute handling. Our drive route at the media first drive of the sedan in and around Durham, NC didn’t exactly tax Jetta’s cornering ability, but it was varied enough to reveal solid steering response and stable cornering.

Slide In

There isn’t much inside the rehabbed Jetta to raise eyebrows. It’s the sort of economical quality typically found in VWs. Plastic covers most surfaces, but much of it is textured or soft touch. Buttons and switches are held to a minimum. Angled a bit toward the driver, the center stack is topped with either a 6.5-in or 8-in touchscreen, depending on the grade. The available VW Digital Cockpit updates the standard gauge cluster.

Every Jetta comes with an Infotainment system of some stripe. Standard on the lower three grades is a 4-speaker audio system that includes Bluetooth connectivity and VW Car-Net App Connect, which includes smartphone app integration, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. In what no doubt is an effort to attract millennials, gone is the Fender audio upgrade. It’s replaced on the SEL and SEL Premium with a 9-speaker BeatsAudio system. In addition to the Car-Net App Connect, the upper trims also get a package with a 6-month free trial that includes remote vehicle access, emergency-assistance notification and other goodies.

Supportive and comfy, the seats in the base trim are covered in cloth, but it’s either faux leather or real leather for other grades. Seats can now be heated and cooled, as well. Legroom in back is decent. Cargo room is also a healthy 14.1 cu ft., a bit more than a Ford Focus sedan.

Keeping It on the Rails

Six airbags and a backup camera are standard on every 2019 Jetta. Optional on the S grade ($450), but standard on all other trims are forward-collision warning with emergency braking and blind spot monitoring. For buyers of the S grade, $450 is a bargain for this tech. Adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and high beam assist are standard on SEL and SEL Premium.

Our Thoughts

We agree that 147 hp doesn’t sound like much, but the 184 lb-ft of peak torque is more impressive. Acceleration is brisk and once up to speed, the Jetta cruises effortlessly. Conspiring to deliver an up-level passenger experience, the whisper quiet of the cabin, the smooth ride and the level of the interior build quality all make the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta feel like more car than the 20 grand or so it costs. And, from the driver’s seat, it feels stable and well-planted. It’s a heck of a small car.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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