Fun fact. Did you know that the Jetta was originally created due to the tastes of North American customers?
When the Volkswagen Golf was launched North America markets in 1979, it enjoyed considerable success. However, the company noticed that the hatchback design of the Golf didn’t appeal to American customers who still preferred the traditional three-box configuration of the sedan.
Therefore, the solution was to have the Volkswagen stylists essentially graft a trunk onto the Golf’s tail so as to produce a larger saloon/sedan. In not too long of a duration, the Jetta became one of the best-selling European cars in the USA, Canada, and Mexico, and still remains popular in Europe.
Volkswagen spent much of the (previous) sixth-generation Jetta’s era undoing the harm it did by decontenting the model back when it was last redesigned in 2011. Yes, prices were slashed, but it was done as a result of extreme cost-cutting measures.
The 2019 model year’s seventh-generation Jetta is essentially all-new from the ground up. History repeats itself once again as the platform similarities with the Golf continue in the form of the Jetta adopting VW’s latest MQB architecture. However this time, the move to MQB shows little evidence of the company taking shortcuts. In fact, quite the opposite is true.
This makes the Jetta the sixth North American market VW Group model to share the MQB platform, which also includes several nameplates from upmarket sister company Audi. In this case, sharing is not a bad thing as the modular platform is very good. Platform sharing also helps to spread out engineering costs and to that effect, sticker prices have dropped across the board.
Size-wise, the new car is only marginally bigger than the previous model with its wheelbase growing by 1.3 inches to 105.7 inches. The overall length has grown to 185.1 inches, which is about the same size as its MQB platform-mate, the Volkswagen Tiguan crossover SUV. Overall, the new car is two inches longer and nearly an inch wider than before.
Strangely, trunk space shrinks by a couple of cubic feet to 14 cu.ft but the interior volume has only increased nominally. Volkswagen quotes a sub-3,000 pound curb weight for both the auto and manual transmission versions of the 2019 model, shaving off some weight versus the sixth-generation Jetta despite the addition of more equipment.
The 2019 Jetta offers more standard features than ever before including standard full-LED lighting front and rear, and a much improved infotainment system.
Even the base Jetta Comfortline, starting with an MSRP of $20,995, includes a 6.5” touchscreen with Bluetooth, and Volkswagen App-connect for compatible devices, enabling integration with three major smartphone platforms: Apple CarPlay, AndroidAuto, and MirrorLink.
The top trim Jetta Execline, as speced out with my test car, includes LED Projector headlights with LED DRLs and high-end features such as a VW’s 10.25” Digital Cockpit display, customizable cabin ambient lighting, and a larger 8.0-inch Discover Media touchscreen display.
Personally, I favour the sportier appearance of the R-Line model, which adds on sportier suspension, a gloss-black front grille, a unique R-Line rear bumper with dual exhausts, and various bits and bobs inside.
On the inside
Volkswagen has blended in its best small-car technology into the seventh-generation Jetta, translating into more features and amenities for the customer.
The cabin is quiet, comfortable, and the available 8.0-inch infotainment screen and Digital Cockpit feels like it could’ve been lifted from an Audi. There is even selectable ambient lighting in the top trim models, such as my test vehicle, as well as a 400-watt BeatsAudio sound system that truly bumps.
As with most modern vehicles, a rearview camera is standard equipment. My test vehicle also included an alphabet soup of active safety systems including forward collision mitigation, automatic emergency braking, blindspot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and lane keep assist.
How does it drive?
To simply production and keep costs low, under the hood of the 2019 Jetta is the familiar and economical turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine from the previous Jetta. This powerplant outputs 147 horsepower and 184 lbs-ft of torque.
As this turbo four is tuned for low-end grunt, its peak torque arrives at a low 1,400 rpms, with excellent throttle response with almost no lag. This makes the Jetta feel a lot more powerful off the line than its 147 hp, where a heavy right foot will cause the Jetta to chirp its front tires and trigger the ESP system. It is only when encountering a short highway on-ramp that the shortcomings of the 147hp reveal itself somewhat.
If you’re looking for a true sporty Jetta, you’re going to have to wait for the upcoming new version of the GLI, powered by VW’s larger 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing at least 220 hp as it does in today’s GTI.
Both the R-Design and Execline-trim Jettas come equipped with VW’s XDS electronic differential lock. As soon as the electronics detect excessive unloading of the inside wheel of the driven front axle during fast cornering, the ESP’s hydraulic system builds up braking system pressure in a targeted way on this wheel to restore optimum traction. This way, the XDS acts as a limited-slip differential to compensate for the understeer typical of front-wheel-drive cars during fast cornering. Thanks to XDS, handling becomes more precise and more neutral.
While the 1.4-litre turbocharged engine is a carryover, the automatic transmission has been revised and now has eight forward gears, up from the previous Jetta’s six-speed transmission. This allows the 2019 model to earn virtually the same fuel economy ratings regardless of auto or manual gearbox. The latter by the way, has also been improved but I didn’t get a chance to verify this in person.
While the automatic car is inherently less fun to drive, especially as there are no paddle shifters (which will likely appear on the GLI model), the shift points have been adjusted to be smoother. Overall, the powertrain combination is a near-perfect match for the Jetta’s needs as a daily driver and an occasional road trip vehicle. Just don’t expect a hotrod.
Thanks to the change to the stiffer MQB platform, handling is also livelier and more precise, with good ride quality. It feels almost as athletic as the Golf, but seems to ride a bit more plush. Regardless, it has the same cohesive feel that makes both cars rewarding to drive.
Steering feel is a bit numb, but that’s likely due to the low-resistance tires and the plump sidewalls, even with my tester’s larger 17” aluminum alloy wheels. The selectable Drive Mode feature adds a bit of weight and responsiveness to both the steering and throttle when in Sport and Custom modes.
Once again, the Jetta remains a solid car for Volkswagen. Reworked, restyled, and with the latest in technological advances, the 2019 Jetta has what it takes to make even some Audi owners envious.
The 2019 Jetta is a solid move upscale, and once again a competent choice for a comfortable, compact sedan.