2019 Volkswagen Jetta Review
Volkswagen has redesigned the Jetta for the 2019 model year, the first time the company has done so in eight years. A 4-door sedan that competes on the larger end of the compact car segment, the Jetta is Volkswagen’s most popular model in the U.S.
Highlights of the redesigned 2019 Volkswagen Jetta include a move to the automaker’s acclaimed MQB vehicle architecture, a more tailored and stylish exterior design, a modern and high-tech interior design, additional equipment at lower prices, standard turbocharged power, and more.
The new 2019 Jetta is available in S, SE, R-Line, SEL, and SEL Premium trim levels. For this review, J.D. Power evaluated the Jetta SEL Premium. No factory options are available with this trim because it comes with everything as standard equipment. The price came to $27,840, including the $895 destination charge.
What Owners Say…
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the new Jetta, it is helpful to understand who bought the previous version of this compact car, and what they liked most and least about their Jettas.
Jetta owners, according to J.D. Power data, are fairly evenly split as far as gender is concerned, with 51% men and 49% women (vs. 55% and 45% for the compact car segment). Their median age is 47 (vs. 48), and they enjoy a median annual household income of $73,750 (vs. $70,279).
People who buy Jettas primarily identify as Price Buyers. That’s true of the compact car segment in general, but is more frequent with Jetta buyers (45% vs. 39% for the segment). Strangely, though, Jetta owners are less likely to strongly agree that they avoid vehicles they think have high maintenance costs (54% vs. 67%), that their first consideration in a new vehicle is fuel economy (25% vs. 29%), and that their first consideration in a new vehicle is reliability (57% vs. 65%).
Jetta owners are more likely to agree that they prefer a vehicle with responsive handling and powerful acceleration (90% vs. 87%), and are less likely to agree that to them a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place (48% vs. 53%). Perhaps because the previous Jetta was one of the roomier vehicles in its segment, owners of the Volkswagen are more likely to agree that they need a versatile vehicle that accommodates a busy lifestyle (79% vs. 75%).
Owners report that their favorite things about the previous Jetta were (in descending order) the exterior styling, engine/transmission, driving dynamics, storage and space, and interior design. Owners indicate that their least favorite things about the previous Jetta were (in descending order) the fuel economy, visibility and safety, infotainment system, seats, and by a significant margin the climate control system.
What Our Expert Says…
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the Volkswagen Jetta measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2018 APEAL Study.
A classic 3-box design if one ever existed, the previous Volkswagen Jetta was about function over form, offering a roomy interior and large trunk in a Plain Jane wrapper. Perhaps surprisingly, the exterior styling was Jetta owners’ favorite thing about the car.
For 2019, the Jetta gains a sense of style. The grille is bold. The roofline is rakish. The tail is tapered. Longer, wider, and taller than the previous Jetta, the 2019 version is a larger and more upscale car than its price and competitive segment might suggest, roomy and commodious enough to credibly serve as an alternative to a midsize sedan.
With a wide dashboard canted toward the driver, and in SEL Premium trim featuring high-tech Volkswagen Digital Cockpit instrumentation, 10-color ambient lighting, and the top-tier infotainment system, the Jetta comes across as an entry-level luxury car.
Unfortunately, the test car’s interior snapped, popped, cracked, and creaked on anything but glass-smooth pavement – almost like a house settling. Nothing was loose, but the constant background noise, combined with a poorly installed dashboard that exposed a rub strip at the right windshield pillar, was disappointing.
The Jetta SEL Premium’s leather-wrapped, 6-way power adjustable driver’s seat is comfortable, in part due to both heating and ventilation. It could, however, benefit from a separate cushion tilt or thigh support adjustment. The steering wheel is pleasing to hold, and Volkswagen provides soft places on the door panel and center console armrest where you’re likely to rest an elbow.
The front passenger’s seat is not as comfortable. It is mounted low in the car and lacks a height adjuster. I disliked sitting there. My wife disliked sitting there. My father disliked sitting there. Even a manual height adjuster would be a welcome addition.
Rear seat passengers will be happy as long as it isn’t hot outside. There are no air conditioning vents funneling cold air to the back seat. Volkswagen also doesn’t provide USB ports for rear seat occupants. They do, however, enjoy decent thigh support and good space for legs and feet. Plus, the front seatbacks are softly padded, making them kind to longer limbs.
Climate Control System
Equipped with black leather and an oversized sunroof covered by a thin screen, the test Jetta’s cabin got quite hot in 90-degree summertime temperatures. The dual-zone automatic climate control system needed some time to cool the cabin, and it took awhile for the ventilated front seats to wick sweat.
The climate controls themselves are located under the center dashboard vents and are easy to find, understand, and use.
Equipped with the top version of Volkswagen’s infotainment system, the SEL Premium test car supplied Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Mirror Link smartphone integration technology along with Car-Net connected services and an App Connect smartphone app, a navigation system, and a new 12-speaker Beats Audio premium sound system.
Featuring an 8-inch capacitive touch display under a glass surface, the Jetta’s intuitive infotainment system offers a volume/power knob, a tuning knob, and main menu shortcut buttons on either side of the display. Modern graphics and a clean aesthetic lend it a sophisticated and premium appearance.
Pairing an iPhone to the Bluetooth connection took longer than expected, and the system’s voice recognition technology doesn’t respond to natural language inputs. You can’t push the steering wheel’s talk button and say: “Find the nearest Starbucks.” In fact, I could not discern how to use the system to find any points of interest. Therefore, my recommendation is to run Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Furthermore, to my ear, the new Beats Audio system does not sound as good as the Fender sound system previously offered in the Jetta. In fact, Jay-Z’s “Can I Get A…” playing on SiriusXM’s Rock the Bells channel sounded downright awful in terms of bass distortion. The system also struggled with reggae and house music, but sounded good when playing pop and alternative.
Dre would not approve.
Storage and Space
As was true of the previous Jetta, the new one offers lots of interior storage space and a roomy trunk.
Within the cabin, a large glove box, center console bin, and front door panel pockets are available, along with a leather-lined tray forward of the transmission shifter. Rear occupants make do with magazine pockets and small door panel bins.
The new Jetta’s trunk is not as roomy as it was before, but at 14.1 cubic feet remains among the larger cargo areas in the segment. Unless you need to haul something big a bulky, it provides plenty of practical space for a family of four.
Strangely, though, you must be sure to push the lid to its maximum position in order for it to remain open. Otherwise, it may slowly swing shut, which is no good if you’ve started loading and your head is in the way. Large grips on both sides of the inner lining make it easy to swing shut when you’re done.
Visibility and Safety
Thin windshield pillars, rear quarter windows, and a low trunk make it really easy to see out of the new Volkswagen Jetta. Add large side mirrors and a standard reversing camera, and outward visibility is exceptionally good.
Moving to a new vehicle platform and employing a redesigned structure, the 2019 Jetta should prove to be a safer car than it was before. As this review was published, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) had performed crash tests on the new car.
Standard safety equipment includes an automatic post-collision braking system, which brings the Jetta to a stop as soon as is possible following a collision in order to prevent or limit secondary impact that might occur following initial airbag deployment.
Forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert are standard on Jetta SE trim and higher. Choose the base Jetta S with the optional automatic transmission, and you can upgrade the car with a reasonably priced Driver Assistance Package ($450) containing all four of these items. The SEL and SEL Premium trims further add a lane departure warning and lane keeping assist system.
With SEL and SEL Premium trim, a free 6-month trial subscription to Car-Net Security and Service is also standard. It includes automatic crash notification, an SOS emergency calling button, a roadside assistance call button, and Family Guardian curfew, speed, and geographic boundary alerts. You can also use the App Connect smartphone app to find where you last parked the Jetta, check to make sure you locked the doors, and remotely honk the horn or flash the lights.
On the road, the Jetta’s driver assistance technologies work well. They operate in a smooth a refined manner, and the lane keeping assist system successfully tracked lane markings that were partially obscured, even in low-light conditions. I received no false warnings during my time with the Jetta.
Every 2019 Jetta is equipped with a turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 147 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and 184 lb.-ft. of torque across a broad rev range starting at just 1,400 rpm. A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard with S trim, with an 8-speed sport automatic optional for the Jetta S and standard with all other variants of the car.
Torque makes the difference with this small, adequately powered engine. In most types of normal driving, automatic transmission gearing and the swell of torque make the Jetta feel lively and responsive. Put the transmission in its Sport mode (other settings are Eco, Normal, and Custom) to quicken the car’s reflexes.
In Normal mode, especially when attempting to hustle the Jetta from a stop, there is a momentary delay as the engine revs and the turbocharger does its thing. Also, no matter which driving mode you use, the engine runs out of oomph as revs climb, such as when accelerating hard down a short on-ramp to merge with fast-flowing traffic.
Most of the time, though, this is a satisfactory power plant.
According to the EPA, the 2019 Jetta should get 34 mpg in combined driving. On my testing loop, the car returned 28.6 mpg.
To be fair to the Jetta, on testing day a big portion of my loop was closed for re-paving, forcing me to take an alternate route. I also had a passenger with me for the drive, adding weight to the car. However, these factors do not entirely account for the substantial 5.4-mpg miss during testing.
At all times, the Jetta demonstrates enjoyable driving dynamics.
Light and effortless, yet crisp and accurate, the Jetta’s electrically assisted steering makes it easy to point the car where you want to go.
Soft suspension tuning delivers a smooth ride, and despite the use of a simple torsion beam rear suspension, the Jetta’s ride and handling are secure. Mid-corner bumps on the testing route did not unsettle the car’s rear end, and when driven over a recessed manhole cover at speed, the Jetta’s butt stayed planted. Though an independent rear suspension would be better for this car, there’s no denying that VW has done the best it can to ameliorate the negative ride and handling traits associated with its more basic suspension design.
Handling limits are moderate, anyway, thanks to the pillowy suspension and 205/55R17 Bridgestone Ecopia all-season tires. Nevertheless, the Jetta remains tossable and confidence inspiring within its modest limits.
The brakes work well, though the revised testing route for this car placed unusually high demands on the system due to a steep mountain descent with numerous switchbacks. Despite noticeable fade, however, they executed a full-ABS panic stop – though it took longer to bring the car to a halt than otherwise might be expected.
Volkswagen will no doubt find continued success with the new 2019 Jetta. There are plenty of reasons to recommend this car, not the least of which is the impressive 7-year/72,000-mile People First transferrable warranty.
However, for every handful of thoughtful details Volkswagen has baked into the new Jetta, it seems as though an oversight has been made. And that means there is room for improvement.
The good news is that with just a few tweaks here and there, this car could easily rank among the best compact sedans money can buy.
Volkswagen supplied the vehicle used for this 2019 Jetta review
For more information about our test driver and our methodology, please see our reviewer profile