2019 Volkswagen Jetta first drive review

All grown up and no longer fun, VW's new Jetta is the Jim Carrey of cars

The Jetta is for people who think driving is a chore, and don’t want to be convinced otherwise.
The Jetta is for people who think driving is a chore, and don’t want to be convinced otherwise.
The Jetta is for people who think driving is a chore, and don’t want to be convinced otherwise.

Highs

  • Upscale interior
  • Slick Digital Cockpit interface
  • Sensory deprivation tank quietness

Lows

  • Lackluster driving dynamics
  • Engine moan
  • Middling interior volume

The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta is a crucial new model for VW, as it works to claw its way back from the pit of the “Dieselgate” emissions scandal. While the Golf hatchback is Volkswagen’s worldwide sales leader, U.S. buyers have always preferred the Jetta sedan. If Americans still like the new Jetta, it will go a long way toward rebuilding VW’s reputation. But first the Jetta has to take on a well-established group of rival compact cars, such as the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla.

The 2019 Jetta was completely redesigned from the ground up. It now rides on VW’s ubiquitous MQB platform, which serves as the foundation for numerous other models, including the Golf hatchback, Atlas SUV, and the Audi A3 luxury compact. We were impressed by all of those vehicles, and were eager to see if MQB could work the same magic on the Jetta.

When the 2019 Jetta hits showrooms in a few weeks, VW will offer five trim levels: S, SE, R-Line, SEL, and SEL Premium. The base Jetta S starts at $18,545, but we sampled a full-loaded, $26,945 SEL Premium model, which includes the full array of available tech features. 

Interior and tech

The interior might be this car’s strongest asset. Volkswagen is known for using higher quality interior materials than some of its competitors, and the 2019 Jetta lives up to that reputation. However, only top-of-the-line SEL Premium models get real leather upholstery. The use of sharp angles on everything from the cup holders to the trim pieces surrounding the gauge cluster and central screen also give the interior an interesting and novel look. The optional 10-color ambient mood lighting makes you feel like you’re on the set of a Fast & Furious movie.

The Jetta comes standard with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and conventional analog gauges, but our SEL Premium model sported the optional 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system (which includes navigation) and Volkswagen Digital Cockpit. The latter replaces the conventional gauges with a 10.25-inch reconfigurable screen. It’s basically a down-market version of VW sibling Audi’s Virtual Cockpit.

The optional 10-color ambient mood lighting makes you feel like you’re on the set of a Fast & Furious movie.

Graphics for both the central touchscreen and Digital Cockpit displays are crisp and easy to read, albeit somewhat plain in design. That’s to be expected, though, because if VW made its version too elaborate, there would be no need to trade up to Audi’s Virtual Cockpit system. For $18 a month, owners can also subscribe to VW’s Car-Net connected services, including remote vehicle locking and unlocking, remote diagnostics, stolen vehicle locator, first-responder notifications, and speed and geofencing alerts for teen drivers.

The 2019 Jetta is the first VW model sold in the U.S. to get a BeatsAudio sound system. The system — available on SEL and SEL Premium models — features a 12-channel, 400-watt amplifier and nine speakers, and uses them to produce nice, high-quality sound.

The new Jetta is longer, wider, and taller predecessor, with a wheelbase stretched by 1.3 inches to 105.7 inches. It sports 94.7 cubic feet of total passenger volume, which is less than sedan versions of the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, and Hyundai Elantra. The VW’s 14.1 cubic feet of trunk space is about average for this class, and a standard 60/40 split-folding rear seat allows for the accommodation of longer items. But if cargo space is really a priority, you should take a look at the Jetta’s Golf hatchback sibling.

The only driver-assist features that come standard on the 2019 Jetta are a rearview camera and automatic post-collision braking system, which applies the brakes when a crash is detected to help prevent a second collision. The SE trim level adds blind-spot monitoring, while the SEL adds adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist. 

Driving experience

The best word to describe the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta’s driving experience is “mature.” The latest Jetta is refined, quiet, and comfortable, but in no way exciting or fun. It’s almost as if VW benchmarked Buick when developing this car.

2019 volkswagen jetta volkwagen both profile
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

The sole engine option is a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which sends 147 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels through six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmissions. The Jetta offers a decent amount of power for a car in this segment, and more torque than most of its rivals, but doesn’t do anything interesting with them.

On the North Carolina back roads and highways where we drove it, the Jetta was admirably composed. Like other MQB-based VWs we’ve driven, the Jetta boasts a level of refinement one would normally expect from a luxury car. The suspension dealt with broken pavement well, while still keeping body roll in check through corners. All manner of unpleasant noises were kept at bay.

It’s almost as if VW benchmarked Buick when developing this car.

What the Jetta can’t do is make driving fun. Nothing about the driving experience is remarkable or memorable. It’s a good thing the cabin keeps out noise so well, because the engine’s groaning would probably get annoying if you could actually hear it under anything except aggressive throttle inputs. Sport mode didn’t give the Jetta nay more charisma, although it does turn the interior mood lighting red, which is kind of cool.

It’s not all bad, granted. The engine’s generous torque was perfect for exploiting gaps in traffic, and VW expects a respectable EPA-rated 34 mpg combined (30 mpg city, 40 mpg highway). Combined with the comfortable ride and sensory-deprivation-tank interior, the 2019 Jetta should be a very good commuter car. That’s admittedly all that most customers will want, but we wish VW had brought something more to the table. 

Warranty

The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta comes standard with a six-year, 72,000-mile limited warranty. While most other automakers offer separate basic and powertrain warranties with different durations, VW covers both under the same warranty. The warranty can also be transferred to subsequent owners. Coverage lasts from the day the car is sold new until it hits six years or 72,000 miles, so those owners get whatever coverage is left over from the first owner. 

How DT would configure this car

Volkswagen expects the SE to be the top-selling 2019 Jetta trim level, but most key tech features aren’t available on that model. Consequently, we’d upgrade to the SEL model, which comes standard with the Digital Cockpit Display, LED headlights, 8.0-inch infotainment system, and adaptive cruise control. The SEL Premium models adds more convenience features, including leather seats with power adjustment for the driver, but the SEL seems to offer the most tech for the buck.

Conclusion

The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta transcends its economy-car classification with an upscale interior, refined driving dynamics, and plenty of tech, but it also comes off as a bit boring. The Honda Civic and Mazda 3 are less polished than this VW, but they also have more character. The Jetta is a car for people who think driving is a chore, and don’t want to be convinced otherwise.