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.

Cars

2020 Toyota Corolla sedan aims to offer sharper handling, better tech

The 2020 Toyota Corolla sedan gets the same upgrades as the recently-introduced Corolla hatchback, including a firmer foundation, new engine, and more tech features. Will that be enough to keep the long-lived Corolla nameplate relevant?
Cars

Born to run (forever): The most reliable cars you can buy right now

We all dread the thought of our car turning into a money pit, but choosing a dependable vehicle from the start can help us rack up countless care-free miles. Here, we've rounded up some of the most reliable cars available.
Cars

Our favorite fuel-efficient cars are as frugal as they are fun

You don't need to opt for a hybrid or an all-electric ride in order to achieve good fuel economy. These vehicles pack both performance and style, whether you're in the market for a luxury sedan or a game-changing pickup truck.
Cars

BMW’s 2020 M340i will show off mix of tech and luxury at the Los Angeles show

The 2020 3 Series represents the seventh generation of BMW's bread-and-butter luxury sedan. Where previous generations emphasized the driving experience, the 2020 3 Series focuses more on tech than ever before.
Cars

Out of juice? Learn how to jump-start a car with this quick guide

Jumping a car is a simple procedure, but not everyone knows how to properly do so. To make things easier, we've put together a quick-hit guide on how to fire up your vehicle using jumper cables and a second power source.
Cars

Prep your car for the coming snow and sleet with these cold weather tips

Driving in the winter, whether downtown or across the country, is rarely easy. Luckily, we've put together a quick rundown of a few things you should do to winterize your car before the snow officially hits.
Cars

Many adults believe fully self-driving cars are already traversing U.S. highways

The American Automobile Association tested cars with features such as lane-keeping and adaptive cruise control and found them lacking in real-world conditions. Forty percent of surveyed U.S. adults think self-driving cars exist now.
Digital Trends Live

DT Daily: Waymo’s driverless cars, ‘Fallout 76’ tips, and Racella

In today's episode of DT Daily, we discuss Waymo's foray into the ridesharing sector, along with various tips for making the most of the recently launched Fallout 76. We also sit down with singer Racella to chat about her new EP, Waves.
Cars

Want to keep connected on the road? Here are 5 ways to add Bluetooth to your car

The best way to make an old ride feel young again is to bring it up speed with the 21st century. Here's how to properly add Bluetooth to your vehicle, via independent kits, vehicle adapters, or aftermarket head units.
Cars

Jeep’s outdoorsy Gladiator pickup truck bares it all ahead of schedule

Jeep will introduce the long-promised Wrangler-based pickup truck at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show. Named Gladiator, the model was designed to conquer the great outdoors, not for the construction site.
Cars

The hamster-friendly 2020 Kia Soul will rock out at the Los Angeles Auto Show

Kia has released a teaser image to preview the next Soul. Scheduled to make its debut at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, the 2020 Soul will keep the outgoing model's boxy proportions but it will wear a sharper design.
Cars

Startup Rivian exits stealth mode with a bold promise to electrify off-roaders

Electric car startup Rivian has finally turned off stealth mode and provided details about what it's been working on since 2009. It will build battery-powered off-roaders instead of taking on Tesla and others in the luxury EV segment.
Cars

Honda will squeeze another model into its SUV lineup at the Los Angeles show

Honda will introduce a new SUV with a familiar nameplate at the 2018 Los Angeles auto show. It envisioned the 2019 Passport as a five-seater alternative to the eight-seater Pilot. The two models will share a platform and many tech features.
Cars

Uber rolls out rewards program that lets its most loyal riders lock in prices

Uber launched a new loyalty program today called Uber Rewards. It offers frequent riders credits to Uber Eats, car upgrades, and the ability to lock in prices on their most traveled routes.