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2019 Volkswagen Jetta SEL Premium review

2019 Volkswagen Jetta offers German refinement and tech at an affordable price

2019 Volkswagen Jetta review
2019 Volkswagen Jetta SEL Premium
MSRP $18,545.00
“The best Jetta to date now comes with a dizzying amount of tech in an upscale package.”
Pros
  • Innovative Digital Cockpit system
  • Superb highway fuel economy
  • Comfortable ride
  • Straightforward interior design
Cons
  • Turbocharged engine offers modest power
  • Not exciting to drive

Usually, when an automaker says a car is all new, the statement needs to be taken with a Costco-sized tub of Himalayan pink salt. That isn’t the case with the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta.

The sedan is indeed entirely new from the ground up. It now rides on Volkswagen’s MQB platform, which underpins everything from the little Golf to the mighty Atlas. The good-luck-finding-what’s-not-new mantra applies to other departments, like the Jetta’s physical size (it’s bigger than ever before) and its interior, which has been made a lot smarter. A more grown-up look is apparent on the outside, too. Clearly, Volkswagen wasn’t joking around when it said the 2019 Jetta was all new.

One would assume that redesigning a vehicle from the ground up would see a drastic increase in pricing, but, once again, that’s not the case. The Jetta’s current lineup consists of the S, SE, R-Line, SEL, and SEL Premium trim levels. Pricing for the entry-level S trim starts at $19,640 (including destination), a modest decrease of $100 from last year’s model. How Volkswagen managed to keep pricing down is a mystery.

Our loaded SEL Premium tester was a little more expensive, ringing in at $27,795. Despite its reasonable price tag, the upmarket trims comes with all sorts of classy features, including high-tech gizmos that would make Lex Luthor snicker with envy. The most notable one is Volkswagen’s Digital Cockpit, a digital instrument cluster that has trickled down from upmarket Audi models.

Interior and exterior design

Unsurprisingly, the Jetta shares the same exterior design as its larger Passat stablemate. Despite the addition of bulges on the hood and deep-running body lines, the Jetta is clearly a Volkswagen in its study of restraint. Is it a missed opportunity when rival automakers like Mazda and Honda have gone in different directions with the alluring Mazda3 and the intriguing Civic? Maybe, but the Jetta’s conservative styling shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Volkswagen isn’t a brand to make something stand out for the sake of being different. So, while the Jetta may not be charming from the outside, it’s much more distinctive than the outgoing model, which is a step in the right direction.

Joel Patel/Digital Trends

Where the new Jetta really flexes its new muscles is on the inside. As automakers find ways to cram more technology into vehicles, especially with the implementation of dual screens, cabin designs have become more infuriating and tilt to the side of being aesthetically discomforting and unusable. This, thankfully, isn’t the case in the Jetta. Volkswagen’s customary practice of keeping things simple is a blessing.

Jagged-sharp edges are found throughout the entire cabin, and help bring some life into what is mostly a sterile design. In keeping with German tradition, most of the materials you interact with are high quality, and they feel like they’ve been meticulously put through the ringer to ensure they come off as being high-end. There are a few areas, like the door panels and the blank switches on the center console, that feel low-rent. But for the most part, there are no surprises to be found in the Jetta’s cabin, both good and bad. If you want to add some color to the cabin, quite literally, the ambient lighting system available on SEL and higher models allows you to choose from 10 different shades.

Clearly, VW wasn’t joking around when it said the 2019 Jetta was all new.

The seats may not look all that comfortable, with their rigid, lackluster design, but they provide an ample amount of support. Lower trims get cloth upholstery, while mid-level trims feature leatherette. Only the range-topping SEL Premium gets leather. As a bonus, its front seats are both heated and ventilated, while the ones in the rear settle for heat only.

The Jetta has less rear legroom than before, but it nonetheless treats its passengers to a copious amount of space. Unless three six-foot individuals are sitting in the back, the Jetta shouldn’t feel cramped or as tight as compact vehicles of yesteryear. While real-life testing of the Jetta paints the compact sedan in a good light, hard figures conjure a different picture.

Overall passenger volume in the Jetta is rated at 94.7 cubic feet, which is less than the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, and Honda Civic sedan. Cargo capacity, oddly, is not only down from before, but down compared to competitors, as well. At 14.1 cubic feet of trunk space, the Jetta has one of the smaller trunks in the segment, lagging behind the likes of the Civic, Elantra, and Forte. Interestingly, last year’s Jetta had one of the largest trunks measuring in at a substantial 15.7 cubic feet.

Tech features

If the new Jetta holds one massive advantage over its competitors, it’s in the tech department. When it comes to standard safety features, the Jetta might lag behind competitors like the new Corolla, which comes with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, but there’s plenty of available tech if you go higher up the lineup. The only driving aid the entry-level S trim comes with is a rear-view camera, which is mandatory on all new cars sold in the United States. Ponying up an extra $450 for the available Driver Assistance package brings forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, and blind spot monitoring. The SEL Premium trim we tested came with all of the aforementioned safety features as standard, but added rear traffic alert, an intelligent crash response system, and adaptive cruise control.

Joel Patel/Digital Trends

Infotainment wise, the majority of Jettas come with a well-sized 6.5-inch display. But scoot up to the SEL trim, and the compact sedan features a larger, 8.0-inch touchscreen that’s more on par with the competition. Regardless of the size of the screen that resides in the middle of the center console, Volkswagen’s Car-Net App-Connect is standard and includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 8.0-inch display has a nifty proximity sensor that detects when you’re about to touch the screen and brings up some more controls.

The real centerpiece of the interior is Volkswagen’s slick Digital Cockpit system.

The real centerpiece of the interior is Volkswagen’s slick Digital Cockpit system. Instead of staring at traditional gauges, there’s a bright, 10.25-inch screen that offers a dizzying number of configurations. Want a massive screen that shows nothing but a map of where you’re going? That’s possible. Depending on your preferences, you can put anything from a timer, total distance driven, or real-time fuel economy front and center. While it’s not as robust as Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, having this system in a compact car at this price is unfair, at least for the competition.

Driving impressions

Take the Jetta on a windy road and you’ll soon find out that the compact isn’t exactly sporty, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Not everyone wants to compromise comfort for athleticism, and with the spicy Jetta GLI on the horizon, the regular Jetta’s comfort-forward ride is something that should make it appealing to the majority of consumers.

Joel Patel/Digital Trends

All trims are powered by a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine that makes a modest 147 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Having 147 hp in a modern car sounds like a mishap, especially considering Honda and Mazda offer more power, but that humble figure doesn’t necessarily translate to a slow car. The Jetta’s 184 pound-feet of torque is the more important statistic, and it provides good thrust from low in the rev range, which is what you want in a daily driver. Everything besides the base S trim, which has a six-speed manual as standard, comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is the only configuration offered; if it’s all-wheel drive you want, you’ll need to shop at Mazda or Subaru.

The combination of the 1.4-liter engine and the eight-speed transmission make the Jetta a smooth operator. Keep it in its comfort or eco setting, and there’s nothing to really complain about. There’s an ample amount of shove to get the car down the road and shifts are smoothly dealt with. Press the button to engage sport mode, and not much changes. The transmission holds the engine higher up in the revs, but the low horsepower figure and uninspiring aural note means there’s not a good reason to be up there in the first place.

The trade-off comes in the form of a bland character and unenthusiastic driving dynamics.

Sport mode also conflicts with the way the Jetta’s suspension is set up, which is all about being supple. Ride quality is good, as the Jetta barely winces at harsh urban ruts, and it feels like a comfortable grand tourer that’s ready to soak up a lot of miles. With a noticeable amount of body roll and a lack of feedback from the steering wheel, this is the kind of car that’s all about keeping you comfortable traveling to and from work every day.

On the road, the more powerful turbocharged engines in both the Civic and the Mazda3 result in peppier performance than what you get in the Jetta. Where Volkswagen’s compact sedan prioritizes a smooth, refined ride, the Civic and the Mazda3 have noticeably firmer rides. This makes the Japanese options more enjoyable to drive on a good curvy road, but slightly more physically demanding for regular use.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta review
Joel Patel/Digital Trends

Quiet and comfortable, you’ll hardly notice the miles tick by. And with the Jetta’s impressive fuel economy, you’re likely to make it a long way down the road before really noticing how far you’ve traveled. The EPA rates the Jetta at 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway, resulting in a combined rating of 34 mpg. If the fancy Digital Cockpit system is to be believed, we managed to eek out 44 mpg on a highway blast. Those are great figures for a vehicle of this size, though the Jetta is less efficient than the Civic.

Rivals

Two of the Jetta’s most prominent competitors include the Honda Civic and the Mazda3. The Civic is the best-selling compact vehicle on the market, while the Mazda3 happens to be one of our favorites, having the rare ability to combine the best attributes of an economy car with character.

Surprisingly, the Jetta is more affordable than the Civic Sedan, as Honda’s option starts at $20,370 with the manual transmission (it’s $21,170 with the CVT). Even the entry-level Civic comes with a full suite of safety features courtesy of Honda Sensing. Despite having an available 174-hp, 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the Civic is more fuel efficient with an EPA rating of 32 mpg city and 42 mpg hwy.

The prettier Mazda3 is more affordable than the Jetta. Pricing for the Mazda3 sedan starts at $18,990 ($20,040 if you want the automatic), and the model features a 155-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Mazda’s automatic emergency braking system, which is called Smart City Brake Support, is standard, as is a 7.0-inch screen for the infotainment system. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder cranking out 184 hp is optionally available.

Peace of mind

Volkswagen recently buffed up its warranty, now backing its new cars for six years or 72,000 miles. The Jetta’s powertrain is covered for six years or 72,000 miles, whichever comes first, and roadside assistance is offered for three years or 36,000 miles. Volkswagen’s warranty is transferable to subsequent owners, which should help keep its resale value up.

The NHTSA has not put the new Jetta through its crash tests yet, but last year’s model received a four-star rating. And we’d be surprised to see the 2019 model do worse than that. The IIHS did put the 2019 Jetta through its trials and the vehicle failed to earn one of the institute’s awards because of its headlights that were found to be marginal. The sedan nonetheless aced all of the IIHS’ crash tests.

How DT would configure this car

The Jetta’s main selling point is its incredible technology. While you have to go with one of the more expensive trims to get the tech, it’s well worth the price and is unlike anything else that’s offered on the competition. At $28,590 for the range-topping SEL Premium trim, the pricey hardware isn’t cheap, but it does represent strong value based on what you can get from other manufactures.

Without a strong list of standard equipment, the only real reason to go with the base S trim is because of its available manual transmission. If you don’t want to shift gears yourself, the SE, which starts at $23,290, with keyless access, a blind spot monitoring system, and a panoramic sunroof is a better starting point. The R-Line is purely a trim that’s meant to look quick, but if you want the real thing, waiting for the Jetta GLI is advised.

At $25,590, the SEL has a lot of the tech gadgets that we loved in the Jetta, including the BeatsAudio sound system, the Digital Cockpit, and all of the advanced safety features. It’s missing navigation, though, which seems like a waste when you’re paying all that money for a fancy screen as the instrument cluster.

Tech lovers should go straight to the top and never look back.

Our Take

There’s no denying that moving the Jetta onto the new MQB platform and adding Volkswagen’s Digital Cockpit system has transformed it into something that can rival larger, more expensive offerings. In its fully-loaded guise, the Jetta is a stronger competitor in the compact segment than ever before. It’s got more tech than anything else in its class, and it doesn’t charge you luxury pricing for it. The trade-off comes in the form of a bland character and unenthusiastic driving dynamics.

Should you get one?

Yes, if only for the technology. If you snatched up the new iPhone because it did away with the home button and now utilizes Face ID, then the Jetta’s tech-forward blueprint will outweigh its nondescript personality.

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