New Jetta offers sporty luxury in bargain form

John Gilbert

For 2019, redesigned Volkswagen Jetta looks luxurious but at a surprisingly modest price. Photo credit: John Gilbert
For 2019, redesigned Volkswagen Jetta looks luxurious but at a surprisingly modest price. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Viewed from the rear, the Jetta looks like a midsize car but it’s actually a roomy compact. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Viewed from the rear, the Jetta looks like a midsize car but it’s actually a roomy compact. Photo credit: John Gilbert

When a German car — any German car — shows up for a week-long test-drive, it always takes a few times behind the wheel before getting totally comfortable with all the features and controls. Invariably we will end up joking that the Germans are bold and pushy about their technology, but they also are usually right on. That has never been more true than with the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta.

It doesn’t have to be a Mercedes, Audi, BMW, or Porsche to come up with some odd items, because Volkswagen also might limit the options, but with the new Jetta, it doesn’t take long to realize that the choices the company might make on behalf of its customers are right on, precluding the usual customer option dilemmas about how we should equip our new purchase.

With that in mind, we found the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta R-Line that arrived in our driveway to be even more streamlined in avoiding the minimal clutter of choices.
First, however, I have to point out a couple key facts. First, the Jetta has a stunningly beautiful look in its latest redesign; second, the attractiveness of a much costlier luxury car fools you into forgetting that this Jetta fits into the compact class, right there with Civics, Corollas, Focuses, Mazda3s, Elantras, and Chevrolet Cruzes; third, luxury styling does not come with a heavy hand at sticker-price time or when you make a fuel stop; and fourth, you can get any engine you want, as long as you want a comparatively tiny 1.4-liter 4-cylinder.

One more aside is that the Volkswagen dealership in Duluth, Minnesota, ran a joint regional corporate ad over Thanksgiving time offering a 2019 Jetta S for $16,000, with 0-percent interest for your payment deal. Caused me to sit up straight, because we were fresh from being thoroughly impressed with our road test.

True, we had the upscale “R-Line” package, which includes some sporty accents, including a flat-bottom steering wheel and styling trim, and it came with a 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection, developing a mere 147 horsepower but a startling 184 foot-pounds of torque, which provides quick acceleration. It also came with an 8-speed automatic with Tiptronic manual shiftability with the console-mounted stalk.

But a casual observer might overlook that the R-Line powertrain is exactly the same as what comes in the basic Jetta S, and on up through all Jetta models. You also could choose a 6-speed stick, but only on the base S. I would still prefer steering wheel paddles to allow manual shifting of the automatic without taking hands off the wheel, but I’m not German.

The R-Line Jetta price is $22,995, excluding holiday sales, I presume, and the total tally for the test car was $24,140, and if you don’t think that’s a bargain, drive one first.
Volkswagen always had given us impressive engines that take minimal size and deliver much bigger performance. The 2.0 in the GTI Golf, for example, and even the newer 1.8-liter 4-cylinder derivative. The 1.8 is a smaller derivative of the 2.0, while the 1.4 is actually from a whole new family of VW engines, and by clever coordination of the turbocharger with computer control of the valve-timing gives you power you would never believe from a 1.4. While it would undoubtedly feel quicker with the stick shift, paddles would also give it added sportiness, and if you switch the eco-mode switch to sport, it quickens all its reactions. 

Whatever, the car gave us about 32 miles per gallon, mostly in city driving. On one prolonged freeway drive, we got 42 mpg, just slightly topping the EPA highway estimate of 40. And that’s while allowing you to use 87 octane regular fuel, which can save you a lot if you calculate how much more premium costs at your favorite local gas station.

The optional R-Line trim in the Jetta add to the image and feel of luxury in a simple format. Photo credit: John Gilbert
The optional R-Line trim in the Jetta add to the image and feel of luxury in a simple format. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The test car came in a sparkling metallic Habanero Orange exterior with a Storm Gray and Black interior, which starts with very supportive and comfortable bucket seats, covered in V-Tex leatherette fabric. That’s simulated leather, which shows the Germans are so eager to build a car specifically for the U.S. market that they aren’t above sneaking some phony leather into the car making sure if it has enough of a luxury appearance and feel. Besides, the seats are heated, even if they are only manually adjustable. There, again, I don’t mind the absence of power seats, because at most you might have two drivers on a regular basis, and my wife, Joan, and I don’t mind the easy slide adjustment.

Styling wise, the new Jetta looks very good from the side, somewhat typical from the rear, and dramatically different in the front, from its stylish grille that underwraps the LED headlights. The taillights and daytime running lights also are the extra bright LEDs, with small halogen foglights located in the lower valance.

Handling is another area where Volkswagen always has delivered. Some companies seem taxed to come up with suspension that is soft enough, or more likely firm enough, for good handling stability, and very few can find a sweet spot where both comfort and handling come together. VW, on the other hand, always produces cars that handle well and don’t compromise comfort, with sporty models like the GTI still meeting that compromise even while firming up considerably.

In that regard, VW used to make a sporty Jetta called the GLI, which had GTI-like suspension and engine performance. For several of those years, I was convinced the GLI outhandled the GTI, a feeling I attributed to the added length and weight distribution because of the trunk. After all, the Jetta began life as a Golf with four doors and a trunk. There are some murmurings that the new Jetta might yet add a GLI-like model after getting established.

We should feel privileged in the U.S. that Volkswagen is paying such close attention to satisfying car-buyers. In Europe and most of the rest of the world, the Golf outsells the Jetta, but in the U.S., the Jetta prevails. That fact alone might be why so-called experts insist that American buyers won’t buy hatchbacks. I find that absurd, because in our new craze for SUVs and crossovers, every one of them is a hatchback.

Roomy all over includes the Jetta trunk, enhancing its freeway cruiser side. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Roomy all over includes the Jetta trunk, enhancing its freeway cruiser side. Photo credit: John Gilbert
All components can be operated onto the nav screen by using the smart-knob on the console. Photo credit: John Gilbert
All components can be operated onto the nav screen by using the smart-knob on the console. Photo credit: John Gilbert

More likely, European drivers prefer the sportier size and maneuverability of the Golf to the Jetta, while in the U.S., we never caught on to the simple facts that hatchbacks make more sense, in some cases, with their fold-down back seats and large space under the hatch.
With a new plant in Tennessee and the in-house corporate insistance on making up to U.S. buyers for selling diesel cars that had a device to fool the mileage-testing computers by running more leniently when off the machines. The “scandal” has given VW much criticism and after seven figures of penalty fees, Volkswagen has gone overboard doing the right thing by building us better cars with better gasoline engines, which now get almost as good fuel economy as diesel cars.

As it is, the test Jetta, designed for the U.S., was assembled at VW’s plant in Puebla, Mexico, with the engine coming from Germany and the transmission from Aisin in Japan. Talk about a global project! 
The Jetta 1.4T R-Line is loaded with safety and connectivity features. Antilock brakes, with anti-clip regulation and engine brake assist, plus electronic brake pressure distribution and brake assist are standard. Electronic stability control and an electronic differential lockare further aids, as is the rear view camera system.

The car was equiped with 17 inch lloy wheels and all-season tires, and had automatic headlights, variable intermittent wipers, and a power panoramic sunroof are standard. Blind-spot monitor with rear traffic alert, plus forward collision warning and autonomous braking, and an intelligent crash response system, go well beyond such features as the tire pressure monitoring system, keyless access.

Altogether a safe, smooth car that can pass as luxury, especially when you climb into the rear seat and realize how much room you have back there. In front, your passenger can play with the multi-function display on the large color screen, with smart phone integration and interface. The warranty is impressive, too, with 6-year, 72,000-mile coverage, which includes the powertrain, and there is also a 7-year, 100,000-mile warranty against corrosion perforation.

One final note on how evident it is that VW is catering to U.S. choices. The Habanero Orange Metallic paint is a $295 extra. At the going sticker price, it’s worth that extravagance.

Styling, as well as Habanero Orange paint, makes the Jetta R-Line stand out in parking lots. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Styling, as well as Habanero Orange paint, makes the Jetta R-Line stand out in parking lots. Photo credit: John Gilbert