itness the Return of the Jetta. The new 2019 model feels like a return to form for the sedan after a generation of mild neglect.
Volkswagen’s compact sedan is now bigger; not noticeably so, but with just enough extra room for people and cargo. However, the new Jetta feels more like a move upscale, rather than just a move up in scale. The exterior design, cabin materials and tech are now on par with VW’s best.
Where the last-generation Jetta felt like an afterthought in Volkswagen’s North American lineup — slumming it on an outdated platform with old tech — this new model feels like a fully-fledged, well-rounded member of the family.
New platform, who dis?
The biggest performance news here is that the Jetta is finally on the MQB platform that underpins most of Volkswagen’s new models, from the Golf to the Tiguan, and even the larger Atlas SUV.
The increased cabin space isn’t really noticeable up front, but an extra 1.3 inches of rear legroom is a nice addition. The trunk offers 14.1 cubic feet of space, which isn’t as capacious as the outgoing Jetta’s 15.7, but combined with rear seats that fold flat, means there’s a ton of room, not to mention a nice, wide opening that makes it easy to load bulky items. Just beware the weak hinge springs — the trunk won’t stay open unless it’s pushed all the way up. On more than a few occasions, the trunk lid came down and hit me on the head while extracting cargo.
Not every driver wants something “sport-tuned.” The Jetta aims for comfort, and it delivers. The Jetta’s smooth ride makes longer hauls a relaxing experience. It’s agile enough, with the same responsive steering I’ve enjoyed in other MQB-based vehicles, but overall pretty chill.
Under the hood you’ll find VW’s 1.4-liter turbocharged I4 engine, an updated version of the 1.4 used in last year’s Jetta. Power is, surprisingly, down to 147 horsepower (compared to 150 in the 2018 Jetta) while torque is unchanged at 184 pound-feet. I appreciate torque more than ponies for commuter cars like this, and the Jetta still boasts a healthy number of pound-feet for a car of this size and weight — especially since the new Jetta is 66 pounds lighter for 2019.
However, the low-displacement 1.4T depends heavily on the eight-speed automatic transmission to translate that torque into real-world performance. There is a six-speed manual available, but the vast majority of Jetta buyers will end up with that automatic and, with programming skewed toward efficiency, you should probably temper your performance expectations. In its Comfort or Eco settings, the Jetta accelerates smoothly and quietly enough — and should deliver EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings of 30 mpg city, 40 mpg highway and 34 mpg combined — but passing and merging in these modes can feel a bit sedate.
Sport mode keeps the engine’s revs slightly elevated for a more responsive throttle and better acceleration. This setting feels great around town and pretty darn good on a fast country road with smooth, sweeping bends. But, even in the Sport setting, both the suspension and the powertrain feel ill-suited for really “sporty” driving on my favorite mountain roads. A combination of strong understeer when pushed hard through tighter bends and tall, economy-focused gear ratios leaving me wanting for torque when exiting a corner.