While America is in the midst of Crossover Fever, there are still many buyers who prefer the lower stance and slinkier silhouette of sedans. And in the compact segment, there are some very good ones on offer. The Volkswagen Jetta has been in the mix for decades, but in its attempt to find more mainstream US appeal, the result as of late has felt, well, uninspired.
Thankfully, the 2019 model is sharper in every way. It's prettier, better equipped, nicer to drive and (accounting for inflation) less expensive. This new VW isn't just a better Jetta, it's a better car than most of its compact competitors.
Mature, but not exactly boring
The 2019 Jetta rectifies the anonymous design of its predecessor by adding better-defined character lines along the side, a little more creasing in the hood, a sloping rear roofline and LED taillights that appear more Audi than Volkswagen. In fact, LED headlights are standard across the lineup -- a nice touch, considering halogens are generally still par for the course at this price point.
The interior stays rooted in German minimalism, retaining a low dashboard and a focus on a few choice horizontal lines. However, there's a bit more character around the driver's side, where the new infotainment system blends into the gauge cluster. It's most impressive on higher trims, which not only pack a larger infotainment screen but also Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, which replaces the gauge cluster with a 10-inch configurable display.
This new Jetta lacks the outright wackiness of theboth inside and out, but to my eyes, it also looks better than the , and . The Jetta's interior quality is ahead of all those competitors, too. My only complaint about the interior is that the driver's seat doesn't go as low as I'd like it to. That's it.
A pleasant drive
Now built on Volkswagen's do-it-all MQB platform -- which underpins the, , , (European) Passat, and about 20 models we don't get in the US -- the Jetta doesn't take much driving to make a positive impression.
It's not as Euro-grade stiff as the Golf, which is designed with a bunch of markets in mind. The Jetta's suspension tuning errs on soft, and additional plushness arrives by way of thick all-season tires, which wrap around standard 16- or 17-inch alloy wheels on all trims. Even when the roads get rough, the Jetta never brings that harshness inside -- hell, sound barely permeates the wonderfully hushed interior.
Under the hood is a 1.4-liter turbocharged I4 that puts out 147 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. The Jetta isn't going to win any races, but this engine provides more than enough torque for driving and passing in the city or on the highway. The new eight-speed automatic operates smoothly, save for the occasional clunky downshift to first when stepping on the gas below about 5 mph. A six-speed manual is available, but only on the base S trim.
The EPA rates all 2019 Jetta trims -- S, SE, R-Line, SEL and SEL Premium -- at 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. With a mixture of driving across all three modes (Eco, Normal and Sport) on all manner of roads and showing little regard for fuel economy, I see about 37 mpg in my SEL Premium tester, which is better than the EPA's combined rating of 34.
Speaking of modes, Jetta owners get three, accessing them through the infotainment screen. Eco does a great job of dulling the throttle, while Sport sharpens it up equally well. I prefer Normal, as it's sprightly enough to move without being a detriment to fuel economy.
Checking the tech
These driving modes also connect to other systems, like adaptive cruise control and even the interior ambient lighting. All of that, plus settings like radio favorites, connects to individual key fobs, so you and your significant other can hop into the car and it'll remember each person's specific settings based only on the key in the driver's pocket. It's all very clever.
On the infotainment front, all trims except the top two pack a 6.5-inch touchscreen display, with the fancier models rocking an 8-incher. Both are bright and easy to access with minimal glances, although I dislike how the gloss-black navigation buttons on either side of the screen pick up finger grease and show it off like a badge of pride.
If you have a trim that comes with the 8-inch screen, you also get Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, which is excellent for avoiding the infotainment altogether. All the stuff you need is right under your line of sight, and it has a visual wow-factor that impresses just about everyone who gets in your car. Just like the standard screen, it doesn't take long to get comfortable with VDC.
Volkswagen's new Jetta plays right to the heart of the US market. The 2019 Jetta is sensible but not so sensible that it's Niles Crane-tier boring. It drives nicely, and it's loaded with standard equipment and tech that American buyers are after. If your antibodies are still fending off Crossover Fever, this compact sedan is worth checking out.
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