Driven: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta Review
  • Car Review

Driven: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta Review

By David Undercoffler | April 13, 2018

Autolist rating: 5/5
But would we buy it? Yes
Price range: $19,395 - $27,795

Key takeaways

  • The Jetta was redesigned for the 2019 model year.
  • Powered by a smooth, turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
  • Offers European refinement to a segment that rarely has any.
  • Excellent value, especially on mid-level trims.

What is it?

The Jetta is Volkswagen’s five-passenger, compact sedan, the one that’s been kicking around the U.S. market since 1979. One of VW’s most popular models, it’s larger than the Golf hatchback and smaller than the Passat midsize sedan.

The Jetta competes with the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus, Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte and Nissan Sentra.

VW completely redesigned the Jetta for the 2019 model year, giving it a sleeker exterior design, additional safety features and a slightly larger footprint and interior space.

The Jetta comes in five different trim levels: base S, SE, R-Line, SEL and SEL Premium.

All are front-wheel drive and powered by a 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 147 horsepower. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard on all trim levels except the base S, where it’s an $800 option over the standard six-speed manual transmission.

What’s good:

TLDR: Euro refinement and styling mixed with everyday value.

Refinement. It’s been a calling card of VW for decades: a level of European flair that most of its mainstream competitors can’t match. It’s alive and well in this new Jetta. When you ride or drive in it, everything you see or touch feels a bit nicer and more upscale.

Value. VW packed a lot of content for the money into the 2019 Jetta. It starts at $20,195 for the base S model with the automatic transmission (cheaper if you want the manual transmission), but it’s the SE version that really hits a home run here. For $23,005 you get a panoramic sunroof, faux leather seats that are heated up front, pre-collision braking and climate control. That’s awesome.

The rear end. It’s harder to tell in pictures, but the rear end of the Jetta has a great dash of style to it. You’d almost think it was from VW’s upscale cousin, Audi. Not bad for a car that starts at under $20,000.

What’s bad:

TLDR: Front-end styling, lame R-Line, needs more useful folding seats.

The rest of the styling. Aside from the handsome back end, the rest of the Jetta is bland and generic. Yes, boring is better than ugly, but we wish the front styling had the same amount of style and character as the rear.

The R-Line. For the first time, VW is making its sporty R-Line trim available on the Jetta. But it falls flat. Rather than offering any meaningful performance or handling upgrades, it’s mostly an appearance package and a weak one at that. Skip it.

Folding seats. Yes, the rear seats fold to allow you to carry larger items in the trunk, but this usefulness is limited. The opening between the rear seats and the trunk is smaller than it should be, and the trunk floor is lower than the folded seatback itself, creating an awkward shelf that limits what you can put back there.

5 stars of execution:

Safety? Yes

  • Nearly all Jetta models come with pre-collision alerts and braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot monitoring and rear traffic alert. The base S doesn’t, but these features are just a $450 option. And every model comes with a post-collision braking system designed to prevent a secondary crash.
  • The SEL and SEL Premium models have standard adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and lane-departure warning -- the only versions of the Jetta that offer it. This is a nice touch, but many of Jetta’s competitors offer this as standard, or at least optional, across all trim lines. Jetta should too.
  • The 2019 Jetta has not yet been crash tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Value? Yes

  • The Jetta starts at $19,395 for the S with a manual transmission and $20,195 for the S with an automatic. From there, every trim line offers a nice amount of stuff for the money.
  • The sweet spot is the SE model -- which VW expects to be the best-seller in the Jetta line. For $23,005, you get everything you need and nothing you don’t.
  • Added bonus: all trim lines come with a level of refinement rare in this segment.

Efficiency? Yes

  • The 2019 Jetta is rated by the EPA at 30/40/34 mpg city/highway/combined -- good numbers for a car of this size and power.
  • Those figures put it near the top of the segment for efficiency -- but not as good as Honda’s Civic or Hyundai’s Elantra.

Driving experience? Yes

  • The Jetta is powered by a turbocharged, 147-horsepower four-cylinder engine that’s plenty powerful, smooth and composed even when you push it hard.
  • It’s paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission that does its job without drama or calling attention to itself.
  • The handling is comfortable and direct, and the car gives you just enough feedback so as to not be boring like some of its competitors.

Execution? Yes

  • From upscale materials and build quality to a roomy rear seat and trunk, VW did its homework on what consumers need and want in their compact sedans.
  • Volkswagen’s Jetta is an excellent combination of straightforward competence, Euro-inspired panache, style and value.
  • It proves VW still has the ability to inject otherwise mainstream vehicles with something unique.

Total Rating: 5 stars

What’s it gonna cost me?

As mentioned, the base S model is $19,395 with a manual transmission and $20,195 with an automatic. That trim comes with LED headlights, taillights and daytime running lights, comfy cloth seats, a backup camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity and a 6.5-inch infotainment system. While that’s definitely a bargain, we found the interior of the S model comfy but too austere.

Our favorite Jetta is the SE. $23,005 gets you fake-leather seats that are heated up front, a large moonroof, push-button start, pre-collision alerts and braking, climate control and blind spot monitoring.

The aforementioned R-Line is $23,845 and adds unique 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lights and other minor trim changes inside and out, a unique steering wheel and brake-induced torque vectoring (a fancy system to help handling in a turn).

We also drove the SEL. For $25,265 you get fancier LED headlights, four driving modes (Normal, Eco, Sport and Custom), a trick 10.25-inch digital instrument panel, an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system, a Beats Audio stereo system, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and satellite radio. We definitely recommend this trim level too if it’s within your budget, but our favorite is still the SE.

Finally there’s the loaded SEL Premium. For $27,795 you get fog lights, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, navigation, real leather seats and fancier 17-inch alloy wheels. Nice stuff, but you can save your money and live without it.

Also consider

The Jetta is in one of the biggest segments in the auto industry in terms of volume, so you have a lot of choices. Our favorites are the Honda Civic, the Mazda3 and the Subaru Impreza. But the Jetta easily competes with all three of those.

Kia has a new Forte due soon, but we haven’t driven it. Toyota’s Corolla, Chevy’s Cruze and Hyundai’s Elantra are perfectly fine but uninspired. Ford’s Focus and Nissan’s Sentra are getting old at this point.