The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta hardly lacks for assets. The compact sedan is roomy, comfortable, well-made, and a good value.
But the 2019 Jetta doesn’t bond with its driver in the way we’ve come to expect from German-branded small cars, including the Jetta’s VW Golf cousin. The exception is the sporty Jetta GLI.
The 2019 Jetta comes in S, SE, R-Design, SEL, and SEL Premium versions, plus the GLI S, GLI 35th Anniversary Edition, and GLI Autobahn. The Jetta is based on the Golf hatchback VW builds in Mexico, but there are key differences between the Jetta sedan and the Golf when it comes to power, technology, and suspension design.
Review continues below
Good? Yes, the 2019 Jetta is a good four-door sedan. It falls shy of great. We rate it at 5.8 out of 10 points overall (read more about how we rate cars.)
The 2019 Jetta has most of the goods, but not all of the things that have make VWs excellent choices in the past. It’s the iPhone SE of the lineup.
This year’s Jetta shares little but its name with the 2018 model. Beneath its crisp, conservative sheet metal lies a sophisticated platform with an asterisk. While the Golf and other VW vehicles that ride on the same architecture use a modern multi-link rear suspension, the Jetta uses a simple torsion-beam instead. Again, the exception is the GLI, which has a multi-link independent rear suspension.
Likewise, the Jetta’s 1.4-liter turbo-4, rated at a modest 147 horsepower and paired to either a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic, is the least-powerful engine you’ll find in the VW lineup.
A turbocharged Jetta GLI joins the lineup in the 2019 model year with a 228-hp 2.0-liter turbo-4 and either the manual or a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. It is also available with adjustable adaptive dampers.
From behind the wheel, the Jetta rides softly and its steering responds quickly, but with little of the eager tenacity found in rivals like the Honda Civic and Mazda 3. The little turbo-4 pulls as best it can, delivering adequate, but not enlightening acceleration.
The GLI offers a much more spirited driving experience. Its turbo-4 pulls harder, its suspension is firmer and more responsive, and it offers much of the feel and fun of the Golf GTI.
The standard Jetta makes a fine long-distance cruiser boosted by its 40-mpg highway rating, bar some obtrusive wind and road noise. Its seats are firm, if light on lumbar support, and well-bolstered, and there’s enough room in the back seat for two adults or three in a pinch. The Jetta’s 14.1 cubic-foot trunk is about par for a mid-size sedan, but it’s well shy of the similarly sized Golf.
The Jetta discards the notion that a German-branded car need be stingy with equipment. Even the base Jetta S is well-outfitted with alloy wheels, a 6.5-inch touchscreen for infotainment that’s Apple- and Android-compatible, and alloy wheels. Active-safety gear such as automatic emergency braking costs just $450 on the Jetta S and is standard on the rest of the lineup.
Tick all the boxes and the Jetta SEL Premium runs about $27,800, a reasonable sum considering its features such as a trick, configurable TFT display in place of conventional gauges, heated and cooled leather seats, Beats by Dr. Dre speakers, a panoramic moonroof, and navigation. A GLI Autobahn top $30,000, which isn’t that much of a premium for its additional performance.