Yep, It’s a Jetta: 2019 Jetta Review

The Jetta is a difficult car. The Mk7 comes at a time when it’s almost guaranteed to look unsuccessful as sedans fall increasingly out of fashion and subprime lending and cheap gas lead to more and more luxury SUV sales. The whole industry is going upmarket but making an economy car feel luxurious without costing a fortune is an especially tall order.

But, Volkswagen volume in America still depends on the little betrunked Golf and so Volkswagen’s engineers have had the task making a thousand little cuts to make up for the expenditures in infotainment and quality.

Since a luxury feel has long been VW’s thing, soft-touch materials and optional whizbangery—like a 6.5-inch infotainment screen, a 10.25-inch digital cockpit, a 12-channel BeatsAudio sound system, and wrap around, colored lighting—were essential to make Jetta drivers feel like they’re in something special.

These are all expensive features, so something’s gotta give. And that’s where VW’s been wise, cutting out things that you’re likely never to notice. Except that I’m bringing them up here, so–okay–you might notice, but you won’t miss them.

Things like the latch on the cover of the armrest cubby hole. If I asked you to mime opening the storage compartment between the driver and the passenger, your fingers would instinctively curl to open the latch that guards your treasures. It’s instinctive because that little latch is in everything. But why?

It doesn’t really do anything and unless you’re jumping your car across downed bridges like the General Lee, there’s no real risk of the armrest ever opening. So why not simplify the production process and just get rid of it if?

I’ll give you another example. You know how whenever you open the hood on a car nowadays, you’re greeted by a piece of plastic with a brand badge on it hiding everything in the engine compartment? Yeah, that doesn’t happen in the Jetta. It’s almost unnerving to just see an engine with nothing covering it in a modern car, but you don’t really miss it. I know that these are used as sound deadening material, but if I hadn’t looked under the hood I would have never known. So it’s not like the Jetta is loud or unrefined inside.

Remember when the NC Miata came out and Mazda was shaving grams off every little thing to make it as light as possible? Volkswagen’s kind of doing the same thing with the Jetta, except it’s shaving cents off it wherever it can. It’s not the type of exciting engineering that grabs headlines, but it really is important and useful for an economy car like this. Not all of the cost-cutting measures were so small, though.

The elephant in the room that is the Jetta is the torsion beam suspension. It’s antiquated technology that you can find as far back as the ‘30s. Effectively, your axle becomes part of the suspension, locating the wheels. It’s anything but ideal for performance applications (the GLI will eschew the torsion beam), but here’s thing: who cares?

By SpringsOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Sure, it’s old technology, but so is the wheel. What really matters is does it work? For the Jetta, the answer is yes. During an average day’s driving it feels great: soft over bumps, steady through high-speed corners. And when you do engage in some spirited driving the Jetta can handle it just fine. In fact, one of the “disadvantages” of the torsion beam is that it has a tendency to oversteer, which, thanks to VW’s Arizona Proving Grounds test track, I can confirm is what this car tends towards. But it’s still a FWD car, so it’s not like it was eager to swap ends or anything.

I’ll admit that the torsion beam suspension might make this a less than ideal autocross car, but it’s a worthwhile sacrifice because it makes the new Jetta cheaper across the range than the model it replaces while still offering more equipment. And be honest, autocrossers are waiting for the GLI.

Same goes for the 1.4-liter engine (making 147 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque). Sure, it’s small and it doesn’t sound all that great, but–along with better aerodynamics and an AC unit that has an eco mode–it contributes to the car’s 40 mpg highway rating. Sure, along with the literally brand new 8-speed auto, it’s not exactly fast (0-60 hasn’t been announced yet, estimates put it at 7.6 seconds) but it moves. And in the 6-speed manual, with which you can hang on to revs, it can actually hustle. It doesn’t feel like a GTI, but there is a pleasing wave of torque to ride.

It seems odd to be talking about fuel economy in an era of SUVs and Hellcats, but it makes sense in the class. And that sacrifice, along with the rest, means that the Jetta punches above that weight class in a number of areas. Offering the digital cockpit (SEL and SEL Premium only), which allows you nip at an Audi’s heels, an honestly very good infotainment system (MIB II), and a design that really looks good, you’re more than getting your money’s worth.

I was recently in a BMW X2, and while it’s a little more powerful, I would honestly rather spend time inside the Jetta. Both use soft-touch plastics extensively, both have colorful interior lighting, and neither is particularly cheery, but the Jetta’s design is a little cleaner and it doesn’t really miss out on any meaningful features. And the X2 costs upwards of $50,000.

Automotive journalists often come down hard on accountants, accusing them of stealing fun for profit. But really, our problem isn’t with the accountants, it’s with automakers that see their responsibility to investors as more important than their responsibility to consumers. Those automakers take money out of the car and put it into their pockets, effectively cheating buyers. And while Volkswagen has taken money out of the car, saving wherever it could, the money feels like it went right back into the Jetta. VW didn’t cheat you, it just had a budget. You still get all of your value and then some.

Look, it’s not the most exciting, nor the sexiest car VW’s ever made. It’s a Jetta. But, in that it’s a good product, made well, for not very much, it’s among the cars that most deserves its VW badge. It’s good. Now, for God’s sake buy it.