2019 VW Jetta SE – Road Test Review – By Ben Lewis



We recently tested the 2018 VW Passat GT, an exciting twist on one of the carmaker’s oldest models.

And now, we have the 2019 VW Jetta, its newest model.

And make no mistake about it, a new Jetta is a big deal.

It’s the most successful European nameplate in the US, with 3.2 million sold since 1980. And, that’s just a drop in the bucket – worldwide sales are over 17.5 million. Now we have the seventh-generation of the popular sedan, and VW has pushed the envelope to give us a bigger, better, more advanced sedan to continue to woo today’s sedan buyer.

How much bigger is the big deal?

Noticeably. Built on VW’s MQB platform that’s shared with a lion’s share of the lineup, the new Jetta rides on a 1.3-inch longer wheelbase, and sits 1.7 –inches longer, 0.8 inches wider, and 0.2 inches taller. While those numbers are significant, visually the MK7 as it’s known, looks much larger than the MK6. A larger front grille with sharp creases and LED headlights wrap around the fenders creating a wider, more imposing mug. A sharp accent line along the door handles looks crisp, while the profile adds a more coupe-like vibe. At the rear, the width is emphasized with an integrated rear spoiler, and swanky LED taillight clusters.

It owes its look as much to the wind tunnel as it does the designers pen (mouse?), with wind-cheating aerodynamics for fuel efficiency, including active front grille shutters, an “air curtain “design in the front bumper to lower turbulence over the wheels and sculpted underbody panels.

It all sounds rather exciting, but in our SE tester’s grey paint and dark wheels, it was all rather subdued. We’d probably opt for one of the brighter colors – how does Habanero Orange Metallic sound? We’d also probably opt for the R-Line model, to get goodies like the sporty 17-inch R-line alloy wheels, unique front grille, rear bumper, and distinctive fog lights.

Bigger, better, interior

The interior story is even more impressive. It starts with a spacious feeling, thanks to more headroom, knee room and shoulder room than the previous model. Oddly enough, the trunk is actually a little smaller. The Jetta looks like it’s been shopping for clothes with its premium brother Audi – the design is upscale and fresh.

Our SE model tester is just one step up from the most basic S model, but still makes you feel like you’ve bought well, with soft-touch materials, a multi-function steering wheel, and nice 6.5-inch info-tainment screen that’s right on eye-level with the gauges. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLInk are standard.

Putting all that pretty stuff at eye-level does relegate the center vents a bit low in the console – you end up having to aim them upwards to get airflow on your face. Luckily the AC blows ice cold.

That’s just the beginning of the good impressions, with SE standards including leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift leather, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, pushbutton start, panoramic glass tilt/slide sunroof, and Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Traffic Alert. That’s impressive value.

We should point out that on pricier models, there’s even more impressive tech, including an 8-inch touchscreen, VW’s digital cockpit, which replaces the gauges with a virtual 10.25-inch display that is truly Audi-level gear, 400-watt BeatsAudio system, 10-color ambient lighting, leather, heated/ventilated seats, adaptive cruise control with Follow to Stop, and remote start. All nice – for a price.

Back on our tester, the seats are a nice leatherette (S models get cloth), and are well-sized for Americans, with long lower cushions and good support. Even though our SE didn’t have adjustable lumbar support we were very comfortable.

Manners Matter

All this good stuff is icing on the cake of the Jetta’s driving manners. Under the hood is the 1.4-liter turbo four cylinder of last-year’s model. Now, a 1.4-liter sounds tiny, but this one is a little powerhouse – 147 hp, and most importantly, 184 lb.-ft of torque at just 1,400 rpm.

That’s a lot of grunt off the line, and combined with a new 8-speed automatic, the Jetta feels notably responsive and punchy pulling away from stop lights – even more so in Sport mode. The extra 2 gears (last year’s auto was a 6-speed) means quiet, fuel efficient cruising with a quick kick-down for strong passing at higher speeds. EPA fuel economy is an excellent 30/40/34 city/highway/combined MPG.

For those who love to stir their own, the S model Jetta is offered with a 6-speed manual, a nice upgrade over last year’s 5-speed. For those who want a sportier drive, we’d still opt for the R-line, with VW’s cool XDS Electronic differential. Or better yet, wait for the upcoming GLI model, which will most likely sport 200+ hp and more serious suspension tuning.

Back to our SE, like all new Jetta’s, it rides on the company’s MQB platform underpinning most of the maker’s new models. It’s a good one, making the Jetta feel extremely strong, quiet and squeak free. The ride is very smooth and comfy.

We thought we’d be bummed out with the move to a torsion beam rear suspension over the previous independent, but it’s well-behaved. German engineering knows how to make these things work. The power rack and pinion steering is also very nice, a good blend of light effort but with enough feedback to let you know what it’s doing.

Driving the SE, it’s clear this is not intended to be a sport sedan, but rather a good driving, everyday transport that feels good and is rewarding. You won’t be hunting down your favorite twisty road, but you’ll enjoy the daily commute and weekend trip. Mission accomplished.

Value Jett

The best part is the new Jetta is an even-better value than the model it replaces. The S starts at $19,345, $300 less than last year, but offers more room, LED headlights, taillights, Auto headlights, electronic parking brake, soft-touch dash, larger touchscreen and more. VW says that’s a net added value of $1,105.

Our SE tester carried an MSRP of $22,155 - $90 less than last year, and with the added gear, a $1,010 net added value. Going up the line, the R-Line comes in at $22,995, the luxury SEL featuring that cool Digital cockpit, larger media display, BeatsAudio, adaptive cruise and more at a very impressive $24,415. If you want leather, ventilated memory sport seats and more, the SEL premium is your Jetta, at $26,945.

All Jettas sweeten the deal with The People First Warranty, 6-years/72,000 miles bumper-to-bumper limited warranty.

There are a lot of competitors for the new Jetta to do battle with, including Chevy’s Cruze, Honda’s Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda 3 and Toyota Corolla. They’re all good. The Jetta fights back with an elegant interior, impressive value, and that well-oiled, German quality that makes you feel like you scored a bargain Bavarian.

Bigger, better, smarter. The new Jetta is the class of its class.

About The Author

Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round -- whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, or learning to surf.