The new Volkswagen Jetta remains as competent as ever as a compact, well-built car to get around in. The competition has caught up though.
There was a time when Volkswagen sat alone in the gap between cars for the masses and luxury brands, for the few who could afford such things. Up until a decade ago, VW truly stood unchallenged in this niche. Over the past ten years, more OEMs began poking into the gap and today, it is all but completely gone. The Volkswagen Jetta remains where it’s always been. The other however, have closed the gap and in at least one case, has surpassed it.
I’ll not muck about. The new 2019 Mazda3 is a superior car. It hovers above all others in the segment for its incredible styling, content, and handling. Not too far behind it are the new Toyota Corolla, Kia Forte, the Volkswagen Golf and the subject of this review, the latest generation MK7 Volkswagen Jetta.
There are a number of reasons that could explain why the Jetta has “fallen” to this position. In my opinion, its once unique German and European flair, both in styling and drive, is what kept it ahead. The competition caught on eventually and began incorporating the once unmatched driving abilities of the Jetta (and Golf) and have properly evolved their designs. Meanwhile, in order to sell more cars, Volkswagen was busy dumbing down its once best-selling product in order to please more North Americans.
This is why the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta now sits only as one of the best driving, better equipped and only attractively-styled cars in the compact car category. Physically, VW insisted the Jetta grow up in size and leave the once ubiquitous playfulness of the Jetta to the Golf. The Jetta sedan has always served as the more “executive” variation of the German brand’s compact offerings but for this round, any and all links the Golf are dead. If, as rumoured, the Golf dies in the US, the decision was the right one.
Now more of a small Passat, the new Jetta was penned with a more serious intent to impress with bigger creases, an upswept beltline and just plain more straight lines. Unlike a number of cars, opting for a higher trim with larger wheels and extra chrome does little to enhance the car’s physical appeal. The tested Highline with R-Line package benefitted from 17-inch wheels and black accents but the real visual boost was the Tornado Red hue, a no-cost .
On board, it’s the same. There seems to be little effort put forth in designing the dashboard – its sole goal is to present controls to the driver in particular given the angled center stack. Fit and finish are top drawer although the materials do give the impression of being of a lesser quality than VW would like you think.
More features than ever
Obviously, higher trims indulge the occupants with leather, available cooled seats, and VW’s Digital Cockpit. The base Comfortline Jetta starts off with a 6.5-inch screen, App-Connect, and more. Said screen grows immediately to 8 inches from the Highline on. There’s even an available heated steering wheel! A more laded Jetta has never been offered.
Once on the road, the new Volkswagen Jetta, although still feels like a VW, doesn’t behave like a compact one. The company’s MQB platform, which serves as the basic building block for nearly all VWs sold here, is still a brilliant piece. The ride quality comes from a perfect blend of suppleness with a calculated degree of handling. Steering is lovely with good weight and precision and the brakes are formidable.
Still clever to drive
Along with the new Jetta for 2018 came the latest iteration of the turbocharged 1.4-litre 4-cylinder engine. In this guise, it produces 147-horsepower and a generous 184 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,500 rpm. Mated to the optional 8-speed automatic transmission, the Jetta is spritely especially when negotiating traffic. The R-Line-included drive modes which prime the powertrain for more reactive responses but the key is the low-end torque. On the highway, despite the 8 forward gears, pulling and passing requires more planning. With all this said, what’s likely most important is that even when driven hard-ish, you can expect a returned fuel consumption average of no more than 7L/100km.
With a starting price of $20,995, the Comfortline 6-speed manual transmission Jetta is on par price-wise with the $19,810 2019 Mazda3 GX sedan. In fact, the Jetta has more features, but not much, to justify the difference. The tested Jetta Highline with 8-speed auto, Driver Assistance and R-Line package tops out at $28,575 while the highest trim Execline with auto, Winter and Driver Assistance packages maxes out at $30,475. At the top end of the scale, the Mazda3 GT is a better deal.
The bottom line is that the new Jetta is still an endearing car. The competition rose to the challenge and the Mazda is now the car to beat. VW’s decision to Americanize the car, for a lack of a better term, has hurt it only in enthusiasts’ standings. It continues to be a good choice in the segment, it just doesn’t excite the way it once did. But then, there’s the new Jetta GLI for that…