We drove a $23,000 Volkswagen Jetta to see if it's ready to challenge Honda and Toyota. Here's the verdict.

Benjamin Zhang/Business InsiderOur 2019 Volkswagen Jetta SE test car.
  • The Volkswagen Jetta is all-new for the 2019 model year.
  • The new seventh generation Jetta is built on VW’s highly-touted MQB platform that also underpins the Audi A3 along with the Volkswagen Tiguan and Atlas SUVs.
  • All US-bound Jettas are powered by a 147-horsepower, 1.4-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to either an eight-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission.
  • We were impressed by the Mexican-built Jetta’s perky performance, strong driving dynamics, and well-sorted infotainment system, but less than enthused by the somewhat cheap feeling interior.
  • The base Jetta S starts at $US18,545, but our mid-grade SE test car carried an as-tested price of $US23,005.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The compact sedan was once the go-to for young car buyers. In recent years, the market has shifted to crossovers and SUVs.

According to data from Kelley Blue Book, compact car sales in the US fell 13.8% in 2018. During the same period, compact SUV sales are up 11.9%.

The compact car market may be shrinking, but it’s still substantial in size with more than 1.79 million cars sold last year, accounting for 10.3% of the total US auto sales.

Read more: Here are the 15 cars people love to keep for a long time.

This brings us to the new seventh-generation Volkswagen Jetta that’s all-new for the 2019 model year. It’s the latest in a long line of successful Jetta sedans from VW. By successful, I mean 17.5 million sold worldwide since 1979 successful. In case you’re wondering, US consumers accounted for 3.2 million of that tally.

Recently, Business Insider had the chance to spend a few days behind the wheel a 2019 Jetta 1.4T SE on the roads in and around Atlanta, GA.

The base Jetta S starts at $US18,545. The mid-grade SE and sporty R-Line trims start at $US22,155 and $US22,995 respectively. The luxury-focused SEL and SEL Premium trims start at $US24,415 and $US26,945 respectively.

The high-performance Jetta GLI starts at $US25,995.

Our SE test car, clad in an eye-catching Silk Blue Metallic paint job, carried an as-tested price of $US23,005 because of an $US850 destination charge.

Here’s a closer look at the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta.


Here it is! Our 2019 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE test car.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

It’s the latest descendant of the original Mark 1 Jetta that debuted back in 1979 and…

Volkswagen

… Builds on the success of the sixth generation Jetta that sold from 2011 to 2018.


In the marketplace, the Jetta competes directly against…

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… The Honda Civic, …

Honda

… Toyota Corolla, …

Toyota

…. Nissan Sentra, …

Nissan

… Mazda3, and …

Mazda

… Hyundai Elantra.

Hyundai

The new Jetta is built on VW Group’s highly-touted MQB modular platform that also underpins the…

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… Audi A3, …

Audi

… The VW Golf, …

Volkswagen

… The VW Arteon, …

Volkswagen

… VW Atlas, and …

Volkswagen

… VW Tiguan.


Aesthetically, the new Jetta is modern and attractive. Its restrained style and rounded off edges are a departure from the more aggressive and angular designs found on its rivals.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Up front, the Jetta receives VW’s corporate passenger car front grill. In fact, it looks like a scaled-down Euro-spec Passat.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

See the resemblance?

Volkswagen

The Jetta’s silhouette is highlighted by its fastback roofline.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The rounded rear end is simple and yet stylish.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The LED taillight clusters standout.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The interior of the Jetta is uncluttered and really well-designed. Cabin ergonomics and button placement are excellent.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Build quality feels solid, but the interior material quality feels subpar. Many of the interior plastics felt cheap and flimsy.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The grey leatherette seats are well bolstered, but short on cushioning.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The panoramic sunroof, standard on all models except the base Jetta S, is probably the largest I’ve ever come across on a compact sedan.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

In front of the driver is a VW’s corporate steering wheel shared with the brand’s other passenger cars and SUVs.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Our test car came equipped with a pair of clear analogue gauges flanking a center information display.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

High-end SEL and SEL Premium models come equipped with VW’s Digital Cockpit system using a 10.25-inch display.

Volkswagen

The Jetta’s center stack is dominated by a sizable infotainment screen.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Our test car came with the 6.5-inch touchscreen that’s standard across the Jetta lineup apart from the top-spec SEL models.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The SEL models get an 8.0-screen.

Volkswagen

VW’s MIB-II system is one of our favourite mass market infotainment systems. It’s really easy to navigate with intuitively-designed menus.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

It’s home to the Jetta’s standard rear-view camera.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Oddly enough, it’s the only system we’ve tested in recent memory to not come equipped with satellite radio capability. So it’s AM/FM only on the Jetta.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The Jetta’s rear cabin is remarkably roomy.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The 37.4 inches of rear legroom is on par with some of the best selling compact crossovers on the market. However, headroom may be a challenge because of its sloping roofline.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Open the rear trunk and…

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… You’ll find 14.1 cubic feet of trunk space. It’s one cubic foot larger than the Toyota Corolla, but also one cubic foot less than the Honda Civic.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Underneath the trunk is a spare tire.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Most US-bound Jettas, our test car included, will be powered by a 147 horsepower, 1.4-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Only the GLI will get the upgraded 2.0-litre, 228 horsepower unit.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

This is one of the few engine compartments in the business to do without the frivolities of a plastic engine cover.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The German-made engine is paired with a Japanese-built eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s the only transmission available on most trim levels except the base Jetta S and the GLI The Jetta S comes standard with a six-speed manual with the automatic an optional extra while the GLI gets a seven-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

According to the EPA, theĀ Jetta is able to deliver 30 mpg of fuel economy in the city and 40 mpg on the highway. We were easily able to top 30 mpg even with our generous applications of the gas pedal.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

According to Motor Trend, the Jetta can do the sprint from 0-60 mph in just 7.6 seconds.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Source: Motor Trend.


Our SE test car came equipped with blindspot detection, forward collision warning, and autonomous emergency braking.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

What’s it like to drive?

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The Volkswagen Jetta has always been a pleasant economy car to drive. However, the new seventh-generation Jetta really blew it out of the water. The 1.4-litre engine may be diminutive in size, but it really packs a punch. The turbo four develops 184 pound-feet of torque at just 1,700 RPM. As a result, it pulls strong off the line and continues to up the rev range.

The Jetta rides well and handles competently, but it’s not quite as sharp as the last few Golf hatchbacks we’ve driven.


The verdict? The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta really impressed during its brief time in our test fleet. In a shrinking, but still lucrative compact car market, Volkswagen has a real winner on its hands.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

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