Review: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta SEL

There are surprises, and there are pleasant surprises. The 2019 Jetta falls into the latter category.

It had been a few years since I got a peek at this particular VW model, and I could tell right away that the recent redesign has really helped an already-popular car.

The Jetta is approaching its 40th birthday (this fall, in fact), and over the last decade it has elbowed its way into being VW’s top-selling car, with more than 15 million of them on the road. It’s even worn the title of “best-selling European car in North America” more than once.

Now, with some stylish tweaks the new 7th generation of the Jetta is ready to continue its strong run.

The Basics

The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta is available in five trim levels, starting with the base S model that is perfect for budget-conscious folks who are looking for a solid car.

The upper-tier SEL and SEL Premium versions add quite a few touches that may not exactly fall into the “luxurious” category, but come pretty darn close. And, this year you can also choose from a sportier R-Line trim.

I spent a week in the SEL.

All models come with a turbo 1.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine, producing 147 horsepower. The base S model comes standard with a 6-speed manual transmission, although automatic is optional. For all other trim levels the new 8-speed automatic is standard.

The ’19 Jetta continues the trend in recent years of getting slightly larger overall, although the added inch or two doesn’t really translate into more legroom or trunk space. But the car looks great in the driveway.

The Inside

Nothing about the Jetta will necessarily blow you away, but it doesn’t have to. This is a car priced in the 20s, which means Volkswagen makes the most of the materials to give you a comfortable experience.

And they’ve done it. Part of the pleasant surprise I referenced came from the fact that the car seems to play above its fighting weight, if you know what I mean. Nothing hints at a budget lifestyle, with smooth edges and above-average quality.

Even the cloth and leatherette choices look and feel great. If you move up to the SEL Premium you’ll find true leather. Not sure if that’s necessary, however.

Although, as mentioned, the expanded size didn’t increase legroom, that’s okay because that was fine to begin with. Even rear-seat passengers will feel comfortable.

Controls are laid out well and are intuitive. I like the design of the dash and the center console, and visibility was good for the driver. Storage is good upfront, including a nice big cubby in front of the shifter.

The Drive

Again, I expected a bit more of a bumpy ride from a car in this category and price range, but the Jetta slipped around town smoothly and comfortably.

Acceleration is quick and pleasing, thanks to the torque provided by that turbo power plant. I never winced merging into highway traffic or having to pass.

Overall handling is good, too. The only possible ding is the steering, which, although acceptable, didn’t always feel intimate.

The ride is quiet and smooth.

The Tech

Volkswagen doesn’t scrimp on the tech features, which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. On that note, the only glitch I dealt with was an iffy CarPlay connection at times – but even that problem was spotty. Occasionally I’d have to disconnect and reconnect.

Otherwise the experience was good. Everything is easily spelled out for the driver, and you don’t have to monkey around with a mouse, trackpad, or other nonsense.
Controls are basic (which means drivers love it).

The upper-tiered trim levels offer a digital cockpit, and the upgraded sound system was excellent. If you really wanna rock out, ask your dealer about the Beats premium sound that’s available.

Overall the infotainment system is a breeze, which removes a layer of distraction for the driver. Cheers to that.

The Bottom Line

I enjoyed my week in the Jetta. The smooth, comfortable ride had just enough oomph to make you feel confident in traffic, and there’s just enough tech to add some joy to your drive.

This is a great choice for families who are looking for a five-passenger car that has pretty good space and an above-average interior for this price point.

On top of that, the mileage is good, too. I felt like my test car sipped at petrol for the week; when I turned it in it still had half-a-tank. Actual rated fuel economy is 30 in the city, 40 on the highway, and 34 combined.

There’s nothing flashy about the 2019 Jetta, but that’s okay. It serves a good-sized segment of the population, and does it well.

The Details

2019 Volkswagen Jetta SEL
1.4- liter, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine
147 horsepower
8-speed automatic transmission
Fuel economy: 30/40/34 combined
MSRP: $25,265 (before options)

Reviewed by Dom Testa
Vehicle provided by manufacturer

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