Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: February 26, 2019
The Volkswagen Jetta is one of the brand’s most successful models, having sold over 600,000 units in Canada alone since its inception. Fast forward to today, and the seventh-generation Jetta is still recognizable but larger in every dimension. It is longer, taller, and wider than it has ever been, rewarding interior space and cabin comfort. The new 2019 Jetta is actually about the same size as the 1997-generation Volkswagen Passat.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Jetta has gotten better looking over the years. The hexagonal front grill is awkwardly shaped like the new Audi A7, making the Jetta appear wider than it really is, and the monumental wheel gaps make it look like it’s constantly standing on tippy toes. Is it terrible to say that I actually prefer the outgoing model’s mature and straight-shot design? After speaking to a few colleagues, it appears I’m not the only one to share this sentiment either.
The biggest improvement comes with the rear end, with taillights reminiscent of its more expensive brethren, the Audi A4. From this angle, the Jetta looks premium, though the fake exhaust outlets don’t do it any favours. With a starting MSRP of just $20,995 up to $29,905, the Jetta is not a bad offering, though with an automatic gearbox equipped you’re looking already looking at an $1,400 increase. No matter the trim, just do us all a favour and front-end park.
The Jetta’s interior has clearly been spruced up but there’s nothing we haven’t seen before in the Golf hatchback. The Digital Cockpit display for the instrument cluster is neat and will surely appease technophiles in their hunt for a five-seater sedan. The infotainment system is miles ahead of the offerings from both Honda and Toyota, even Ford. The ease of use, large prompts, responsive screen, and sensors that detect your hand approaching the screen and automatically display shortcut buttons, makes this one of the friendliest systems on the market today. The rest of the cabin is dark, albeit bland in typical Volkswagen fashion, and is frankly a love-it-or-hate-it design. Some readers I’ve talked to love the simplistic layout. Others feel it’s too vanilla. We’re in the latter camp.
The value of the base Comfortline model is undeniable for $20,995, and that already comes standard with heated front seats, Apple CarPlay, and Bluetooth connectivity. Our fully loaded $29,905 Execline spec (that’s more expensive than a Civic Si), wasn’t too shabby either with heated and ventilated leather seats, a Beats audio system (which sounds average to be honest), and the Digital Cockpit interface, though the passenger side seat lacks power adjustment. Plastics are carefully disguised as glossier and sturdier black panels, and though it doesn’t feel premium in here, it doesn’t feel cheap either. Hilariously enough, what we felt to be the most expensive part of the interior was the metallic-finished ignition button, which reminded us of starting up an Audi. Furthermore, I wish Volkswagen gave the Jetta a new steering wheel. This one was equipped in the outgoing Jetta as well and is beginning to appear dated, though undeniably functional with its ergonomic shortcut buttons that control both the instrument cluster and infotainment.
The biggest upgrade for the new Jetta is that it finally sits on Volkswagen’s MQB platform that has underpinned the Golf for quite some time now. We praised the Golf for this stiff modular chassis but the Jetta just can’t quite pull off the same kind of driving experience. The steering is springy and slightly overboosted, the pedals feel like you’re pressing down on a Furby, and the body wallows about when taking corners at higher speeds. The Jetta lacks rattles and shimmies, meaning it’s quite stiff overall, but it drives without pizazz, not that you should expect much from this compact sedan segment, but when the Honda Civic is able to dish out fun-to-drive antics with unflappable front-end bite and decent body control from its humble platform, the bar is raised rather high.
There’s nothing to write home about with the Jetta’s carried over 1.4-litre turbocharged inline-four engine but it does perform smoothly and dishes out 147 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque via a new 8-speed automatic transmission. The Honda Civic has more horsepower (174 hp) but slightly less torque (162 lb-ft). On the road, they both take off from idle with a similar amount of shove and it doesn’t translate to a large enough delta for us to prefer one over the other. Still, the only thing I would dock the Civic for is its bland CVT. The Jetta’s powerplant is quieter than the Civic’s and the 8-speed transmission keeps up well with unnoticeable gear shifts and prompt responses to throttle input. Of note, the Jetta also offers a six-speed manual transmission on every trim, and not just the base model. Kudos on that. There’s also a 2.0-litre 228-hp Jetta GLI ($31,695) on tap for those looking for that missing spice factor.
What the Jetta does have going for it, and I know this sounds ironic after Dieselgate, is exceptional fuel economy. On a full tank, we received an estimated range of roughly 600 km, and we believe it. Even after driving 100 kms on city roads averaging 8.7 L/100km, the fuel tank meter only dipped one light. The Jetta may not look pretty but there’s no denying its effectiveness as a daily cruiser, where most people would only need to fill up once every few weeks depending on their commute distance.
There’s nothing too impressive about the Jetta but there’s nothing awfully terrible about it either. It’s a decent compact sedan with a spacious cabin, calm and collected powertrain, and competitive fuel economy numbers to back up its pretty Audi-like tail lights, but there’s not enough here to make me recommend it over the Honda Civic, the latter of which delivers superior driving dynamics, aesthetics, and documented reliability.
Model: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta Execline
Paint Type: Blue Silk Metallic
Base Price: $29,095
Price as Tested: $30,090
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,702 / 1,799 / 1,458
Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged inline-four
Horsepower: 147 hp @ 5,000 rpm
Torque: 184 lb-ft @ 1,500 - 3,500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 7.9 / 5.9 / 7.0
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 8.7