2019 VW Jetta revealed: More tech, less Teutonic

15 January 2018 - Autoblog

2019 VW Jetta revealed: More tech, less Teutonic

Last month, I flew to Volkswagen's Arizona Proving Grounds — normally a secretive place verboten to journalists — to drive the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta.

It was a controlled environment, and our impressions were limited. But now we have more details that paint a clearer picture of the company's volume sedan ahead of the Detroit Auto Show, where we're seeing it in person.

The big news is the platform switch, with the Jetta hopping onto the MQB platform. MQB is so flexible it's almost misleading to call it a platform, since it underpins everything from the Atlas to the Golf, but it does mean the Jetta can pull goodies out of the MQB parts bin. For example, on SEL and SEL Premium trims you can get the fantastic Digital Cockpit display. Already offered on some Volkswagen and Audi products, it's an impressive sight in the cluster and surely will be a factor in some purchase decisions compared to products with smaller, less-versatile partially digital displays.

Outside, there are sharp edges and familiar but attractive Volkswagen trademark styling queues. LED lighting is standard in the 2019 Jetta, and the sedan has grown in every dimension. The wheelbase is 1.3 inches longer, and it's also wider and taller (although we don't have those dimensions yet). In person, the camouflaged Jetta didn't seem enormous despite a nicely roomy back seat, so don't worry that it's jumped a size category or anything. Its overhangs are indeed shorter, which is great.

Unmentioned in the release but apparent at a glance, a high-trim level prototype revealed an old friend: the torsion-beam rear suspension, which was excised from the previous generation in response to critical feedback about the car's level of sophistication. As I said in our previous review, torsion beams are very attractive from a cost and packaging perspective, and the Jetta's trunk is cavernous. VW North American engineering chief Matthias Erb told us, in a characteristic moment of frankness, that VW's reliance on turbocharged engines means it's at a bit of a disadvantage in terms of per-unit cost. Saving some money in an area that a typical commuter almost certainly won't notice isn't a terrible idea. Honestly. If this ends up on a future GLI, though, I reserve the right to complain.

I was also told by a Volkswagen engineer on that trip that the company had gotten feedback from consumers that even the last-gen car, a very Americanized product for VW, rode too stiffly for many of them. So the '19 Jetta is softer still, and even less Teutonic.

Speaking of turbo engines, the familiar 1.4-liter TSI engine is back. It's torquey, at 184 lb-ft, although its horsepower rating (147) is mild. It's relatively uninspired, if powerful enough to get the job done. The prototypes we drove were backed up by an eight-speed auto. I wouldn't describe the powertrain as sporty even with the ability to put it in sport mode.

Somewhat surprisingly, there will still be a manual transmission offered. Even in Volkswagen products, one of the last bastions of the do-it-yourself gearbox, it must be a tough sell to justify federalizing a transmission that surely has a shrinking take rate. At least Volkswagen has insulated itself a bit by making it standard only on the base trim — the automatic is an option on that, and standard on higher trim levels. Note that there's a typical suite of available active safety features, but they're options save the rear-view camera.

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