2019 Volkswagen Jetta R-Line quick spin review and rating

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The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta debuted earlier this year at the Chicago Auto Show. This seventh-generation model replaces a fine but generally underwhelming car that lost much of the premium feel that made the Jetta such a strong car in the past. It’s based on the same platform that underpins the Volkswagen Golf, Tiguan and next-generation Audi Q3. It’s larger, too. In fact, it’s longer and wider than a B5 Volkswagen Passat from just 15 years ago, though it doesn’t weigh quite as much as that car.

Our tester was a mid-grade R-Line. Currently, the only available engine is a 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-four. We’re crossing our fingers for a new GLI performance model sometime soon. Power is sent to the front wheels through either a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic. The R-Line comes with leatherette seating, 17-inch wheels, proximity entry and push-button ignition, blind-spot monitoring and more.

Editor-in-Chief Greg Migliore — The latest version of the feels like an Audi-lite. Dressed in R-Line trim and a snazzy shade of red paint, this tester certainly could pass for something from Ingolstadt. Under the skin, the has a solid chassis and a peppy 1.4-liter turbo-four. Dynamically, my only beef is with the steering, which feels overly light. The cabin is attractive and laid out intuitively. The materials on the door panels and dashboard are underwhelming, though the trim and the seats are nice. The infotainment feels dated, but it’s easy enough to use. The trunk is spacious. A stroller fit in there, no problem. I’m a big fan of the exterior design, which has a bit of A4 in it. I suppose it also reminds me of the Hyundai Sonata, which is attractive-looking, too. The Jetta is a solid product. The new generation is doing a lot to advance its position in a crowded segment, though it still lags behind the overall excellence of the Honda Civic.

Senior Editor, Green, John Beltz Snyder — When I sat in the Jetta on the Detroit auto show floor, I was unimpressed. I’m not a huge fan of the new looks — the grille, the excessive hood creases, the interior full of odd, angular shapes. But actually spending time in it on the road, it quickly grew on me. The first good omen: my full-size Nalgene water bottle fits securely in the in-door cupholder. I like the look of the two-tone perforated seats. I find the shape of the dash, with the infotainment screen tilted toward the driver — to be a functional form.

I enjoy the behavior of the 1.4-liter turbo, too. I’m especially fond of the power it summons once the turbo spools up, which I find helpful passing fools on the highway.

On the drive home, I took it through some sweeping turns. I was impressed with its poise as I held or built speed. The body seemed to set itself as I dialed in more steering angle — it reminded me of the 2018 Mazda6‘s early-to-mid-corner behavior. When I gave it a little gas, the nose wanted to lift a bit, but the lateral stability remained. I noticed the same, with pleasure, as I took tighter corners with a little gusto.

As I noted with the Golf Alltrack, I like the way Volkswagen steering wheels feel in my hand, and the Jetta is no different. It’s got a nice shape and weight to it. The steering feel is a bit numb on center, but imparts more road feel (and resistance) as you dial in more angle.

After all that, I looked at the price. Just less than $24,000. I have to say that seemed like a nice price for this car. As much as some of the looks weren’t my thing (though less not-so after some staring), the sense of quality is there. It certainly feels updated — and the Jetta was a car that really needed it. I think I like this car.

Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale — I went on the 2019 VW Jetta first drive, and I came away finding it to be a perfectly acceptable, if unexceptional small sedan. Now, during my second turn behind the wheel, this time in an R-Line, my opinion hasn’t really changed.

I certainly appreciate VW for giving the Jetta a bit more daring design inside and out. The extra creases and diagonal lines make it interesting, and the driver-oriented dash has a tiny, itty-bitty hint of Audi influence. Sadly, the materials don’t have any Audi influence. But that’s about where the excitement begins and ends.

The turbocharged 1.4-liter engine has ample torque and is good for hustling through traffic, but the power drops off fast, making it feel a little like a diesel in power delivery. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t encourage play. The automatic is smooth and shifts promptly, so that’s good, and the fuel economy is impressive.

The chassis is also not exciting. The suspension is quite soft, which means you get a fairly comfortable ride, but you pay for it in corners. It rolls a lot, and there isn’t much grip. It wants to push out pretty quickly.

Still, if you just want a stylish sedan that’s comfortable and economical, you won’t do badly with the Jetta, but I’d suggest checking out some competitors before making your final decision.

Associate Writer Zac Palmer — The compact car segment has a bunch of engaging and great-handling little sedans and hatchbacks. This new Jetta isn’t one of them. Rather, it excels at being a simple and comfortable commuter instead. Its design feels conservative but classier than others at this price point, especially in the R-Line trim we had. Just please, drop the fake exhaust outlets. The interior feels appropriately -like — clean and easy to navigate, it doesn’t take any chances at being displeasing. I enjoyed the feel of the R-Line steering wheel, too. It’s a flat-bottomed, thin leather piece that felt perfectly sculpted for my hands.

Around town, the Jetta’s new 1.4-liter turbo four-banger is sprightly with its 184 pound-feet of torque coming on at 1,400 rpm. I enjoyed the eight-speed automatic when it wasn’t under any extra duress. It was easy to trip it up when pushing a little harder, though. A couple of its less-shining moments involved me flooring it, then waiting for what felt like a full 2 seconds for it to decide to make the downshift and move out. Other times the gear changes came slightly quicker, but it was inconsistent at best. The smoothness in everyday driving is pleasant, but I found myself wanting VW’s fantastic DSG gearbox.

Like I mentioned before, the Jetta isn’t a particularly adept handler. It leans a lot through corners, and doesn’t stay as composed as others in the segment. Grip runs out from the economy tires, and there isn’t a whole lot of road feel transmitted back to the driver. For people who will buy this car, that’s fine. The Golf is there for someone who demands a little bit more from their compact car, but still wants a VW.

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