It’s no small secret that Americans and Europeans have their differences, and one needn’t look any further to illustrate that point than to look at what kind of cars we like to drive. The 1970’s fuel crisis made a great argument for the hatchback-the idea being to get the maximum amount of room possible for people and cargo on a relatively small footprint. VW’s Golf was a raging success and proved the formula worked, and it was what a lot of people wanted. Well, almost everyone. For whatever reason, Americans looked at hatchbacks and decided they looked kind of cheap. And those new car buyers didn’t want to be seen driving something they perceived as being cheap looking. So, in 1980, VW had the brilliant idea to take the Golf, put on a trunk on it, and call it a Jetta.
Thirty nine years and seven generations later, that formula has been sales gold for VW. With Audi’s and BMW’s commanding premium prices, the Jetta was the only game in town if you wanted a German sedan on a budget most people could afford. And while the people who bought their Jettas loved them, VW looked around and saw their competition enjoying greater sales numbers. The problem, as I believe VW saw it, was the Jetta cost a little more, and VW engineers were obsessing over things the average American buyer didn’t really care about. The solution was the Jetta would be built with the American buyer in mind.
The purists were less than thrilled at the realignment. But the Jetta experiment continues to evolve, and for 2019 an all new, seventh generation has arrived. First impression is the Jetta appears a bit larger than Jettas of yore. And you would be right-today’s Jetta is around the same size as a Passat was twenty years ago. While the Jetta has grown to America specific proportions, the styling definitely has a German accent. It is no nonsense, not flashy nor trendy. The smart, creased styling gives the Jetta an upscale look. Our test car, finished in Platinum Grey Metallic with contemporary LED head and tail lights and a ‘just right’ amount of chrome looked serious enough for any junior executive to own without apology. Our SEL model let the car down in one area worth mentioning: the 16″ alloys look comically small on the car and betray the otherwise high end appearance. In fact, during my week with the Jetta, the only criticism I received about the car’s looks were that the wheels were too small.
Inside, the Jetta overall is a pleasant place to spend time. Utterly contemporary, the satin chrome accents and door handles, piano black surfaces and dark grey faux wood trim work in concert to provide an aesthetically pleasing environment. The controls are intuitive, displays crystal clear, and I appreciated the driver-focused infotainment screen. At night, you and your passengers will be entertained being bathed in soft ambient LED lighting-there are ten hues to choose from to set the right mood. The only letdown were the hard plastics found on the door caps and center console, which serve as reminders you’re sitting in the cheapest VW sold on these shores.
During my time with the Jetta, I took a 400 mile round trip from my native Connecticut to a wintry retreat to Atlantic City, and it was here I was able to appreciate the Jetta’s cabin and features. The seats provided plenty of comfort, and I loved how the steering wheel felt in my hands. Music is a must for any road trip, and the Beats audio did not disappoint. The trip really provided an excellent opportunity to use Apple CarPlay, which allowed me to use Google Maps for navigation, access Pandora radio, and send and receive text messages. It was a great companion, and very simple to use. Even after slugging through New York Friday rush hour traffic, I arrived feeling fresh and relaxed.
All Jettas are motivated by a 1.4L turbocharged four cylinder rated at 147hp. This proved to be perfectly adequate for merging onto highways and passing-the Jetta never felt out of breath. Fuel economy is excellent, with a rating of 30MPG city, 40MPG highway. After cruising at a pretty good clip for hours, I was impressed that I was still able to average 40MPG. You can get a six-speed manual in a Jetta-but you are forced to settle for the base model, as all other Jettas come standard with an 8-speed automatic. Left on its own, the automatic will rush to the highest possible gear for max efficiency, which is fine, but you find yourself constantly lumbering around at about 1,000 rpm where there is no boost on immediate tap. A friend and former Jetta owner found it an affront, and ignorant of longtime buyers that VW will not offer a manual across the line, and I agree.
In this Volkswagen tuned for American drivers, I set my expectations pretty low for ride and handling. I was pleasantly surprised. The Jetta feels well controlled and buttoned down. Ride was about as stiff as I would have hoped for a non-GLI Jetta. While the handling felt just right, the super light steering felt out of place, as if the handling people and steering people never once met to decide what the Jetta driving experience, as a whole, should be.
The Jetta is available in five trim levels-base S, SE, sporty R-Line, SEL, and SEL Premium. Our SEL test car came standard with LED head and tail lights, panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, leatherette seating, dual zone auto climate control, push button start, auto dimming rear view mirror, 8 speaker Beats audio with Sirius XM satellite radio, 8″ infotainment touchscreen, VW’s 10.25″ Digital Cockpit gauge cluster, rearview camera, forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and lane assist. Including delivery, our test car stickers at $25,590USD, which represents a solid value for the features you get in return.
After seven generations, it’s only natural the Jetta has evolved from Golf with a trunk to a car with a personality all its own. Yes, the Jetta we see now is tailored specifically to the North American car buyer, but in this iteration, VW has smartly, if only slightly, moved the needle closer to it German ancestry. When asked ‘who is this car for?’, I would have to say the Jetta would be perfectly suitable for the small family who want out of the crossover craze, or anyone looking for an easy to live with highway commuter with a just right amount of amenities and style for a weekend date night.