Competes with: Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Toyota Coroll
Looks like: A little like the rival Elantra and a lot like a tamer version of the upscale 2019 VW Arteon due this year, with an XL version of the VW grille, stronger sculpting and a coupe-like roofline
Drivetrain: 147-horsepower, turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder; eight-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission; front-wheel drive
Hits dealerships: Spring 2018
Volkswagen's 2019 Jetta, unveiled ahead of the 2018 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, is a truly all-new compact sedan — new platform, styling, interior, technology — and there's a lot at stake as VW tries to leave in the rearview mirror its troubles of recent years. The German automaker is on a roll with new models: The 2018 Tiguan and 2018 Atlas won 's latest compact SUV and three-row SUV multivehicle Challenges — and VW is looking to the new, classier Jetta to continue the positive momentum. The automaker also has priced it to compete, with a starting price $100 lower that the 2018 base price at $19,395, including $850 destination.
Related: More 2018 Detroit Auto Show Coverage
The new Jetta will take on tough new competition, including fresh compact-sedan designs from Honda, Hyundai, Chevrolet and Subaru, along with a new Kia Forte also due to be unveiled in Detroit; it also faces the SUV market headwind. While Jetta has been VW's best-seller, will it now be overshadowed by the well-received Tiguan SUV redesign? Both Honda and Toyota saw their flagship compact sedans edged in sales by their compact SUVs in 2017. Still, compact sedans continue to sell in big numbers, so this remains a major opportunity for VW.
The new Jetta starts with good genes, moving to Volkswagen's excellent MQB modular platform that underpins the very competent Golf hatchback and other new models, up to even the big Atlas. That promises improved driving dynamics (dare we wish for it to drive like a Golf with a trunk). And the improvements to the styling and interior, while not over the top, look sufficiently interesting to please compact-sedan buyers.
The 2019 Jetta trim levels, which have been reshuffled in the past few years, will be S, SE, SEL and SEL Premium when it arrives in the second quarter of 2018. The SE Sport disappears, but a new R-Line trim level will join the lineup at launch time and be primarily an appearance package with sportier interior and exterior design features, though it also will add an electronic differential. Pricing beyond the base price has not been announced. A reprise of the top-level GLI trim will return later, VW officials say.
The 2019 Jetta styling is not revolutionary, which is very much in the understated family tradition. But it is a big upgrade from the outgoing model, never dramatic and now looking dated and a bit dowdy against redesigns such as the racier new Civic or grown-up Elantra. The mainstream compact sedan now shows upscale influence from the coming 2019 Volkswagen Arteon premium sedan, much as if you were creating a knock-off of designer duds for Target.
The more assertive front end gets an XL version of the VW grille, along with sculpting in the hood and front bumper, and larger lower vents. The new Jetta also gets an Arteon-like strongly sculpted line from the front fender trim into the rear taillight, along with a toned-down version of a coupe-like roofline that stretches into the trunk lid. The 2019 is also a little bigger in each direction than the outgoing model, on a wheelbase 1.3 inches longer at 105.7. Resulting shorter overhangs and the stronger sculpting give the 2019 the sleeker, more upscale.
The Jetta interior is a brand-new design with more soft-touch materials and additional practicality, including a center storage bin enlarged to nearly a gallon and a half, enough to hide your tablet or small purse. A new dashboard design looks like a stylish takeoff on the driver-centric Golf arrangement but with the screen moved to high in the center from its lower spot — thankfully, without banishing actual physical controls for the most common functions. Newly standard is a 6.5-inch multimedia screen, and an 8-inch unit is optional; those are big upgrades over last year's 5- and 6.3-inch screens, respectively. What's more, the outgoing Jetta didn't get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto until you upgraded to the 6.3-inch unit; it's now standard. And a new premium sound option is a 400-watt Beats Audio system.
Compact sedans also have been getting nicer inside, and we'll be waiting to see how the volume trim level materials shape up. But there's no question you can option up the 2019 Jetta interior with near-premium features: Among the offerings are the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit configurable instrument cluster, 10-color wraparound ambient lighting, a panoramic sunroof, a power driver's seat with memory, heated and ventilated leather seats, and dual-zone climate control.
Standard on all 2019 Jettas is a personalization feature that stores settings for up to four drivers. Depending on the trim level and the options on the car, those settings could include the driver's seat memory, driver assistance technology preferences, temperature, Digital Cockpit configuration, ambient lighting color, radio presets and navigation view.
Under the Hood
The base Used Engine is a 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder that puts out 147 horsepower and 184 pounds-feet of torque, and it's paired with a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission that is optional on the base S and standard on the other trim levels. That's up from a five-speed manual on the S and SE and six-speed automatic on other trims in 2018 and should better manage the little 1.4 turbo. The automatic also will include a start-stop system to improve mileage, which has not yet been announced. No Used Engine options have been announced for the launch; the 2018 also offered a 1.8-liter in the SE Sport and 2.0-liter power in the GLI.
A backup camera is standard, and a forward collision system with automatic emergency braking is optional on the base S but will be standard starting with the SE trim, VW says; that signals much wider availability than in the outgoing generation. Automatic braking is an important safety feature fast proliferating among popular cars, though few Jetta rivals outside the Toyota Corolla offer it standard. A full suite of additional driver assistance and safety technology is available, including blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go traffic capability, high-beam assist, lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist. The Jetta also offers an automatic post-collision braking system to help prevent a second collision after an initial crash.
As with all model-year 2018 and newer VWs (except the e-Golf), the 2019 Jetta will come with Volkswagen's new six-year, 72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty that can be transferred to a subsequent buyer.
Kelsey Mays contributed to this report.
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