2019 Volkswagen Jetta offers plenty of surprises

The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta features an economic engine.

The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta features an economic engine.

Volkswagen Pressroom/ Contributed photo

The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta SEL Premium was not the first Jetta we’ve driven — far from it — but it delivered the most surprises, starting with its fuel economy.

Equipped with a 1.4-liter, 147-horsepower turbocharged inline Four with an 8-speed shiftable automatic transmission, the Jetta gave the initial impression of having a defective fuel gauge. The level simply didn’t drop, even after a day’s commute and a few short trips around town. Finally, we put the Jetta through its paces on a day trip to eastern Massachusetts, and the gauge dipped just a bit. The issue was resolved when the car’s Driver’s Information Center informed us we were recording 42.6 mpg in mostly highway driving — better than its maximum rating of 40 mpg.

The Jetta is not a small car. It’s considered a compact but looks, rides and handles as if it were bigger. But its fuel economy is better than we’ve come to expect from many subcompacts and even minicars.

Redesigned for 2019, the Jetta edges toward the “Premium” label on its top-of-the-line SEL badge, and away from VW’s tendency to scrimp on materials quality. It retains the German automaker’s practice of offering few options; instead, major features are packaged. Thus, there are five Jetta badges, each with its own unique personality: S, SE, R-Line, SEL and SEL Premium. The base Jetta S starts at $18,745.

The SEL Premium fundamentally is a near-luxury compact, bordering on midsize. Among its standard features are leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, navigation, power driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment, and blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert. Standard equipment on all Jettas includes the turbocharged engine and automatic gearbox; lots of shelves and cubbyholes for small items in the passenger compartment; a top rating of “Good” in all Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crashworthiness tests; and an impressively spacious trunk. That was one of the Jetta’s little surprises: We thought we’d have trouble placing a large cooler in the trunk, but it slipped in effortlessly, thanks to the trunk’s unusually big opening.

The Jetta’s road manners are, well, different. There’s little body roll on corners, yet road feel isn’t as precise as one might expect from a European sedan. We attained our unexpectedly high fuel-economy readings by cruising Connecticut’s highways in “Economy” driving mode, and didn’t notice much improvement in the car’s road feel when we switched to “Sport.” Also available are “Normal” and “Custom” settings.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta SEL Premium

Price: $28,590

Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged Four, 147 horsepower, 184 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: front-wheel

Weight: 2,959 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 17x7-in. alloy wheels

Tires: 225/55R17 91H all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 14.1 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons

Fuel economy: 30 mpg city, 40 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

The Jetta exceeded 100,000 units sold in the United States every year from 2009 through 2017, and appears headed for a return to that benchmark this year after dropping below 91,000 last year. Apparently, U.S. motorists still can be persuaded to purchase sedans in this era of the crossover and the SUV.

Remaining in the compact-sedan game, apparently for the long haul, are Hyundai, Kia, Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Chevrolet.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.