For some three decades, the Volkswagen Jetta has been among the most popular European cars in America, with 3.2 million sold since its debut here in 1980. Americans have long embraced the Jetta’s combination of timeless style, affordability and crisp driving dynamics that set it apart from an ever-evolving field.
All of which makes redesigning the Jetta for the 2019 model a tall order. To walk us through the changes, we sat down with Daniel Shapiro, product manager for the 2019 Jetta.
Q: What’s new about this Jetta?
Daniel Shapiro: Almost everything is completely new; there’s almost nothing shared between the current model and the 2019 Jetta save the basic engine. The bold, coupe-like styling announces just how different it is. The basic suspension layout is similar, but even things like the brake booster and master cylinder have been changed. It’s larger than the outgoing model; it is now 1.7 inches longer and 0.8 inches wider, with a wheelbase that is 1.3 inches longer.
We’ve added a host of new available features, like standard LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, 10-color ambient lighting, and ventilated seats. The Jetta is also the first North American VW vehicle to offer a Beats premium sound system. Plus, because the car is now based on the MQB platform, it enables us to bring a whole new list of available driver assistance features. For those people who like a little more aggressive styling, this is the first Jetta to be offered in R-Line trim. And the new Jetta’s MSRP starts at $18,545 before destination charges — less than the outgoing base model.2
Q: Why is there a new Jetta at all? Do Americans even like small cars anymore?
Shapiro: The market for small cars continues to be extremely strong. Compact sedans far outsell compact hatches or coupes. For a lot of shoppers, fuel economy can be paramount, and sedans will typically outperform an SUV by that measure. There’s no reason to look away from the compact car market. If anything, we see even more competition evolving within that segment, and more differentiation from brand to brand.
There’s a historical importance to the Jetta, as it has been the entry to the VW brand in America, and we don’t see that changing.
Q: Who were you thinking of as the typical person who would buy this new Jetta?
Shapiro: Our buyer base is very diverse. You have your entry owner, those who are getting their first job, or are buying their first new car. There’s the young professional who aspires for something great, who wants no compromises. You also have older buyers who may be downsizing from a larger sedan or SUV who want all the features but are looking for a vehicle with better fuel economy and great driving dynamics in a smaller package.
That’s the real strength of the Jetta. It’s a versatile platform that serves the gamut from drivers who want a comfortable commuter all the way to people that want to push the driving limits. It exudes a much higher quality feel and a more premium driving experience than our competitors.
Q: What was the goal in redesigning the Jetta?
Shapiro: The Jetta name has established itself as the affordable European sedan which offers great design, quality and driving dynamics. Our goal was to build a Jetta that delivers on that heritage while writing the next chapter in the story. We saw the all-new Jetta as an opportunity to reinvent the compact sedan. First, we focused on building a great vehicle with respect to value, fuel economy, and reliability, using the proven 1.4-liter TSI engine and new eight-speed automatic transmission. And second, we brought Jetta further into a rapidly developing digital world with key available features like the Digital Cockpit, driver personalization, and full LED lighting.
Q: How would you describe the styling changes?
Shapiro: Overall, the all-new Jetta embodies the fusion of a sleek and sporty design with everyday usability. The combination of large front grille, sharper lines and LED lighting creates a sportier, coupe-like profile and that exudes a bold character with premium style. A fast sloping roof line gives a dynamic appearance. Meanwhile, the Jetta’s entire interior has been rethought and refreshed. A driver-oriented cockpit with the infotainment screen placed high in the dashboard gives the interior of the all-new Jetta a modern look and makes vehicle information easily accessible to the driver. And all the materials you touch and feel exhibit a high quality of workmanship, a VW strength.
Q: What’s the most important technology upgrade on the Jetta?
Shapiro: The expansion of available driver assistance technologies will take the Jetta into the next decade. In designing the Jetta, we thought in advance of what technologies people will want, from lane departure warning (lane assist) to adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic, where the car can slow itself down, then resume your chosen speed.
We’ve seen the usage pattern of such technologies evolve very quickly, where they go from being new and amazing to being practically essential. Rear-view cameras were once like that, and blind-spot warnings are becoming like that now; people are gradually being exposed to it, and once they see the advantages they embrace it. It’s not technology for technology’s sake, it’s how to help improve the driving experience.
Q: What’s the first thing people will notice when they sit in the new Jetta, compared to the current model?
Shapiro: The cockpit is now driver oriented — the dash curves around, and the center console is angled toward the driver. The instrument cluster and the radio are high on the dash; and with the clear VW instrumentation you have a wall of information at eye level and fingertip reach to make it easy to use. With the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit option, your vehicle is filled with cutting-edge technology. Nobody in the Jetta’s segment comes close to that offering of fully configurable instrument cluster tech.
Beyond that the new Jetta has wrap-around ambient lighting in 10 user-configurable colors, a first for VW, which instantly changes the interior ambience. Those colors are coordinated across the instrument panel and with the driving modes; if you switch into sport mode, the colors shift into red. The seats are all-new, and the interior integrates fewer hard plastics and many more soft textures. There’s more color choices available, plus leather seating surfaces with ventilation and heating are available.
Q: If someone asks how the Jetta stacks up to the competition, what would you say?
Shapiro: I’d say it’s not just fun to drive — that’s always been a VW strength – but that the new Jetta is also fun to be in. One of our key new features is personalization, available even on the entry model Jetta. Every new Jetta can have different settings for up to four drivers, from simple things like radio presets to the memory for power driver’s seats. That radio, by the way, comes with AppConnect standard, but can also be configured with the new 400-watt BeatsAudio system that makes it easy to plug in, turn on Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and rock out.
The new Jetta meets or exceeds the competition in many areas. It’s a fantastic car that raises the bar. I think owners old and new will find a lot about the 2019 Jetta that surprises and delights them, and I can’t wait for them to try it later this year.1