Car buyers have plenty to choose from in the economy market segment. Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Hyundai, etc., all have tons of models available and, by and large, they’re pretty good.
But one model has always been a cut above the rest when it comes to getting maximum bang for the buck – at least, as far as I’m concerned. Not necessarily in terms of reliability or fuel economy, but when it comes to driveability, value and, most of all, presence, the Volkswagen Jetta has always punched above its weight. It’s an economy car for the budget-conscious, no question, but it just seems somehow to transcend that.
For 2019, it comes in at least six variations, plus the top of the line GLI, which is also available with a glitzy Anniversary Edition trim package, and which I drove this time around. Volkswagen has always loved to do this with the Jetta – tart up an existing model and give it a different name. In the past, I’ve driven Trophy, Champagne and Wolfsburg versions, and they’re all basically variations on a theme.
Power for the GLI is provided by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that is inter-cooled and develops some 228 horsepower. This makes it 80 horsepower more powerful than the garden variety Jetta, and you can mate this engine to either a six-speed manual transmission or seven-speed Tiptronic. My car had the latter.
So what do I like about the Jetta?
First of all, handling and braking are a step up from everything else in this market segment. The Jetta is more stable feeling, well-planted and nicely balanced. The Corolla/Elantra/Civic, etc., are all acceptable, but the Jetta is better. Were I in the market for this type of car, this would put the Jetta at the top of my list.
Despite being kind of toned down over the years, it still feels very European, and the Anniversary Edition also comes with a sport-tuned suspension, which makes things even better. This has always been one of VW’s strongest points, in my opinion: a taut, responsive suspension that can provide excellent driveability without being uncomfortable.
And I love the powertrain. The garden-variety Jetta is lively but lacks bottom-end grunt. No such issues here. This is a powerful, well-rounded engine, and it works well with the Tiptronic. Full marks.
It has excellent seats. The Anniversary Edition has three-setting heated leather seats and they work a treat. But where’s the heated steering wheel? This lovely little extra is standard on many Japanese and Korean rivals, and this car should have one. Still, all things considered, the Jetta is more comfortable.
Stylistically, the Jetta is a subdued masterpiece. Easily on par with cars costing three times as much and better looking than many of those. I particularly like the Pure Grey paint job on my tester. A lot of manufacturers are going back to non-metallic pastel colours and I approve wholeheartedly.
It also has decent trunk room. At 399 litres, the trunk of the Jetta is spacious enough for most cargo. That said, the Civic offers 428 litres, while the Hyundai Elantra has just over 400 litres. But what makes this trunk so accommodating is its depth. You can easily slip a full set or two of golf clubs in there and it’ll surprise you with its volume.
On the other hand, like just about everyone else these days, the Jetta has an auto stop/start function. You pull up to a traffic light and the engine automatically shuts off. Over the life of the vehicle, this would no doubt contribute to fuel economy savings and reduced emissions (the general idea), but in this case, it’s crudely executed and kind of annoying.
For example, if you’re parking the car and don’t shut the engine off promptly, the auto-stop will do it for you. And when you go to actually shut the motor off, you end up restarting the car. It’s not a big deal but kind of annoying. It also kills the power steering, which, during parallel parking is frustrating.
Last but not least, I’d have to think long and hard about the price tag. Love the $20,000 base model Jetta, but $35,000 for snazzy paint and a bit more oomph? Hmmmm.
2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four cylinder
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Horsepower: 228 at 4,500 rpm
Torque: 258 foot pounds at 1,500 rpm
Base price: $33,845; as tested, $34,840
Fuel economy: 9.3 litres/100 km (city) and 7.2 litres/100 km (highway), with regular or premium gas
Some alternatives: Mazda6, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Nissan Altima.
Ted Laturnus writes for Troy Media’s Driver Seat Associate website. An automotive journalist since 1976, he has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist of the Year twice and is past-president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).