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PRINT EDITION
VW ups Jetta's game
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The German auto maker prefers to see the dwindling car market one-third full rather than two-thirds empty, and its latest sedan offers a winning combo of value and family friendliness
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By JEREMY SINEK
Special to The Globe and Mail
  
  

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Friday, April 20, 2018 – Page D8

DURHAM, N.C. -- 2019 Volkswagen Jetta $20,995 TO $30,390

Engine: 1.4-litre turbo four-cylinder

Transmission/drive: 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic/FWD Fuel consumption (L/100 km): 7.9 city/5.9 hwy (6MT); 7.8 city/5.9 hwy (8AT)

Alternatives: Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Corolla

While some car makers have almost given up on being actual, you know, car makers, others are not yet ready to hitch their wagons exclusively to the trucks-and-SUVs, um, bandwagon (mixed metaphor intended).

Sure, the light-truck category now owns about 70 per cent of the North American vehicle market.

But Volkswagen prefers to see the car market as one-third full rather than two-thirds empty.

In Canada alone, total passenger-car sales still run about 640,000 a year, says VW Canada PR manager Thomas Tetzlaff, "and this car is a real opportunity for us."

This car being the latest iteration of the Jetta, VW's compact sedan that competes in what is still the largest segment of the car-only market.

All new for 2019, the seventhgeneration Jetta finally adopts the Volkswagen Group's MQB platform that we first saw on the Audi A3 in 2013 and which migrated to the Golf hatchback in 2015.

Given that the Golf and Jetta are historically sisters under the skin, what took the Jetta so long?

That's because when the siblings were last redesigned for Generation 6, the Jetta shed its previous near-premium persona and chased volume sales with pricing only made possible by downgrading the cabin furnishings and resurrecting ancient mechanical hardware from the long-dead Gen-4 models.

Volkswagen did modernize mechanicals later in the Gen-6 model cycle, which makes it all the more surprising that the 2019, MQB notwithstanding, reverts to the simpler torsion-beam rear suspension of the early Gen-6 (and Gen-4) models.

As of 2017 (VW Canada skipped the 2018 model year), the Jetta lineup still started with a bargainbasement Trendline trim - manual transmission, no air conditioning, starting at $16,395. The new, larger and roomier Jetta starts at $20,995, which seems quite a leap. But that's largely because Volkswagen is now equipping the Jetta the way people actually buy them - no more get'em-in-the-door bare-bones model typically purchased by almost nobody.

Besides, a bare-bones would also have contradicted Volkswagen Group Canada president Daniel Weissland's contention that "the VW brand has more to offer than volume competitors, so we want to position it as near-premium."

That said, while the near-premium strategy may apply to the VW brand, the three key talking points for the Jetta itself are more prosaic: excellent value; low cost of ownership; family-friendly.

Value? At around $21,000, the Jetta Comfortline is indeed priced competitively with similarly equipped alternatives; Highline and Execline trims add progressively more standard kit, and can be had with a $995 driver-assistance package, and/or a sporty RLine package (Highline only).

All three trims share the same carryover 1.4-litre turbocharged engine, with a choice of six-speed manual gearbox (previously fivespeed) or eight-speed automatic (previously six-speed).

The 1.4-litre engine's quoted 147 horsepower is at the low end of the spectrum. But it's a little torque monster - 184 lb.-ft. from 1,500 to 3,500 rpm, compared with, say, 128 lb.-ft. for a Corolla's (non-turbo) 1.8, or 162 for a Civic's optional 1.5 turbo. The result - combined with the ratio-rich eight-speed automatic tested - is zero perceptible turbo lag and effortlessly brisk acceleration; the engine is decently refined to begin with, and seems all the more so because it gets the job done without needing to be worked hard.

Pricing tops out at just over $30,000 for a fully optioned Execline - more than competitors' top trims, many of which include higher-output engines. The Jetta's own hot-shoe option, the GLI, will come later. On the cost side, VW cites a 15,000-km service interval and a four-year/80,000-km warranty versus the segment-norm 3/ 60 coverage. Fair enough.

Family-friendly? The Jetta is roomy, comfortable and has the info-communitainment features today's families expect. As for the driver, there are sportier choices out there, but the Jetta's overall sense of refinement and solidity is easy to like.

Still, if you fancy a new Jetta and your budget can stretch north of $30,000, you might want to wait for the GLI before you commit. Meanwhile, the Comfortline is a thoroughly pleasing package that offers the right features at the right price.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

RATINGS LOOKS

The Jetta is the longest car in its class, which made it easier to design a sleek profile without compromising rear headroom.

Distinctive elements include LED head- and tail-lamps and a sharp body-side crease, while aluminum wheels - 16- or 17-inch - are standard.

INTERIOR

Official stats say the Jetta's interior volume is at the low end of the class, but it sure doesn't feel that way: The rear seat is amply roomy and comfortable for adults. Up front, I could tailor a tolerable driving position with decent visibility, but would have liked more adjustability than the six-way provided (even the Execline's power seat is only six-way). The cockpit is otherwise nicely furnished, with lots of soft-touch materials, clear gauges, user-friendly switchgear and useful storage on the centre console.

PERFORMANCE

A 120-km/h pace needs only 2,100 rpm (although wind noise was rather intrusive) and the impressively subtle stop/start system helped deliver 6.7 litres/100 km over 210 kilometres of mixed driving.

TECHNOLOGY

The available 10.25-inch digital gauge cluster is a standout feature, while over all the Jetta is competitive on the connectivity/ infotainment front - 6.5-inch touch screen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth and SD slot on the base model, adding SiriusXM, eight-inch screen and blind-spot/rear cross-traffic alerts on the upper trims. But you'll pay $995 extra for the package of active driver aids (adaptive cruise, autonomous braking etc.) that are standard on some rivals.

CARGO

As in the passenger cabin, the trunk looks bigger than its cited - and par-for-the-class - 399 litres. The 60/40-split seat-backs fold nice and flat to reveal a large pass-through aperture.

THE VERDICT

8.0 Top trims look a little spendy, but the base model is the right car at the right price. Expect Volkswagen to sell a ton of them.

Associated Graphic

Distinctive elements on the 2019 Jetta include LED head- and tail-lamps and a sharp body-side crease, while aluminum wheels are standard.

PHOTOS BY JEREMY SINEK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The 10.25-inch digital gauge cluster is a highlight, but the Jetta manages to stay competitive over all in the software department. However, you'll need to pay nearly $1,000 more for a package of active driver aids, such as adaptive cruise and autonomous braking, that are standard on some rivals.


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