2019 Volkswagen Jetta Highline

Save the Sedans! Take the much-improved Jetta for a drive

Words by: Adam Allen

The Jetta has been on a bit of roller coaster ride for the last 20 years.

Back in 1999, we can recall being stopped in our tracks when we first laid eyes on VW’s Jetta, at that time at the dawn of its 4th generation. It was powered by a burly VR6 engine, boasted cutting edge styling and had an interior that was vastly better than anything its competitors were selling- with gorgeous wood trim and tasteful splashes of chrome, it was something of a forebearer to the Phaeton which would make its debut a few short years later. Then, in 2011, the bean counters axe swung mercilessly with the Jetta taking a direct hit. Gone was the compelling aesthetics, nifty power plants and interior embellishments in favour of bland, bland, and blander. Even the independent rear suspension was turfed in favor of a beam axle, with all the sophistication of a metal stick and a couple of springs connecting the rear wheels together. The motoring press at large had praised Volkswagen for building an excellent car- provided it was judged against some of the other forlorn compact sedans slowly collecting bird poop on the local rental lots.

Fear not Jetta fans- your favourite car is back!

Er, mostly. The rear suspension, which went from twist beam to independent is now…a twist beam again. 20 years is a long time where automotive advancement is concerned, and the engineers have managed to coax not only commendable ride quality, but also handling that is good enough to be described as brisk. The Jetta’s march back towards respectability isn’t predicated simply on the rear suspension but rather on its entire platform- it’s currently underpinned by Volkswagen’s increasingly ubiquitous MQB platform. Further upping the zest factor was our tester’s R-Line trim package which adds an appreciable measure of spice- those wanting the full zoot GLI should head to their local dealership and they should be arriving as you read this.

When you spec the R-Line package, what do you get?

After forking over the requisite $2,085 your Jetta will enjoy a few key upgrades over its brethren. The most striking change is in the wheel wells- handsome Viper 17” alloys are finished in a smoked motif although we wish they were a little bigger. The other chassis hardware that gets the R-Line treatment are the shocks, tuned to give more of a sporting flair to the proceedings. The rest of the stuff is cosmetic- you get R-Line badges on the grille and front fenders- and rounding out the package is a steering wheel that fits perfectly in the hands.

Does the R-Line kit turn the Jetta into a GLI-Lite?

Not really. Yes, the upgraded shocks do add a bit of starch to the suspension, but ride quality is clearly the focus of VW engineers, not canyon carving. You can get a manual gearbox in any Jetta trim level, but ours was equipped with a perfectly competent 8-speed automatic- again, it’s tuned more for everyday driving than banging up and down through the ratios. And while the GLI gets the same gem found under the hoods of all GTI’s, the Jetta soldiers on with a 1.4 litre turbo four that makes meager numbers compared to its hotter cousin. Don’t think the 1.4 is a boat anchor, however. Despite its underwhelming numbers and tiny displacement, this engine punches way above its weight. It’s powerband is skewed towards low end muscle, and it is remarkable how effortless the engine feels in urban driving. Simply roll into the throttle and meaningful thrust can be yours without the tach having to spin to its upper reaches. Only when you keep your foot to the firewall after you’ve reached higher speeds does the little engine begin to run out of puff. Most drivers will appreciate VW’s decision to imbue the Jetta’s running gear with a nod towards the types of driving scenario your encounter on a day-to-day basis. That includes the overall composed nature of the Jetta whether you find yourself in the city or on the highway. The structure feels drum tight and it’s impressively refined as well.

What might go wrong?

The Jetta is a well executed car overall and there is not much to complain about, especially given that it’s so attractively priced. We wish VW would endow it with more aggressive tires than the ones that come from the factory which are geared more towards low rolling resistance than grip- braking and handling would also get better too- perhaps this is a move to keep the costs in check. We know complaining about the lack of power in the upper regions of the tach would be met with a gentle reminder that a much hotter GLI exists, but we long for something to bridge the wide gap between the 1.4 litre engine found in all Jetta’s versus the GTI donated mill in the spiciest model. Lastly, we’ll beg VW to turf the fake exhaust outlets. Seriously, we’d rather see nothing there than these things which fool exactly no one.

Should I buy a Jetta Highline?

Any Jetta, regardless of trim, is going to be a rewarding choice- we can’t stress enough that you get a lot of car for your money, one that feels more expensive than it is. That’s perhaps the highest praise we can lavish on the crowded compact sedan class chock full of many excellent cars. Our pick would be-surprise, suprise-the hot rod GLI. No matter what you choose, the Save the Sedans movement will thank you.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta R-Line – Specifications

  • Price as tested: $28,575
  • Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger sedan
  • Powertrain Layout: Front engine/Front-wheel drive
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic
  • Engine:  1.4 litre turbocharged inline-four, DOHC, 16 valves
  • Horsepower:  147 @ 5,000 rpm
  • Torque (lbs-ft.): 184 @ 1,400 rpm
  • Curb weight: 1,347 kg (2,970 lbs)
  • Observed Fuel Consumption: 9.2L/100km (26 mpg)