DETROIT – Last year at the North American International Auto Show, Volkswagen was all about CUVs, with the all-new Tiguan and larger Atlas filling gaping holes in the brand’s portfolio.
This year, VW is refocused on cars, introducing the seventh generation of the all-new ’19 Jetta, a compact car the automaker promises will raise the bar for its bold design, innovative technology and upscale driver-centric interior. Arriving at U.S. showrooms in the second quarter, the new Jetta will be available in S, SE, SEL and SEL Premium trim levels.
VW needs the new Jetta to find traction with customers. In 2017, the brand sold only 262,029 cars, down 4.7%, which isn’t bad considering U.S. car sales industrywide were down 11.5% last year, according to WardsAuto data.
The outgoing Jetta accounted for 44% of VW’s car volume in the U.S. ahead of the No.2 Passat (60,722 units) and No.3 Golf (46,492). Meanwhile, Jetta’s top rivals, led by the Honda Civic (377,286 units in 2017), were selling more briskly. The Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra all posted higher sales numbers.
Making its global debut at the North American International Auto Show Sunday night, the new Jetta comes with a starting U.S. base price of $18,545 – about $100 less than the outgoing model.
The redesigned model will continue to be built in Puebla, Mexico, and is based on Volkswagen’s highly flexible Modular Transverse Matrix (MQB) architecture for front-engine, front-wheel-drive vehicles.
The automaker spent an estimated $60 billion developing the platform and vehicles derived from it, from superminis to sedans and utility vehicles, such as the VW Tiguan, T-Roc, Arteon, Atlas and Passat, as well as the Audi A3, TT and Q2 and several SEAT and Skoda models.
Compared with the current car, the new Jetta grows outside in every direction, offering a 105.7-in. wheelbase that stretches more than an inch. Still, overhangs are shorter, and a fast-sloping roof line creates a sportier, coupe-like profile without shortchanging second-row space.
Designers opted for a large front grille and sharper lines and added a premium feel by adding more chrome and standard LED lighting.
The increased exterior proportions add up to more interior space than the previous car as well. The fully redesigned interior puts an emphasis on everyday usability and refined fit and finish, with new fabric colors and optional 10-color customizable wrap-around ambient lighting.
Available options include heated and ventilated leather front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control and a center storage console large enough to fit a standard iPad.
An infotainment screen is placed high in the dashboard for easy driver access, and VW’s reconfigurable Digital Cockpit instrument cluster is standard on SEL and SEL Premium models.
The available Volkswagen Car-Net system offers compatible smartphone integration with the three major platforms (Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink). The new Jetta is the first Volkswagen in the U.S. to offer an available 400-watt BeatsAudio® system.
Driver-assistance features are plentiful, including standard rearview camera. Available features include forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking (Front Assist); blindspot monitor with rear traffic alert; adaptive cruise control, upgraded for use in stop and go traffic; high-beam control (Light Assist); and lane departure warning (Lane Assist), which actively helps steer the car back into its lane in the event of drift.
VW says the new Jetta’s automatic post-collision braking system is a first for the segment.
Power comes from VW’s carryover 1.4L turbocharged and direct-injected TSI 4-cyl., rated at 147 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. (249 Nm) of torque, which VW says is the highest in the compact sedan class. A new 6-speed manual transmission is standard, while an 8-speed automatic is optional on the base model and standard on higher trims. Automatic transmission models come standard with a stop/start system to boost fuel efficiency.
Over the years, VW carved a successful niche by offering 4-cyl. diesel engines in the Jetta, a unique offering in the compact segment. But VW has withdrawn diesels from the U.S. in the wake of a 2015 emissions cheating scandal. General Motors has attempted – with limited success – to draw in those customers with its own diesel Chevrolet Cruze.
Asked if VW would consider bringing back a diesel if enough Jetta fans begged for it, , CEO of VW’s North American Region, sounds doubtful.
“We believe diesel is a technology specifically in this market which would need for the future model years a lot of investments into the products,” Woebcken tells journalists, referring to the cost of emissions aftertreatment. “We decided to take that money and invest it right into the future mobility with (electric) cars. We definitely pulled the plug for diesel in this country.”
About a quarter of VW’s sales in the U.S. were diesels until 2015, when those engines were discontinued. And yet the brand nearly sold the same number of vehicles in 2016, without any diesels, Woebcken says.
“That proves the brand is much more than only diesel,” he says.