2019 Volkswagen Jetta New Dad Review: This People's Car Is a Solid, Simple, Small Sedan

40 years after its debut, the VW Jetta is still doing what comes naturally: being an inexpensive, high-quality German transportation machine. 

I finally did it: I'm a dad. The funny thing is, I've always owned dad cars, even before I needed to. Owning anything with less than four doors never made much sense, which is how I ended up with a stable of souped-up grandpa cars from the Sixties and Seventies. Now that I'm a father, the '74 Oldsmobile sedan I brought my wife and son home from the hospital in seems a bit dated. And that, my friends, is how I found myself on this quest to find the perfect new dad car. The latest contestant: the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE.

The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SE, By the Numbers

  • Base Price (Price as Tested): $23,005 ($23,005)
  • Powertrain: turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-four, 147 horsepower, 184 pound-feet of torque; eight-speed automatic transmission; front wheel-drive
  • EPA Fuel Economy: 30 mpg city, 39 mpg highway
  • 0-60 MPH: 7.7 seconds (Car and Driver)
  • Random dad fact: The all-new Jetta is underpinned by Volkswagen's MQB modular platform, the same used in the Golf compact and Atlas SUV.
Benjamin Preston

40 years after Volkswagen's debut of the Jetta nameplate at the 1979 Frankfurt auto show, the classic German sedan is still around—albeit in slightly larger guise. Plopping the redesigned Jetta on VW's increasingly ubiquitous MQB platform has allowed Volkswagen to beef up standard features while keeping prices low.

The outgoing Jetta's conservative styling remains, to some extent, although it has been spiced up a bit with a larger, more authoritative grille and wind tunnel-teased body creases. Along with the sharper new look, the new Jetta packs in an improved infotainment system, LED lighting, and an optional "digital cockpit" that replaces the old school gauges of previous Jettas with a crisp 10.3-inch display screen. The Jetta's business-first European bodywork carries over to its interior as well, where firm, supportive seats, minimalist controls, and a tidy layout leave little doubt that this car was conceived by Germans.

Benjamin Preston

These are all positives for a car one has to deal with day after day. The interior fit and finish has a quality, middle-class feel, and all the controls are easy to find and use. There are no surprises in a Jetta.

Benjamin Preston
Benjamin Preston

Front seat passengers get a little more room in the new Jetta than the old version, although rear legroom takes a minor hit in the redesign. In all, though, there's ample space for front seat passengers and child safety seat-perched rear passengers to fit inside the Jetta comfortably together. The rear seat LATCH anchors are easy to use.

The 14.1-cubic-foot trunk isn't huge, but it's long and boxy, which lends itself well to accommodating a stroller, diaper bag, and other baby-required trappings, as well as a few groceries. If there's one nagging problem with the Jetta's trunk, though, it's that the rear seat pass-through opening is constricted by steel body bracing. In other words, it's difficult to fit long and/or bulky objects past the folded-down rear seats, which reduces the trunk's utility somewhat. 

Benjamin Preston

Active safety features like forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic assist are optional on the base-level S trim, but are standard on all other models. Volkswagen's intelligent crash response system—which shuts off the fuel pump, illuminates interior lights, switches on the hazard flashers, and unlocks the doors when either the airbags or the seat belt tensioners are deployed—is standard across the model lineup. Adaptive cruise control is standard on the upper-level SEL and SEL Premium trims, but not on the SE model I tested. (The 2019 VW Jetta has not yet been rated for crash safety by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the federal government.)

Benjamin Preston

As always, the Jetta offers snappy handling, now backed up with a responsive turbocharged 1.4-liter engine. Full torque comes in low, at 1,400 rpm, creating a power dynamic that's throughly usable in everyday traffic conditions. Perhaps the best thing about this little four—which is the only engine available on the Jetta, even on the sporty-looking R-Line—is its economy. Mid-30s gas mileage is de rigueur across the board, and real-world highway mpg can push past 40. But it's no boring fuel-miser, either. Along with its responsive steering, the Jetta's ride is smooth, which is great for those of us with a cranky niño or two aboard that we'd rather not awaken. Highway cruising is as easy as around-town shuttling.

With base prices ranging from $19,595 to $28,545, the new Jetta offers a solid value for new car buyers. Although those of us with bulky child gear to cart around may find ourselves looking longingly at more costly, less fuel-efficient crossovers, a small sedan like the Jetta can be a great car for people willing to bring less stuff. It's comfortable, it's nice-looking and it gets great gas mileage. If you can get by with a smaller stroller and less crap, it might be the car for you.

Two cents from Ben's spouse: "The Jetta had a trunk big enough to fit all my gear, and it felt safe. If there was anything else memorable about it, I would have remembered it."