Test Drive: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta is surprisingly fuel efficient

For 2019, the Volkswagen Jetta is a little bigger, smoother and more fuel-efficient. Indeed, of the many aspects of this compact sedan that made a favorable impression, the latter may be the most compelling. It’s enough to make one wonder why the German automaker went to the trouble of promoting fuel-sipping, diesel-powered cars in the United States, while risking an emissions scandal that might have engulfed a lesser automaker.

Behind the wheel of a 2019 Jetta SEL in mostly highway driving, we were surprised when the dashboard readout showed 44.7 miles per gallon after a 22-mile trip. We were even a little suspicious. But the slow, slow downward procession of the fuel gauge convinced us it was for real. And this model, with a 147-horsepower turbocharged Four and 8-speed automatic transmission, is rated at 40 mpg on the highway.

The 2019 Jetta comes in five trims — S, SE, R-Line, SEL and SEL Premium. The base Jetta S, with a 6-speed manual transmission, starts at $18,545. Our Jetta SEL, with no options, had a sticker price of $25,265. Its standard features included VW’s Driver Assistance Package, a suite of safety features that are provided at no additional charge in all trim levels except the S ($450). The blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and rear-view camera are particularly desirable features.

In SEL trim, the Jetta basically is a near-luxury sedan, with leatherette upholstery, satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 6.5-inch touch-screen display, power sliding panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, autodimming rear-view mirror, dual-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control and push-button start. It also comes with a strong warranty: six years or 72,000 miles powertrain, and 7 years or 100,000 miles for rust-through.

The Jetta is exceptionally pleasant and relaxing to drive, with a smooth ride, more than adequate power, and predictable handling. Front-seat room is ample for tall drivers, and back-seat room is adequate for all but the tallest passengers. Trunk space is ample at 14.1 cubic feet. As is typical of European-designed cars, the combination of small buttons and mysterious icons for the internal controls poses a challenge to new owners but wouldn’t be an issue after a few days of drive time.

Major competitors include the Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza, Honda Civic and Mazda3. Our favorites in this group are the Civic and Mazda3, but we have to give the Jetta points for its straightforward, no-nonsense styling, as well as the overall refinement that was lacking in the previous Jetta generation.

Assembled in Puebla, Mexico, the Jetta continues to be among Volkswagen’s top sellers in this era of the SUV. In fact, the Jetta led VW in U.S. sales in October despite strong consumer interest in the redesigned Tiguan and the new Atlas SUV.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SEL

Price: $25,265

Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged inline Four, 147 horsepower, 184 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: front-wheel

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear

Curb weight: 2,959 lb.

Wheels: 16×6.5-in. alloy

Tires:  P205/60R16 H all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 14.1 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 13.2 gal.

Fuel economy: 30 mpg city, 40 highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

Writer’s note: In last week’s review of the 2018 Land Rover Discovery, we listed the BMW X3 as a competing model. We should have cited the larger BMW X5.