In the economy market, the Volkswagen Jetta model has always been a cut above the rest

Ted LaturnusCar buyers have plenty to choose from in the economy market segment. Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Hyundai, etc., all have tons of models available, and, by and large, they’re pretty good.

But one model has always been a cut above the rest when it comes to getting maximum bang for the buck – at least, as far as I’m concerned. Not necessarily in terms of reliability or fuel economy, but when it comes to driveability, value and, most of all, presence, the Volkswagen Jetta has always punched above its weight. It’s an economy car for the budget-conscious, no question, but it just seems somehow to transcend that.

For 2019, it came in at least six variations, plus the top-of-the-line GLI, which is also available with a glitzy Anniversary Edition trim package. Volkswagen has always loved to do this with the Jetta – tart up an existing model and give it a different name. In the past, I’ve driven Trophy, Champagne and Wolfsburg versions, and they’re all basically variations on a theme.

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Power for the GLI is provided by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that is intercooled and develops 228 horsepower. This makes it 80 horsepower more powerful than the garden variety Jetta. You can mate this engine to either a six-speed manual transmission or a seven-speed Tiptronic. My car had the latter.

So what do I like about the Jetta?

First of all, handling and braking are a step up from everything else in this market segment. The Jetta has a more stable feeling, is well-planted, and is nicely balanced. The Corolla/Elantra/Civic, etc., are all acceptable, but the Jetta is better. If I were in the market for this type of car, this would put the Jetta at the top of my list.

Despite being toned down over the years, it still feels very European. The Anniversary Edition also comes with a sport-tuned suspension, which makes things even better. This has always been one of VW’s strongest points, in my opinion: a taut, responsive suspension that can provide excellent driveability without being uncomfortable.

And I love the powertrain. The garden-variety Jetta is lively but lacks bottom-end grunt. No such issues here. This is a powerful, well-rounded engine, and it works well with the Tiptronic. Full marks.

It has excellent seats. The Anniversary Edition has three-setting heated leather seats, and they work a treat. But where’s the heated steering wheel? This lovely little extra is standard on many Japanese and Korean rivals, and this car should have one. Still, all things considered, the Jetta is more comfortable.

Stylistically, the Jetta is a subdued masterpiece, easily on par with cars costing three times as much, and it looks better than many of those. I particularly liked the Pure Grey paint job on my tester. A lot of manufacturers are going back to non-metallic pastel colours, and I wholeheartedly approve.

It also has decent trunk room. At 399 litres, the trunk of the Jetta is spacious enough for most cargo. That said, the Civic offers 428 litres, while the Hyundai Elantra has just over 400 litres. But what makes this trunk so accommodating is its depth. You can easily slip a full set or two of golf clubs in there, and its volume will surprise you.

On the other hand, like just about everyone else these days, the Jetta has an auto stop/start function. When you pull up to a traffic light, the engine automatically shuts off. Over the life of the vehicle, this would no doubt contribute to fuel economy savings and reduced emissions (the general idea), but in this case, it’s crudely executed and kind of annoying.

For example, if you’re parking the car and don’t shut the engine off promptly, the auto-stop will do it for you. When you go to actually shut the motor off, you end up restarting the car. It’s not a big deal but kind of annoying. It also kills the power steering, which is frustrating during parallel parking.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel
Horsepower: 228 at 4,500 rpm
Torque: 258-foot pounds at 1,500 rpm
Used car price: $20,000 to $24,000
Fuel economy: 9.3 litres/100 km (city) and 7.2 litres/100 km (highway), with regular or premium gas

Some alternatives: Mazda6, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, and Nissan Altima.

Ted Laturnus has been an automotive journalist since 1976. He has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist of the Year twice and is past president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).

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