The designers and engineers of entry-level sedans probably have the toughest jobs in the automotive industry. While it’s difficult, let’s say, to design a million-dollar supercar to cheat the wind and to set ultimate lap times, or come up with a $100,000 SUV that can climb mountains as well as cross continents, making a mainstream car is arguably tougher still. Every detail needs to be perfect, every efficiency needs to be exploited, and every penny must be counted. And customers have high expectations for these new cars: they are often their only set of wheels, so the demands on durability, quality, and reliability are arguably the greatest in the business.

Compact sedans are also the most competitive market in Canada; the segment is home to a number of the country’s best-sellers; competition is fierce between them, as well as against the compact SUVs that continue to exert pressure from above. Getting it right has never been more important – or more difficult. So how do you compete?
If you’re the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta, you compete on features, for one. Spend just over $21,000, and you get a laundry list of standard features that would have been the remit of luxury cars a couple of decades ago: a 148-horsepower turbocharged engine, automatic LED headlights, air conditioning, powered features, and more. Connectivity, an important buzzword for millennial buyers, is strong, too: even the cheapest Jetta has standard Volkswagen App-Connect, with a 6.5-inch touchscreen giving you direct access to the interface of your Android or Apple iPhone, and all of your contacts, music, navigation, and other features.
Step up from the base comfortline through highline and into the top-level execline trim, and even when you tick every box (DSG gearbox, driver assist package, etc.), you’re scarcely over $30,000, which is still far below the average Canadian transaction price for a new vehicle. My fully-loaded tester, in addition to a spangly set of 17-inch alloy wheels, came packed with a massive “rail 2 rail” sunroof, automatic climate control, heated and ventilated seats, enlarged touchscreen with navigation, Beats audio, and a full suite of driver assist features including active cruise control, lane keeping assist, and automatic pre-collision braking.
How can Volkswagen’s least-expensive model get access to such high-end features? The secret is a set of shared comments, called “MQB,” which are shared across the Volkswagen group of brands, and which will be used on literally millions of cars during its lifecycle. This gives the Jetta access to features that are the same as, and work just as well as, those on an Audi. The level of integration of the various features is impressive; they don’t feel tacked-on, and the interface both though the 8-inch touchscreen and the digital instrument cluster through the steering wheel controls, is seamless and easy. Indeed, the only thing that differentiates the VW from its more expensive brethren is the resolution of its displays, which come across as HD instead of ultra-HD, if you know what I mean.
The solid set of MQB components means that the Jetta drives premium as well. While the tires are skinny all-seasons, they hold on gamely through corners, and the Jetta’s steering and brakes work like they’re from the class above, with a liquid, well-damped motion that speaks to autobahn breeding. The ride quality, usually a sore point on less expensive cars, is really good as well, and long-distance cruising is further enhanced by a set of well-bolstered seats and a comfortable driving position.
Indeed, the Jetta’s overall comfort and refinement is impressive given its size and price, In addition to the excellent seats, there’s plenty of room front and rear (the trunk is huge too), all of the interior surfaces feel premium, and at least up to around 130 km/h or so, wind and road noise are just a gentle whoosh. Around town, despite the space, it’s an easy car to drive, thanks to its upright seating position, good visibility, and tight turning circle.
Because of its all-round competence, the Volkswagen Jetta doesn’t really come across as a particularly exciting car. Its styling is smooth but under the radar, and its driving experience doesn’t draw attention to itself. What you notice most is how there are so few shortcomings, and the coherence of the whole package. A subtle car, but a very, very good one – and one whose drivers will be very happy using every day.
Visit Pfaff Volkswagen to learn more or for a test drive.