Pedro Arrais review: Jetta puts fun back in sporty sedan

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Volkswagen’s strategy to drive down development costs by sharing core components is manifested in its new 2019 Jetta.

The strategy revolves around MQB (or Modularer Querbaukasten), which translated from German stands for Modular Transversal Toolkit or Modular Transverse Matrix.

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The idea is that a manufacturer can mix and match drivetrains and the body platform among different vehicles, allowing different vehicles to be manufactured in the same plant — adding flexibility and driving down cost.

The Jetta joins the Golf, Tiguan, Passat and Atlas (and the Audi A3) to adopt this new shared modular design.

Although the 2019 Jetta shares its name with the outgoing model, a drive is enough to appreciate the leap in refinement.

In Canada, the Jetta comes in three trim models, with the Comfortline starting at $20,995. I drove the top-of-the-line Execline, with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $27,695.

Yes, the 2019 is longer, wider and slightly taller than the model it replaces. But there is also a welcome 35-millimetre stretch to the wheelbase as well, which helps the car visually maintain its proportions.

Unlike the previous generation, all models of the Jetta come with only one engine — a turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder producing 147 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque. But don’t despair: I suspect there will either be a 1.8- or 2.0-litre turbo added to the line with the introduction of the GLI model in the future.

The 1.4-litre is designed to come on strong, with ample torque available as low as 1,500 r.p.m., enough to spin the front tires from a start (although I would never admit to the practice).

The engine can be mated to either a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic. My tester was equipped with the latter.

While the torque gets you to speed quickly, the limitation of possessing only 147 horses under the hood manifests itself if you are trying to pass a semi on a grade.

There are Eco, Normal, Sport and even Custom driving modes. In Sport, the steering tightens up nicely, the transmission holds gears just a little longer and the throttle response is sharper.

A manual mode allows the driver to manually shift, but it lacks steering-wheel mounted paddles.

Remember that MQB platform? Because it already underpins the Golf, you can expect the same crisp handling, with corners that tend to be taken without any undue body lean. Equipped with low-profile 205/55 R 17 tires, the Jetta is up for any canyon carving in your future.

Driven sedately, the new Jetta is quieter, more composed than before, with less wind, engine and tire noise intruding into the cabin.

My tester came with a comfortable, leather-clad six-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support and memory.

The seats are on the generous side, which will be welcome news for those with a larger girth. Both front seats also came with both heated and ventilated functions to keep butts comfortable in all seasons.

The cabin has undergone an extensive overhaul. Soft-touch materials abound, including the dash, armrests and other areas within reach of occupants.

My car came with an eight-inch infotainment screen at the top of the centre stack (lesser models feature a 6.5-inch unit).

But the jewel on the crown is the new Digital Cockpit that replaces the traditional instrument panel. This unit, likely plucked from the Audi parts bin, is an impressive, configurable cluster that allows the driver to choose which information and gauges to view. The most impressive aspect is to project the navigation map front and centre.

The Execline also offers audiophiles a reason to smile, with a BeatsAudio premium audio system with eight speakers and a subwoofer.

The only desirable feature lacking here that is commonly found in vehicles of this calibre would be a wireless charger for a cellphone. The space is already there at the bottom of the stack — perhaps it will come when the GLI arrives.

My tester was made available with the optional Driver Assist package, which includes adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and lane assist.

Blind spot detection and rear traffic alert is standard already on the Highline (the next lower) trim level.

You might have read about the decline in demand for four-door sedans, with the popularity of SUVs. If there is any sedan that can turn the tide, it would be the Jetta. It possesses that rare blend of a sporty drive with the practicality of a family four-door sedan. By borrowing pieces from its upscale brethren, the Execline is as close to a near-luxury offering as one can get (I’m talking about you, Audi).

THE SPEC SHEET

Type: Mid-sized four-door sedan, front-engine, front-wheel drive

Engine: Turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder, 147 hp at 5,000 r.p.m., 184 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,500 to 3,500 r.p.m.

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Dimensions (mm): Length, 4,702; width, 1,799; height, 1,459; wheelbase, 2,686

Curb weight (kg): 1,400

Price (base/as tested): $29,095/ $32,015 (includes $1,825 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)

Options: Driver Assistance package $995

Tires: 205/55 R17 on alloy wheels

Fuel type: Regular

Fuel economy (L/100km): 7.8 city/ 5.9 highway

Warranty: Four years/80,000 km new car, five years/100,000 km powertrain

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