Deep in the desert of Arizona, AutoGuide.com got a brief preview of a prototype for the upcoming 2019 Volkswagen Jetta. After putting it through its paces, we came away quite impressed with this seventh-generation version of VW’s compact sedan.
The Arizona Proving Grounds in Phoenix is Volkswagen‘s base for testing many of its prototypes that are being prepped for mass production. This state-of-the-art facility spans almost 1,700 acres and includes support for corrosion testing, long-term mileage accumulation testing, severe hot weather testing, and a high-speed track to test performance and aggressive braking.
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The proving grounds have previously just been available to VW employees involved with vehicle testing but this December will make it the first time automotive media has ever been allowed to visit the facility and get a hands-on feel of a pre-production model onsite.
Visually, the upcoming Jetta won’t look dramatically different, as per Volkswagen tradition. Clean and simple lines still dominate the overall design, but there is a certain tightness and maturity to the look compared to the outgoing model, which was starting to look very dated.
Despite being thoroughly wrapped in camouflage, we got a sneak peek at the Jetta’s LED headlights that mirror its new Tiguan sibling. The hood is lower by a few inches, which gives it a more purposeful stance. Rear tail lights have the typical LED lighting signature used in the new Golf, Atlas, and others.
Dimensionally, there isn’t a lot of change. Underpinned by the MQB platform, the new car will be 1.7 inches longer, the wheelbase is extended by 1.3 inches, and the sedan will be wider by almost an inch. This should translate into more room for passengers and cargo inside.
Carried over from the previous generation Jetta is a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, the sole engine available at launch. The base 1.4L has been meticulously tweaked to be more efficient and produced 150 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque in the previous-gen Jetta. Although new figures haven’t been announced yet, you can expect the new Jetta to have a slightly higher output and better fuel efficiency. The prototype car wasn’t fast or thrilling but got up to speed in decent time.
A quick-shifting new eight-speed automatic replaces an old six-speed unit and does duty on higher trim models, while the six-speed manual transmission carries over from the last gen and is standard on the base model. The eight-speed didn’t showcase any hesitation when pushed.
VW confirmed that the performance-oriented GLI model is expected to arrive in 2019 (likely as a 2020 model) with a completely new engine and transmission options.
The Volkswagen Jetta has always had tighter and more buttoned-down driving dynamics than much of its competition, and after our brief test, we expect it to continue setting that high standard.
First on the docket for our battery of tests was a high-speed run at over 120 mph, where the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta showed excellent composure around the track with minimal wind and road noise and an even steering feel even after an unexpected last-minute lane change.
A slalom course with wet and dry pavement showed a noticeably lighter steering feel for the brand that required a minimal need for corrections and an ability to come back to center quickly.
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A repeated braking test showed no fade and a progressive braking feel even down to the end of the brake pedal travel.
The last part of our driving course involved an extensive run over a very twisty low-speed course designed to move the fuel around the fuel chamber in the vehicle in a manner that was supposed to replicate fuel being injected into the cylinders in unpredictable ways.
Victor Osorio, manager of chassis development at Volkswagen of Mexico, said the purpose of this was to check for issues or difficulties the car may have with fuel delivery to the engine when being driven over varying elevations in quick successions.
Final calibrations of the transmission tuning, engine horsepower and torque, and technological features are still being worked on and Matthias Erb, Chief Engineering Officer for VW North America, says there’s a lot to take into consideration.
“We have learned a lot during our development process for the Atlas SUV and our aim is to continuously improve on all calibrations even close to the final date of signing off the vehicle for mass production,” he said.
“For example, the stop-start system on the Atlas went through a lot more permutations than usual just so we could create a system that fits that car’s particular character. The same approach is being applied to the 2019 Jetta. Despite introducing to the Jetta advanced features such as the digital display cockpit used in other VW group products and automatic stop-start, both these features were consistently re-engineered to look out for functional defects. We decided not to just transplant technology into the Jetta from other products but to make sure the versions of this technology would be the best versions of them so far since their inception.”
Shifting our focus to the Jetta’s new interior, this is the only part of the car that fails to excite us as much. Despite the presence of the usual interior build quality excellence found in other Volkswagen products, the switchgear and interior materials that were exposed are all obvious carryovers from the Golf and the Atlas. We are fans of this company’s quiet and understated interior designs, but after experiencing its lively driving dynamics, there was hope that it would translate to a more unique interior for this car.
Some parts of the dashboard and center stack were still shrouded from exposure and perhaps there may still be some surprises in store for the possibility of inventive interior trimmings. The new digital dashboard should do a lot to modernize the interior, but we’re hoping VW has more surprises in store.
The Verdict: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta
Although we can’t deliver a definitive verdict until we drive the production Jetta, we now have a pretty good idea that it will continue to be a successful product for VW.
With the compact car segment having heated up immensely within the past few years with very competitive products, the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta’s more assured driving dynamics, less boring styling, and obsessive attention to detail should make it easy for this car to rack up plenty of sales once it is available to purchase in April 2018.
The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta makes its official debut at the 2018 Detroit Auto Show in January.
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