Drive: 2019 Jetta GLI is packed with refinement

Once in a while, a sedan comes along that leaves us to wonder why so many consumers — and a few automakers, too — have abandoned the form in favor of crossovers. The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 2.0T 35th Anniversary Edition, is such a car … though it might benefit from a shorter name.

Most of the VW products we’ve driven lately have been crossovers and subcompacts, including the Atlas, Tiguan and Golf. Overall, we’ve been impressed with the quality of these models as VW breaks away from its diesel-emissions scandal of 2015. And VW isn’t just freshening the same old cars and crossovers. The Atlas is a new model, and the Tiguan and Jetta benefited from full redesigns. The new look is crisp and sharp, and Volkswagen’s turbocharged 2.0-liter turbocharged Four is a blast, especially with the 6-speed manual transmission.

2019 Jetta

Our Tomato Red Jetta GLI had a sticker price of $27,890 — higher than comparable Japanese and Korean models, but packed with European refinement for the money. The gearbox is silky and forgiving, and the engine responds smartly to the throttle. The ride is smooth and quiet, yet we found the Jetta to be one of the sweetest-handling cars we’ve tested recently. It’s also functional, with a bigger-than-average trunk and back seat.

Fuel economy is a weak spot, compared with the likes of the Honda Civic, Kia Forte, Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla: 25 mpg city, 32 highway. But two additional numbers might mean more to many drivers: 228 horsepower, 258 lb.-ft. torque.

If the Jetta has a weak spot, it’s the modest standard-features list. Our Jetta had dual-zone climate control, 4-mode adaptive chassis control, heated front seats, cloth upholstery, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, push-button start and cruise control. It also had a full range of safety technology: blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, rear-view camera and hill-start assist. It didn’t have satellite radio, heated steering wheel, sunroof, leather upholstery, power seats and other goodies we’ve enjoyed in a few less expensive (but also less stimulating) cars recently.

For a longer list of standard features, VW aficionados can choose the Jetta Autobahn, which includes all of the items “missing” from our car, plus a few more. The Jetta Autobahn starts at $30,090. The base Jetta S starts at $26,890. None of the Jetta models have extensive lists of features that can be added a la carte, so if you want satellite radio, leather upholstery and power seats, you’ll have to opt for the Autobahn.

The 2019 Jetta received a top 5-star rating in government crash tests, and the top rating of “Good” in all of the crashworthiness tests administered by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

U.S. sales of the Jetta dropped below 100,000 last year for the first time since 2008, but figures for the first four months of 2019 are well ahead of the previous year’s numbers.

2019 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 2.0T 35th Anniversary Edition

Price: $27,890

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged Four, 228 horsepower, 258 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Drive: front-wheel

Weight: 3,217 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 18×7.5-in. aluminum alloy wheels

Tires: 225/45R18 91H all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 14.1 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons

Fuel economy: 25 mpg city, 32 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.