Flash Drive: Affordable and sporty, the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta R-Line is effortlessly enjoyable to live with

You get in, you go, and you enjoy the drive.

The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta R-Line.
The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta R-Line. –Volkswagen

Have you noticed the trend toward affordable and sporty looking cars? In most cases, they don’t offer upgrades in terms of performance. Rather, they provide the styling changes and nicer wheels that are commonly a part of a more fun version of the vehicle, but with just a few extra features in order to keep the price low. That way, they look good on the outside without breaking a buyer’s budget.

Volkswagen’s approach is the R-Line trim level. With the 2019 Jetta R-Line, VW installs styling changes that include a unique black grille, black side mirrors, and revised bumpers. Split-spoke 17-inch wheels with a gray finish add to the sporty appearance, as do fog lights with a corner illuminating function.

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Inside, the Jetta R-Line gets two-tone leatherette seats in a black and Storm Gray scheme, and a black headliner. The driver faces a leather-wrapped R-Line steering wheel, and this is the only Jetta variant equipped with Volkswagen’s XDS Differential, an electronic differential lock from the racy Golf GTI that improves traction and handling through brake-induced torque vectoring.

What’s the price of the Volkswagen Jetta R-Line? Glad you asked. My test car, painted in extra-cost Habanero Orange color ($295), came to $24,185, including the destination charge of $895 to ship it north from VW’s Puebla, Mexico assembly plant.

Roomy, safe, and secure

Though it competes with compact cars, the redesigned 2019 VW Jetta is really roomy inside, and the 14.1 cubic-foot trunk is sizable enough for a family of four.

Despite the R-Line’s black headliner, this cabin looks and feels spacious thanks to the Storm Gray seat inserts. An oversized sunroof helps, too. Standard dual-zone automatic climate control worked well during testing, but mild fall weather did not challenge it either way. In hotter conditions, the Jetta’s leatherette tends to trap sweat. For cold days, heated front seats are standard.

Drivers enjoy six-way manual seat adjustment and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, so finding a comfortable driving position is easy. The front passenger’s seat does not offer height adjustment, so the person there feels like he or she is sitting too low and close to the floor. Rear seat passengers enjoy plenty of room and seat support, but Volkswagen offers no air conditioning vents to help them keep cool.

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Jetta R-Line trim includes the car’s standard infotainment system, which supplies Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Given the R-Line’s unique position in the lineup and potential appeal to younger buyers, VW really ought to offer an upgrade package to the Composition Media infotainment system that comes in SEL and Limited trim. That way, the R-Line would get a proximity sensing 8-inch display, SiriusXM satellite radio, and a Beats Audio premium sound system.

That infotainment system also provides Car-Net Security and Service, an important consideration for parents who might choose to get a Jetta for their child to drive. Free for the first six months of ownership, Car-Net Security and Service offers remote car locking and unlocking, a find-my-car function, SOS emergency calling, quick access to roadside assistance, and automatic collision notification services, among other functions. The Family Guardian service allows parents to monitor how the car is used through speed, curfew, and geographic boundary alerts.

Alas, none of this good stuff is offered for the Jetta R-Line.

You do, however, benefit from a standard automatic post-collision braking system, which is a relatively rare feature designed to bring the Jetta to a full stop as soon as is possible after a crash. Why is this important? Once the airbags blow and deflate, and after the Jetta’s underlying vehicle architecture has absorbed the first impact, you don’t want the car to hit anything else because occupants won’t be as well protected.

A basic reversing camera, a forward collision warning system, an automatic emergency braking system, and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert all come standard with R-Line trim. That’s terrific. And the systems work, too.

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One night, coming down into the San Fernando Valley on L.A.’s notorious 405 freeway, in the lane that ultimately threads onto the 101 north, I caught a glimpse of a car tucking in behind me, followed by flashing bright lights and a blaring horn from the motorist that was now two vehicles back. I looked at the rearview mirror to see what the heck was going on, and at that same moment the cars ahead slowed down.

When I looked back at the road, realized my closing rate was unsafe, and got on the brakes, the Jetta had already initiated forward collision warning and, possibly, some automatic braking. Who knows? In a moment like this one, you’re not focused on what the car is doing. You’re focused on avoiding a collision.

You get in, you go, and you enjoy the drive

Aside from the standard XDS Differential, the Jetta R-Line has the same engine, automatic transmission, suspension, steering, and braking components that you’ll find in other Jetta trims.

A turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine supplies 147 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and, more importantly, a healthy 184 pound-feet of torque starting at just 1,400 rpm. Torque is what you feel when you accelerate, and because the Jetta makes a good amount of it across a broad portion of the rev range, the car feels responsive despite its meager engine size and horsepower rating.

The eight-speed automatic transmission works well the majority of the time. Occasionally, it behaves in a way that is unexpected, but as the driver acclimates to the car’s character this fades away. A Sport mode sharpens the car’s response, while an Eco mode dulls it.

Fuel economy is one of the Jetta’s chief selling points, and the R-Line is expected to get 30 miles per gallon in the city, 39 miles per gallon on the highway, and 34 miles per gallon in combined driving. In the Normal driving mode, this Jetta returned 30.9 miles per gallon on my testing loop, a 2.3-miles per gallon improvement over a pre-production Jetta SEL Premium we’ve previously tested.

Going into greater detail on the fuel economy issue, the R-Line got 25.2 miles per gallon during the city portion of the test drive, and 39.8 miles per gallon on an early morning freeway run across Los Angeles with my entire family aboard. The key, as is true of any turbocharged four-cylinder engine, is to avoid using the turbo. Once that component spools up, fuel economy suffers.

I like driving the Volkswagen Jetta. The ride is a little too soft for my tastes, but the car is communicative and feels planted to the pavement in spite of its solid rear axle suspension. Body roll is well controlled on curvy roads, and the XDS Differential adds extra delight and tossability. Like any good German-engineered car, the Jetta is precise, smooth, and trustworthy.

The Jetta is, however, loud inside. California’s lane-marking Bott’s dots sound like rifle fire. And on that same night we tested the forward collision warning system, while whizzing along in an L.A. carpool lane my eight-year-old asked: “What’s that weird sound?” It was the wind noise at 75 miles per hour.

Nevertheless, there is a sense of effortlessness to the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta, which is underscored by VW’s People First warranty that covers the whole car for six years or 72,000 miles, and can be transferred to a new owner. You get in, you go, and you enjoy the journey to the destination even if you can’t quite put your finger on the reason why.