While my wife and I were mulling names for our first child, now due in two months, we quickly ruled out any name that belonged to someone we once dated. She and I both have amicable relationships with some of our exes and consider them good friends, but names like Emilie, Courtney, Jonathan and Jarett (apparently my wife has a thing for guys who have names staring with “J”) were out.

And that, in a clunky segue, brings me to VW Jetta. Like a bad ex, the name Jetta conjured up bad memories filled with disappointment, betrayal and suffering.

That’s because I am a former Jetta owner. It’s not that I didn’t like my ’99 model. In fact, I quite enjoyed it with its manual transmission and peppy attitude, despite the fact there are shades of brown more exciting to look at than the old Jetta’s styling.

I can’t blame VW for faulty engineering or mechanics for my Jetta’s troubles, though. At 130,000 miles everything worked properly and there were no obvious mechanical gremlins despite only routine maintenance being performed for a decade.

Oh sure, one hot day it decided to completely drain its coolant in my garage, but no other real issues. At least I thought.

Turns out, the previous owner had decided to forego a radiator replacement before selling the car, and instead filled the car each day with coolant and Stop Leak, wreaking havoc on the little two-liter engine. I found this out after being stranded six hours away from home in the blazing summer sun with an overheated engine. And the near $1,000 repair cost to rid the engine of the Stop Leak was certainly a damper on my vacation.

While the name Jetta may cause me some undue concern, the 2019 model was a welcome change from its 20-year old brother.

Two decades later the Jetta still has the peppiness of a small child.   

During my week with the VW, I regularly squealed the front tires. Mind you, I wasn’t necessarily driving with vigor. In one instance I was simply taking a leisurely left turn and scared a man picking up his child from daycare when the front wheels lit up.

The 1.4-liter turbo TSI provided 147-horsepower and 184 lb.-ft of torque and simply feels like it always wants you to give it some more juice. There’s a bit of turbo lag under hard acceleration, but the Jetta’s 184 maximum torque comes in at 1,400 rpm to put the power down quickly. And screech the tires.

The turbo four is paired either with an eight-speed Tiptronic or, indeed they still exist, a 6-speed manual. While I did not test the manual, the auto supplemented the Jetta’s liveliness with quick and accurate changes.

The Jetta’s steering comes without much feel, but its feathery nature makes the Jetta enjoyable to throw into corners where the suspension is a bit soft but not overly unsettled. On the straight and smooth bits, the Jetta is quite comfortable. While I traversed a newly paved lane on a highway, it felt as if the VW was floating. 

The 2019 model is based on VW’s MQB architecture, which, at a basic level, equates to using a single platform for multiple cars. New Jetta’s now come with a slightly longer wheelbase and wider stance providing more leg and headroom. The Jetta has ample room in the rear seats for average sized adults and the shallow but long trunk provides 14.1-cubic feet of storage.

The Jetta’s interior is certainly more engaging than the soporific symphony of my 1999 model and is well-appointed in the SE trim I tested (five trims are offered with the SE just above the base “S” trim).

The SE starts at $22,155 and comes standard with full LED lighting, a power sunroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shifter, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control and leatherette seats. VW’s Car-Net is standard on all models and offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, but just one USB port is offered in lower trims. 

The 6.5-inch touchscreen (an 8-inch model comes in higher trims) and controls are angled toward the driver and the infotainment system is easy to use. Higher trims get VW’s fantastic-looking digital cockpit display, but the SE’s gauge cluster still looks nice enough. Visually, the overall interior of the SE model does not carry the most eye-catching design, but that also means it’s far from polarizing. 

The Jetta comes with a rearview camera as standard, with emergency braking, blind spot and rear traffic alerts in the SE models. The SEL and SEL Premium adds adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and automatic high beams.

Taking it all in, the 2019 Jetta has utilitarian capability with a fun-to-drive disposition, simple but handsome looks, an agreeable amount of standard tech and safety features all wrapped up in an affordable package.  

The name Jetta once had only a negative connotation in my mind, but after testing the 2019 model, the script has been flipped.

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