Where would Rocky Balboa have been without his ability to take a punch? Probably on the mat, with Mr. T doing a victory dance around the ring.
Volkswagen is in a similar spot, having lost the turbo-diesel punch (and near-hybrid mileage) that gave cars like the Jetta sedan something other cars in their class couldn't match.
Then came the emissions test cheating debacle, which, among other things, has eliminated the brilliant TDI engine from VW's North American model lineup — at least for now — and, consequently, the advantage the Jetta used to have over other cars in its class.
What to do? Lux it up.
What It Is
The Jetta is technically in the entry-level compact sedan class, but at 185.1 inches long overall (almost 2 inches longer for the new model year) it is only slightly smaller on the outside than a midsized standard-bearer like the Toyota Camry (192.7 inches long overall).
It's also a bigger car than other entry-level compact-sized rivals like the Chevy Cruze (183.7 inches), and it has a roomier back seat.
Plus it can be ordered with Audi-level amenities including a 10.2-inch configurable flat-screen main gauge cluster complemented by a glass-covered 8-inch pinch/zoom secondary LCD touch screen.
Base price for the S trim with six-speed manual transmission is $18,545. A top-of-the-line SEL Premium with an eight-speed automatic has a sticker of $26,945.
The 2019 Jetta is completely redesigned. It is longer, wider and lighter than the outgoing model, as well as noticeably more stylish and luxurious.
You can own an Audi — almost — without paying for one.
It gets 40 mpg on the highway.
It has a new six-year/72,000-mile full-car warranty coverage.
What's Not So Good
There are no more optional engines.
There's no more 50 mpg diesel engine.
It has a smaller trunk than before.
Under the Hood
VW has simplified the Jetta engine lineup.
All trims come standard with a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It has 147 horsepower and can be paired with either a six-speed manual transmission or an optional eight-speed automatic. Either way, you get the same Environmental Protection Agency mileage rating: 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway (28 mpg city and 38 mpg highway for the 2018 model).
This is about as good as it gets without going with a hybrid. Even the Chevy Cruze diesel only manages 47 mpg on the highway, and Chevy charges extra for the diesel while the VW 40 mpg engine is standard.
Also, buyers should keep in mind that diesel fuel costs significantly more than regular unleaded gas — about 40 cents more per gallon on average. It's quite possible that the Jetta 40 mpg gas engine costs less overall to own and operate than the Cruze diesel despite the Cruze's 8 mpg mileage advantage.
On the Road
The Jetta drives a lot like an Audi A3 — just without the surplus power.
The 1.4-liter engine feels peppy initially, and the part-throttle response is promising. But when you push the pedal all the way down, you quickly discover there's not much left down there.
It gets to 60 mph in just over nine seconds. This isn't slow, but it isn't very quick either. Many current-year economy cars get to 60 in about eight seconds.
This almost-Audi arguably deserves something more under the hood.
At the Curb
Sedans have been losing ground to crossovers and hatchbacks because they aren't as practical. They have small trunks — relative to the crossover cargo area — and most sedans in the family car class aren't available with all-wheel drive, which many buyers want.
That explains why the latest crop of sedans, including the new Jetta, emphasizes styling .
VW pressed the Jetta's suit — several times. It has crisp horizontal pleats along the side and hood, and is longer, wider and lower than the old Jetta. LED headlights and trapezoidal exhaust cutouts blended into the lower rear bumper suggest Audi-ness.
That's even more so inside .
The new Jetta can be ordered with a 10.2-inch LCD main gauge cluster, configurable to suit. You can set it up to view the GPS map — or several other functions — directly in your line of sight. This is high-end stuff that's unusual to find in a car in the Jetta's price range.
But style has its price.
The 2019 Jetta trunk shrinks to 14.1 cubic feet, down from that of last year's more conventionally shaped Jetta, which had an almost 16-cubic-foot trunk. There is also a bit less back-seat legroom than before: 37.4 inches versus 38.1 inches previously.
One area of non-Audiness is the Jetta fuel requirements. The 1.4-liter engine is a regular fuel engine even though it's turbocharged. This is no small thing given the (roughly) 40-cents-per-gallon difference between regular unleaded and premium.
On the downside, the more fun-to-drive manual transmission is only available with the base S trim; the higher trims (SE, R-Line, SEL and SEL Premium) are only automatic.
The Bottom Line
The old Jetta was beautiful in ways the new one isn't — and vice versa. It will be interesting to see which form of beauty appeals more to buyers.
Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.