Race Organizer Review: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SEL

Race Organizer Review: 2019 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SEL

06/20/2019

Photographed at Sonoma Raceway with 1924 Kodak Brownie No. 2 film camera.

Photos of the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SEL at Sonoma Raceway

With the Cat Turd Racing 1995 VW Jetta at the 2018 Arse Freeze-a-Palooza 24 Hours of Lemons

Photographed with 1938 Voigtlander Superb film camera.

Photographed with 1938 Voigtlander Superb camera.

Photographed with 1938 Voigtlander Superb camera.

Photographed with 1938 Voigtlander Superb camera.

Photographed with 1938 Voigtlander Superb camera.

Photographed with 1938 Voigtlander Superb camera.

Photographed with 1938 Voigtlander Superb camera.

Photos of the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SEL at Sonoma Raceway

After I drove a souped-up-but-stock-bodied 2019 Jetta at 206 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats, I was most impressed that a mere 525 horsepower was all that the super-slippery new Jetta needed to go that fast (actually, its builders tell me it can accomplish the feat with just 400 horses). I decided that I wanted to see how the street Jetta handled the rigors of life as a Race Organizer’s car, with a real-world fuel-economy test as part of the deal, so I brought a Platinum Gray Metallic 2019 Volkswagen Jetta 1.4T SEL to my job judging at the Arse Freeze-a-Palooza 24 Hours of Lemons at Sonoma Raceway aka Sears Point.

Working as a judge at a 24 Hours of Lemons race requires hauling a lot of gear, especially if you camp at the track.

ON SALE: Now

BASE PRICE: $24,415

AS TESTED PRICE: $25,265

POWERTRAIN: 1.4-liter DOHC turbocharged I4, FWD, 8-speed automatic transmission

OUTPUT: 147 hp, 184 lb-ft

CURB WEIGHT: 2,970 lbs

FUEL ECONOMY: 40 mpg highway/30 mpg city/34 mpg combined

OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 35.6 mpg

OPTIONS: Destination charge, $850

PROs: Comfortable, efficient, competent commuter sedan

CONS: Americans don’t buy sedans

My job as Chief Justice of the 24 Hours of Lemons Supreme Court evolved over the decade since that first race in South Carolina in 2008, and it involves obtaining drinking water and food for my fellow organizers, bringing along a bunch of photography gear to document the action for the official galleries and recap videos, and hauling stuff such as weird bad-driver penalties and BRIBED stencils. On top of that, there’s all the clothing and— in the cases where I sleep at the track— camping and cooking gear. I had a big load of such stuff for the Arse Freeze-a-Palooza, and only a truck or wagon would have fit it all in the official cargo area. The Jetta’s trunk space held quite a bit of it, for a small car designed to be aerodynamically efficient.

I believe in luxury camping at race tracks, so I bring a sleeping mat to put inside the tent.

See, you don’t need a big SUV to haul a lot of stuff 50 miles in comfort, not when you have the back seat of a sedan.

The morning sun at Sonoma Raceway looks good on new cars.

I drove the Jetta about 50 miles to and from the track, plus a few trips to photograph interesting cars in wrecking yards, all on the notoriously clogged highways of the San Francisco Bay Area. I didn’t have much chance— actually, I had zero chance— to test the car on the ragged edge of its performance envelope, so I can’t tell you what it’s like to apex a corner at the limit in this car. I can say that it’s a well-behaved, comfortable car for the price, seemingly screwed together pretty well and with handling that feels like it should be more fun than its Japanese and Detroit counterparts.


The obligatory photo with San Francisco in the background.

I managed an impressive 35.6 miles per gallon during my five days with the Jetta, with plenty of city driving and stop-and-go freeway misery in the mix. The same body that requires only 400 horsepower to hit 200 mph also helps with everyday fuel economy, and here’s the proof.

One of the best German cameras you could buy in 1938: the Voigtlander Superb twin-lens reflex.

One of the perks of being a wise and fair 24 Hours of Lemons judge is that I get generous gifts from the racers hoping I’ll keep it fair. At this race, a team with a GM Vortec V8-swapped Mazda RX-7 gave me a very nice Voigtlander Superb TLR (their car blew up that weekend, as it always does) that had been sitting in a basement for many decades. I’d already brought along a couple of film cameras to that race (a Kodak Brownie No. 2 and an Ansco Dollar Camera), so I had a spare roll of 120 film to put in the untried Superb. Naturally, I used it to photograph the Jetta.

A high-end German camera from the 1930s photographing an economical German car from the 2010s.

The Superb worked quite well (and still does), and the gallery above includes some photos of the Jetta taken with this beautifully made but quirky German camera from 80 years back.

The new Jetta meets its 1995 ancestor, now a racing machine with Thomas the Tank Engine face.

Whenever I bring a new car to a race I’m working, I like to photograph it with a race car made by the same manufacturer. Here’s the ’19 Jetta with the ’95 Jetta of Cat Turd Racing.

The interior is nicer than that of most cars that cost under $25,000.

The Jetta feels like quite a bit of car for the money, offering strong fuel economy and a pleasant driving experience. I’d take the land-speed-racer version over the street version, of course, but nobody seems to be offering me that choice.

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