Let­ters

2019 Volk­swa­gen

Automobile - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy by JADE NEL­SON By ROBERT CUM­BER­FORD

Of Kit­man’s body pierc­ings, #no­boringis­sues, and rac­ing dreams.

DRAW­ING THE LINES

VOLK­SWA­GEN STYLING HAS

been in­spired by Amer­i­can prac­tice for as long as there has been a Volk­swa­gen­werk.

You may well think the orig­i­nal Porsche-de­signed KDF proudly pre­sented to the world by one A. Hitler in 1938 was pat­terned on a la­dy­bug, but in fact most of its styling lines are copied from the 1934 DeSoto Air­flow coupe, mi­nus the ra­di­a­tor grille on its down-slop­ing front end and with the head­lights moved onto the fend­ers. The lovely Kar­mann Ghia coupe in the 1950s was a de­sign done pretty much as an aside by Amer­i­can de­signer Vir­gil Exner dur­ing the time he was work­ing on Chrysler con­cept cars in Turin. And that early connection with Turin flow­ered for VW with the bril­liant Gior­getto Gi­u­giaro de­sign for the Golf in the early ’70s. Over mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions that Ital­ian mas­ter­work and its de­riv­a­tives led to what must be Wolfs­burg’s sec­ond-most pro­lific prod­uct over its eight-decade his­tory.

The new 2019 Jetta’s styling is nei­ther Amer­i­can nor Ital­ian, com­ing as it does from the com­pany’s Ger­man stu­dios, though it seems very def­i­nitely cre­ated to an Amer­i­can-mar­ket prod­uct plan. (It will be man­u­fac­tured in Mexico.) It’s a de­cent pack­age with am­ple in­te­rior vol­ume, but it does not have an abun­dance of per­son­al­ity. The big VW badge on the grille and a smaller one on the deck­lid are its only marks of iden­tity. This Jetta has a nice, if bland and generic, pro­file, a straight­for­ward frontal fa­cade, and a rear fas­cia that seems to be an end­less stack of dead-straight hor­i­zon­tal lines, bro­ken only by a slight curve to the rear spoiler lip and a tiny bit of crown at the base of the back­lite. It is all ex­e­cuted very pro­fes­sion­ally, es­pe­cially the hand­some in­te­rior, but there is not so much as a gram of fan­tasy or fun in the de­sign.

Be­cause it’s quite long and rel­a­tively nar­row, the Jetta looks tall in pho­tos, but as VW PR peo­ple are ea­ger to ex­plain, “peo­ple at the Detroit auto show [where it made its de­but] thought it looked quite sub­stan­tial.” What strikes me most of all in this car is the in­cred­i­ble num­ber of sim­ple straight lines, many of them with a kink or two in them. Look­ing at the right front door in­ner panel, I count at least 19 dis­crete straight-line ele­ments. Each of the front seat cush­ions fea­tures four trans­verse lines that kink for­ward at each end, giv­ing 12 lines. It ac­tu­ally looks pretty nice, if not ex­cit­ing. That prob­a­bly doesn’t mat­ter to the new Jetta’s com­mer­cial prospects. We know from past ex­pe­ri­ence with the VW Group’s com­mon plat­forms and en­gines that the me­chan­i­cals and dy­nam­ics will be good, that build qual­ity is above av­er­age, and—not an in­con­se­quen­tial mat­ter—re­sale value will be good.

IT AP­PEARS AS though the lip at the bottom of the lower grille, not the bumper strike face, would be the first part of the Jetta to touch a flat wall. THE AB­SENCE OF a chrome piece here is a marked im­prove­ment over the up-level trim ver­sions. THE HIGH POINT OF THE ROOFLINE curve over the B-pil­lar as­sures that all oc­cu­pants have very good head­room,

helped by the long up­per struc­ture.

THE BODY-SIDE UN­DER­CUT is ex­tremely sub­tle. The line rises from the front fen­der ori­gin to the mid­dle of the rear door han­dle, where it be­gins to slope down­ward, cre­at­ing em­pha­sis for sur­faces around the rear wheel open­ing. THE MAX­I­MUM LENGTH point at the rear is more nor­mal: on the bumper

strike face.

IN THIS VIEW the rounded pro­file with a flat­tened base ac­tu­ally does re­call the orig­i­nal VW sedan shape. FIVE THREE-EL­E­MENT spokes that do not con­nect with the cen­ter vis­ually are rather com­plex and fussy, but they will look quite good in mo­tion.

We want truly pre­cise sur­faces on all our cars. They must look good and last over time.”

THE ROOF PRO­FILE is quite nice, main­tain­ing good head­room for the back-seat pas­sen­gers and a nice aero­dy­namic flow. THERE IS A HINT of a rise in the shadow of the side treat­ment line be­gin­ning on the front fen­der above the rear wheel. It’s sub­tle and quite a nice ef­fect, adding a bit of vis­ual in­ter­est on the body side.

BE­CAUSE THE UP­PER struc­ture is so un­usu­ally long, there is a se­verely short­ened rear deck, which changes cross sec­tion from a nearly

straight curve at the base of the back­lite to a quite rounded crown at

the trail­ing edge of the spoiler.

HERE WE SEE YET an­other ex­am­ple of the straight seg­ment with a kink lead­ing to the next straight seg­ment, which seems

to be the over­rid­ing de­sign theme. AT THE BOTTOM of the rear fa­cade we are treated to rather nice chrome-rimmed ex­haust out­lets. Ex­cept they’re fake, with the ex­haust dump­ing out of an or­di­nary pipe be­neath the body­work.

THE STACK. There are al­most too many straight hor­i­zon­tal lines to count across the Jetta’s

rear. There’s noth­ing par­tic­u­larly wrong with this, but it’s unimag­i­na­tive

and with­out in­ter­est.

A GOOD THING the badge on the front is rel­a­tively big. This, the smaller one on the trunk, and four even smaller units in the wheels are the only way one can know which mar­que built this sedan. THE KINK-ANDSTRAIGHT EL­E­MENT shows up through­out, though the main grille bars are curved in plan. Aero­dy­namic pen­e­tra­tion of the Jetta is quite good be­cause of its cham­fered cor­ners. START COUNT­ING THE hor­i­zon­tal grille bars, the radii in the painted skin, and the ori­gins of the lower lip, and you have a stack of hor­i­zon­tals as dense as that on the rear. IT’S NOT QUITE AS ex­treme as a Chrysler Cross­fire or Citroën 2CV, but there sure are a lot of lines on the Jetta’s hood and atop the front fend­ers. They give some di­rec­tional thrust vis­ually. YET AN­OTHER KINKED straight line, from the bottom of the up­per grille to the base of the head­light, stays true to the un­stated but ob­served over­rid­ing de­sign theme. THE GAP BE­TWEEN hood panel and wind­shield glass is un­usu­ally large. It pro­vides space for the wiper arms to lie be­low the prin­ci­pal air­flow over the nose, but it seems un­nec­es­sar­ily big. THIS DI­AG­O­NAL PLANE sweep­ing down and aft coun­ters the hard line above sweep­ing up­ward into the head­lamp as­sem­bly. EX­TEND­ING THE LOWER grille around the front corner in the form of an untrimmed slot is an in­ter­est­ing de­tail.

THE SIX-SIDE-GLASS up­per struc­ture gives real sub­stance to the car, mak­ing it seem big­ger than it ac­tu­ally

is—and the car al­ready en­joys a long wheel­base and

sub­stan­tial in­te­rior vol­ume. LO­CAT­ING THE DOOR han­dle levers ex­actly on

the peak of the crease line in the side treat­ment

shows a great deal of con­fi­dence in the ac­cu­racy of the sheet­metal stamp­ing process and puts them at a

good, con­ve­nient height. TUCK­ING THE DOOR skins in­ward to­ward the bottom then turn­ing them out­ward to pro­vide a skyre­flect­ing sur­face for a vis­ual de­tail with no cost in­volved is a nice de­sign idea.

By De­sign

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