Besides taking a look their specs and photos, I had the chance to go between them all here in Detroit, crawl around their interiors, sit in the backseats and figure out which of these not-especially-compacts, which all grew with their latest redesigns might have a practicality advantage.
Exterior designThere's honestly a little bit of the previous-generation Jetta visible in the 2019 Forte profile — especially around the doors and greenhouse. The Jetta, meanwhile, has the same sort of radically swept-back roofline as the Civic that's become all the rage throughout the automotive industry. The 2019 Jetta is also a little more visually interesting than the car it replaced, though neither the Jetta nor the Forte were as radically transformed as the Civic was two years ago.
Alright, let's go to the slideshows.
Engines and transmissionsThe 2019 Jetta, 2019 Forte and 2018 Civic have considerably different powertrain options, with additional choices possible once the VW and Kia go deeper into their lifespans.
2019 VW Jetta
1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4
184 pound-feet of torque
6-speed manual, 8-speed automatic
Fuel economy TBD. Current Jetta, with same engine and a six-speed automatic gets 32 mpg combined. An increase of 1 or 2 mpg seems possible.
2019 Kia Forte
147 horsepower. (Hey, they both get the same horsepower. How about that?!)
132 pound-feet of torque. (Yep, so that's waaaaay less)
Continuously variable transmission (CVT). Kia says that this will mimic the traditional stepped gear progression of a traditional automatic.
Fuel economy: Kia is estimating 35 mpg combined
2018 Honda Civic LX and EX
138 pound-feet of torque
6-speed manual, CVT that will occasionally mimic a gear change, but is mostly very CVT-like with a constant power progression
Fuel economy: 32 mpg combined (manual), 34 mpg combined (CVT)
2018 Honda Civic EX-T, EX-L and Touring
1.5-liter turbocharged inline-4
162 pound-feet of torque
6-speed manual, CVT
Fuel economy: 35 mpg combined (manual), 36 mpg combined (CVT)
Interior design, space and qualityVolkswagen and Kia didn't release full dimensions, but did announce that the Jetta and Forte grew for 2019. The Jetta's 1.3 inches of added wheelbase only embiggens what was already a large, adult-friendly backseat. After sitting in each of the cars back-to-back-to-back, I can report that the Jetta is indeed the roomiest of the three.
Headroom is comparable, with the Forte having almost literally a hair more (it added height for 2019). And, after setting the front passenger seat in the same comfortable position in all three cars, the Jetta had the most resulting rear legroom. At 6-foot-3, I could fit my hand between my knees and the front seat back. In the Forte and Civic they just barely did not touch the front seats, but we're talking compact sedans here, so that's actually very impressive. I will note, however, that the Civic's backseat is mounted rather low to achieve enough headroom under that fastback roofline. As such, despite having comparable room, the Civic backseat isn't as comfortable as those in the 2019 Forte and especially the 2019 Jetta.
In terms of trunk space, both the Civic and Forte have about 15 cubic feet, which challenges midsize sedans. The Civic's doesn't seem as deep, though (maybe it's just an optical illusion), but its opening is definitely smaller. Volkswagen didn't release a trunk volume figure, but as the 2019 Jetta is longer than the old car, one would assume it'd have something more than the current 15.7 cubic feet. It looks bigger than the others as well, if only by just a bit.
In terms of quality, the new Jetta has some soft-touch and nicely textured surfaces on the dash- and door tops, but that's really it. Virtually everything else is hard plastic with a downmarket high sheen. The Forte and Civic have only a little more soft touch about, but it's in that hard plastic where they differ. It has a lower sheen in both cars, feels better to touch and looks richer in general. No complaints about the Jetta's VW parts-bin buttons, knobs and switches.
In terms of design, well, decide for yourself. Cue the galleries.
ConclusionsOn paper, the Civic's powerful and efficient powertrains continue to give it an advantage. The Jetta has a space advantage, but a quality disadvantage. The Forte seems be somewhere in the middle. We'll know more, though, once pricing and full specifications are released, plus once we actually get a chance to drive the 2019 Jetta and 2019 Forte.
For more comparisons, try our car comparison tool.