Volkswagen Jetta Wagon, 2003: The Weekly Driver Car Review

James Raia

What do you do when you’re considering a sports utility vehicle, you need a family car and really want a sports sedan? One answer, albeit a compromise of all three vehicle styles, is the Volkswagen Jetta wagon. With its various options, it has the style, sleekness and performance of some of the offerings from Audi and BMW for a substantially lower price.

Yet, it’s still a station wagon. It has room for a small family and their dog, and more than adequate room for groceries and/or other cargo.

For my weekly drive, I tested the 1.8-liter turbocharged, 180-horsepower, 4-cylinder GLS model. It had a five-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift capability.

And while it may have been a station wagon, the Jetta wagon’s performance was surprising like a wannabe sports sedan. It zipped around corners, accelerated better than I had expected (it’s rated at 0-60 mph in 7.9 seconds) and it had a solid, tight feel while maneuvering on freeway ramps, through lane changes and into windy conditions

The retail base price of $21,240 included 15-inch alloy wheels, a power glass sunroof with tilt options, a single CD/cassette player and an anti-theft alarm system for the car and radio.

My Volkswagen test model also had a $2,125 option package — $1,075 for automatic transmission and another $1,025 for its leathered features — seats and steering wheel — as well as individually heated front seats and window washer nozzles. The gray leather interior perfectly matched the reflex silver exterior and further added to the car’s appeal. The option package and the vehicle’s $575 destination charge increased the overall price to $24,265.

For the driver and front-seat passenger, the Jetta wagon has substantial head and leg room and the firm and supportive seats are easily adjustable as is the steering wheel. Back seat room is not as spacious, with leg space somewhat restrictive.

A clean, well-conceived console design and efficiently located instruments are another plus, and further add to the vehicle’s classy overall appearance. The lighted lock and window switches, and daytime running lights features are not found on many vehicles in the same price range.

The only problematic design issue are the retractable cup holders. If a can or cup is being secured, the driver has little vision of the radio frequencies and dials. But that’s a minor inconvenience.

More important is the vehicle’s versatility. If the day’s chosen task is grocery shopping or transporting luggage, there’s plenty of room. All of  the Jetta and close relative Golf models have split folding seats, low load sills and ample tie-down latches and power outlets.

And if the day’s responsibilities included driving around town or cruising on the open road, it’s hard to view this car as a wagon.

Rather, it could be mistaken as a near luxury vehicle – a modern, efficiently designed Volkswagen comfortable in whatever role it’s asked to perform.

Volkswagen Jetta Wagon, 2003: Facts & Figures

Safety Features — Daytime running lights, rear three-point safety belts and restraints, supplemental restraints for driver, front and rear passengers, ABS brakes.

Warranty — New car limited four years/50,000 miles; Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles; Corrosion, 12  years/unlimited miles.

Fuel Mileage (estimates) — 22 mpg (city), 29 mpg (highway).

Base Price Range — $19,570 – $26,200.

Article Last Updated: April 25, 2013.

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