Matched against the best-selling subcompact models offered by Ford, Honda and Toyota, the Jetta is Volkswagen’s best-selling car. Combined with the nearly identical Golf, more than 40 models of the vehicle are offered, including several 20th anniversary special editions in 2004.
I drove the 1.8-liter, 180-horsepower, turbocharged 4-cylinder GTI anniversary edition for my weekly test. It included nearly every standard feature and option imaginable and was true to form to its intended audience.
Drivers seeking a zippy little machine get exactly that. From its bright “Tomato Red” exterior and black-and-gray interior, the Jetta is more sports car than subcompact and it couldn’t be more conspicuous scooting around town or on the open road.
The vehicle featured 18-inch alloy wheels and with its lowered sport suspension, the car has a unique feel. While not particularly quick, it’s nonetheless fund to drive.
The steering and handling is tight and responsive. The six-speed manual transmission is smooth and provides a driver who likes driving plenty of action. In short, the vehicle feels like it accelerates faster than it does.
A power glass sunroof with a tilt slide, air-conditioning (with pollen, dust and odor filter), AM/FM cassette and in-dash CD player, cruise control and power/heatable outside mirrors are among the more than a dozen standard features.
The brushed-metal console and instrumentation panel are attractive and well-positioned, if nondescript. More manufacturers are seemingly using multiple illuminating colors in the console, and the blue-red color combination works well in the Jetta. Cargo space is adequate as its quietness rating is average.
The Jetta does have limitations. Front-seat leg room is prohibitive, even when the seats are positioned to the most extreme setting. And, of course, with the front seats adjusted accordingly, rear-seat passengers have even less room than the limited space when the front seats are in a neutral position.
Likewise, the front and rear-seat head room is adequate, but certainly not a selling point. Equally restrictive are the front seats. While the cloth material is quality, the seats are snug and rigid and feel more like cockpits than comfort zones.
Another problem is the Jetta’s lowered sport suspension. Since the vehicle also has an extended lower front grill, advancing over speed bumps or driveway bumps — even at very low speeds — can be problematic.
Unlike other manufacturers with expensively priced options, my Jetta was offered for a base price of 23,800. The only additional charges were the Electronic Stabilization Program (swerve reduction) for $280 and destination charges of $575. That pushed the price to a non-economical $24,655.
Safety Features — Driver and front passenger front and side airbags and front and read head restraint airbags.
Fuel Mileage (estimates) — 21 mpg (city), 29 mpg (highway).
Warranty — Bumper to bumper, 4 years/50,000 miles; Powertrain, 5 years/60,000 miles; Corrosion, 12 years/unlimited miles; Roadside assistance, 4 years/50,000 miles; Free scheduled maintenance, 1 year/12,000 miles.
Base Price — $23,800.00.
Article Last Updated: April 25, 2013.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.