1999 Volkswagen Jetta


2000 Volkswagen Jetta

This 2000 review is representative of model years 1999 to 2004.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.5
  • Sense of refinement
  • Wow! Four engine choices
  • European handling in a compact sedan
  • Not exactly entry-level pricing
  • Tight back seat for three
  • Less headroom than in newer competitors

America's most popular European nameplate, the Jetta, combines compact size with the premium feel of a higher-priced European car. It also offers unusual variety for a small car—four engine and two transmission choices.

Stefan Krebsfanger, manager of product strategy at Volkswagen, asked the question himself: Why add a new engine to VW's already top-selling compact car lineup? After all, the VW Jetta has been America's top-selling European nameplate for years. The small sedan even hit record sales of 130,000 in 1999—with three engine offerings. So, why add another engine?

"It's an opportunity to further solidify our premium position while also reaching new customers," Krebsfanger said. And among those new customers, he said, will be "driving enthusiasts" who will appreciate the spirited performance of the new, turbocharged 1.8-liter 150-horsepower 20-valve double overhead cam 4-cylinder engine.

Indeed, the new 4-banger—called the 1.8T—got the 2,800-pound test car moving quickly. There was a strong pull right from a standstill that set me back in the seat. The surge didn't fall off quickly, either, since the engine has a long, flat torque curve that runs from 1750 to 4200 revolutions per minute. Maximum torque is 155 lb-ft.

The output comes on so cleanly, so smoothly, I suspect many drivers won't bother differentiating that this is a turbocharged engine, not a naturally aspirated one.

VW officials describe the performance as something akin to what you'd get in 6-cylinder car. Yes, in the test drive, I zipped around city streets, making a real effort to stay within the speed limit. In passing moves on the highway, the Jetta didn't behave at all as if it only had four cylinders under the hood. I sprinted by folks easily.

VW boasts that it takes just 8.2 seconds to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in the Jetta with 1.8T and manual transmission.

Engine revs
Riders, however, notice the high rev sounds that accompany this performance. It's similar to what you get in the high-revving Honda and Toyota four cylinders with variable valve timing technology.

Here, VW uses its 5-valves-per-cylinder technology to maximize engine performance. Three of the valves are for intake and two for exhaust.

Transmissions geared for fun
The Jetta's 5-speed manual isn't as precise in its feel as I'd like. But even the Jetta's 4-speed automatic is geared so it doesn't sap the engine performance.

The new engine is the fourth offered for the Jetta. The others are the base, 2.0-liter 115-horsepower four, a 1.9-liter 90-horsepower turbodiesel four and a 2.8-liter 174-horsepower V6.

It's worth noting that the turbodiesel helps qualify the 2000 Jetta as one of the most fuel-efficient compact cars on the market, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Its 42 miles a gallon in the city and 49 mpg on the highway tops the Toyota ECHO in the compact class.

Premium handling
But engines aren't the only noteworthy features of the Jetta. This front-wheel-drive sedan has the road feel of a downsized German touring car. The test car traversed curvy mountain roads with confidence and stuck to its line even in gutsy maneuvers. Body lean is minimized.

I especially noticed, however, how forgiving the Jetta's suspension is. You might expect a car tuned for "driving enthusiasts" to be overly firm—harsh even. But the Jetta's front independent MacPherson strut and rear torsion beam axle configuration soaked up many of the sizable road bumps, and it did it with no fuss. Yet, the car felt well planted at all times.

As a result, long drives—even in mountains or in less-than-exciting suburbs—left me energized, not fatigued. I wanted to go on, in fact.

Bigger tires
The Jetta's power-assisted, rack-and-pinion steering responded well to driver commands.

Note that standard tires and wheels in the Jetta are 15-inchers while some other small-car competitors such as the Toyota Corolla and ECHO come with standard 14-inch tires.

Note, too, that front and rear brakes in the Jetta are the more expensive discs, and an anti-lock braking system (ABS) is standard on all Jettas. Competitors such as the Dodge Neon, Toyota ECHO, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus use standard rear drums and don't necessarily include ABS as a standard feature.

Supportive, adjustable driver seat
The Jetta interior has VW's firm seats that provide good support on long trips.

And those of us who are of short stature are likely to find the Jetta one of the most accommodating cars for us. It comes standard with a height-adjustable driver seat. It operates via a lever that you just sort of crank. A steering wheel that not only adjusts up and down but also telescopes out and back is standard as well. And the dead pedal that helps you brace yourself in aggressive driving is well positioned, even for shorter drivers.

Watch those cupholders
But I kept bumping my hand into the high-mounted dual cupholder in the center of the dashboard. And headroom, front and rear, is less than you find in the latest small cars—the ECHO and Focus.

I did enjoy the Jetta's one-touch, power up and down side windows for the front seats. But three adults in back sit very closely.

The instrument cluster's lighting at night is the eye-catching, cool blue that's in the VW New Beetle.

Trunk space of 13 cubic feet is about equal to that of the Focus sedan and Neon. It's more than the 12.1 cubic feet in the Corolla. But it's less than the 13.6 cubic feet in the ECHO.

A number of safety items
Side airbags are standard in all Jettas. They're optional on the Focus and Corolla and not even offered in the Neon and ECHO.

In addition, VW has 3-point shoulder belts at every one of the five seat positions in the car, even in the middle of the back seat. Each passenger also gets a height-adjustable and lockable head restraint, too.

Not the lowest in price
The Jetta doesn't come cheaply, however. Krebsfanger said the car offers 6-cylinder performance "at an affordable price." But the Jetta's starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of nearly $17,000 is still more than the starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of many small-car competitors. The new 1.8T engine adds another $1,550, too.

VW officials acknowledged at a press conference that they have moved upstream in recent years and may have moved out of the price range of some first-time buyers. As a result, at the start of calendar 2000 the automaker was re-launching its 5-year-old program that offers manufacturer warranties on certain used models.


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BB01 - 9/17/2014 2:50:24 AM