2003 Volkswagen Jetta
This 2003 review is representative of model years 1999 to 2004.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
The lively Jetta is by far Volkswagen's most popular model, so it makes sense that the automaker has given it added features for 2003, considering stiffer competition.
For instance, despite only a slight price increase, the base GL model has newly standard power windows and heated power mirrors, cruise control and a premium AM/FM/cassette with CD player. Air conditioning, remote keyless entry, height-adjustable/telescoping steering column and power door locks are also standard.
Many people have bought Jettas because they felt this Volkswagen is almost comparable to the costlier Audi A4, despite Audi's more prestigious nameplate.
More Upscale Image
Volkswagen has come a long way since suffering from a billion-dollar loss in the early 1990s. Many people don't know it even owns exotic Lamborghini and prestigious Bentley.
Volkswagen's efforts may result in a more upscale image, but there's no avoiding the fact that most Americans still consider it primarily a seller of lively-but-sensible cars with a youthful image—not upscale vehicles. The New Beetle, with its cute, retro design, is a reminder that Volkswagen established itself here with the old version of the Beetle—a sturdy, inexpensive economy car.
The Jetta sedan, which far outsells the New Beetle, is essentially a Volkswagen Golf hatchback with a regular trunk. Europeans like the Golf's more practical hatchback design, but Americans prefer the "formal" appearance of a sedan with a regular trunk. The Jetta thus easily outsells the Golf in this country. (A Jetta station wagon is also offered.)
Variety of Choices
In contrast, trim levels of the $17,100-$26,940 Jetta start with the GL sedan with a 5-speed manual transmission—and then move up to the GLS, GLI and GLX.
Volkswagen also covers the waterfront with transmissions. There are 5- and 6-speed manual transmissions and 4- and 5-speed automatic transmissions.
Fun to Drive
The GLI has a sport suspension and wide 45-series tires on large 17-inch wheels. Special touches include a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and hand brake lever. The GLI feels a bit soft for a sports sedan, but does everything it's supposed to do in fine style.
The solid Jetta platform is beginning to show its age, but Jettas are agile, with precise steering, a supple suspension and excellent brakes.
However, even the 200-horsepower V6 often calls for a good amount of shifting with the slick manual transmission, which works with a light but long-throw clutch. (No automatic transmission is offered for the GLI, although an automatic is available for other Jettas.)
While smooth and quiet, the V6 is fairly small with a 2.8-liter displacement, and thus it calls for lots of revs for the best acceleration. However, relaxed long-distance cruising is no problem.
Doors close with a reassuring 'thunk' and have outside handles that can be easily grabbed to help provide quick, easy entry.
The trunk is large with a low sill, and a split-folding rear seatback significantly enlarges cargo space.
The Jetta looks and feels more expensive than it is. It's among the best small cars, and its resale value will benefit if Volkswagen's upscale strategy works—although that remains to be seen.