What's New for 1996
A new three-bar grille is added up front. GLX models get a firmer front suspension and new "Bugatti" style wheels. New colors sum up the changes.
Volkswagen's sedan version of the Golf, the Jetta, has always been one of our favorite sedans. Like most cars conceived in Germany, the Jetta has an uncanny ability to keep the driver in touch with every undulation and irregularity in the road without sacrificing comfort. It has a cavernous interior, logically laid-out controls and displays, and zippy performance.
GL, GLS, Trek, and Wolfsburg Edition Jettas offer enough oomph to keep most drivers satisfied, when equipped with a five-speed transmission. The optional automatic saps what little power the Jetta has to offer, and we don't recommend it. Most drivers who want a Jetta will be of the persuasion that eschews the autobox in favor of rowing their own gears anyway because, let's face it, why buy a VW if you don't enjoy driving?
Driving enjoyment is what the top-of-the-line GLX is all about. Sporting a powerful and compact V6 engine, thick alloy wheels, and newly lowered sport suspension, the GLX is a poor man's BMW 325i. If you have a need for speed, this is the Jetta to buy.
This year, Jettas get a sharp new grille, smoother automatic transmission, and a new Bose stereo system is available. Three new colors are available for 1996. A Turbo Direct Injection (TDI) arrived in showrooms mid-year. Volkswagen claims this car will change the way you think of diesels, touting how quick, quiet and clean it is. We don't think Americans will be interested.
Regular Jettas are a blast once they're moving. Sharp steering response, a taut chassis, and a superb driving position combine to make you forget about the wimpy 2.0-liter, 115-horsepower engine under the hood.
Reliability has been a problem with Volkswagens in the past. However, a new 10 year/100,000 mile warranty backs up the powertrain, and free roadside assistance is provided for the first two years of ownership.
Not that you couldn't afford to fix it once in a while. The uplevel GLS, loaded with antilock brakes, sunroof, CD changer, and a fun-robbing automatic transmission, doesn't crack the $20,000 barrier. Prices like these make the Jetta very competitive with the Chrysler Cirrus, Toyota Camry, and Honda Accord. The GLX undercuts premium German sedans by thousands of dollars, without sacrificing performance, features or that Teutonic feel. Sign us up.