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Classic good looks. Great road manners. Optional side airbags. Remarkable powertrain warranty. Free scheduled maintenance for two years or 24,000 miles.
Slightly underpowered. Cramped rear seat.
The TDI has finally arrived. New wheel covers and colors are offered, while remote keyless entry makes it easier to lock and unlock the Jetta. GLX models have new one-touch up power windows with pinch protection.
Volkswagen's sedan version of the Golf, the Jetta, has always been one of our favorite four-doors. 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 roomy cabin, logically laid-out controls and displays and zippy performance.
GL, GLS, Trek and GT 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 lowered sport suspension, the GLX is a poor man's BMW 328i. If you have a need for speed, this is the Jetta to buy, but prepare to endure a sore backside. The granite-like side bolsters of the seat cushion are excruciatingly uncomfortable.
This year, modifications are kept to a minimum because an all-new Jetta is due in showrooms for 1999. New wheel covers, fresh paint colors and convenience items are designed to persuade buyers to buy the 1998. A Turbo Direct Injection (TDI) model arrived early in the model year, providing outstanding fuel economy in return for an inconsequential loss in power. Regular four-banger 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. Current Jettas come with a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty that backs up the powertrain, while free roadside assistance and scheduled maintenance are provided for the first two years or 24,000 miles of ownership.
Not that you couldn't afford to fix it once in a while. The sporty midlevel GT (loaded with antilock brakes, power sunroof, premium sound, air conditioning, cruise control and side airbags) doesn't crack the $19,000 barrier. Prices like these make the Jetta very competitive with the Dodge Stratus, Ford Contour and Honda Accord. The top-level GLX undercuts premium V6-powered German sedans by thousands of dollars, without sacrificing performance, features or that Teutonic feel. Sign us up.
Laura's old car was costing her a small fortune every month for gas and repairs. She didn't even want to drive her kids to the park any more. But buying a new Kia Soul changed all that.