Since this was my first car, I am a little biased toward the Jetta. I will try to base my review on my feelings during the early years of ownership when I was in college. The car was FUN - GREAT TO DRIVE. I had the 5sp manual. It had great torque for a 1.8L engine. Fuel economy averaged 24mpg/29mpg. I drove my car hard from day one like a young mad man. I bought it with ~97k miles and donated it with ~183k miles on Dec 2005. I was sad to let her go. The engine was bulletproof. I was hard on wear and tear parts such as brakes and suspension because I drove hard. Considering the hard life up to 150k miles the car was reliable. Previous owner took car of all of the early bugs.
I was looking for something that was cheap, reliable. It's not the best looking car, but man does it run. Not one problem starting it, not one problem running it. The muffler ran out, but mufflers go on cars. It's been getting me over 33 mpg on the highway, and 26 in rush hour suburb driving. I just want it to last me a few years until I graduate school, and with no problems and lots of fun driving in it, I have no doubt that it will. It's a 1990, and it runs like my '99 used to (minus the good looks).
I bought my car for $1,200 w/108,000 miles on it, and it runs great. I have 2 1/4 catback exaust, cold air intake, racing seats, short shifter, grant steering wheel, but that's about it. I finish a 1/4 mile at about 85-90 mph, its ok .
Got the car with 135k on it. Now its got 165k. It has got me threw highschool and now i'm starting college and it is still going. Its burning a little oil and the tranny leaks out a quart every 1000 miles and it only holds 2 quarts. I ran it dri before i figured out this and it started sounding like a space ship but it lived. It does pretty good off road for fwd. She look preety bad but I don't care. Ran over a ciderblock once and nothing broke except my exhaust spring clamp. No rust under the vehicle and shes been threw lots of PA and NJ winters. Also it has a truck bed for a trunk. For such a small car the trunk is huge.