1997 Volkswagen Jetta Review


Pros & Cons

  • Excellent road manners, roomy interior, fun-to-drive, heater will roast your face
  • Some controls and symbols difficult to decipher, staid styling, underpowered four-cylinder engine
List Price Estimate
$652 - $1,677

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Vehicle overview

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 new-for-1997 JAZZ 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 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, but prepare to endure a sore backside. The granite-like side bolsters of the seat cushion are excruciatingly uncomfortable.

This year, Jettas equipped with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine run quieter thanks to a redesigned cylinder head. The new GT model gives buyers the look of the GLX without the cost of the go-fast powertrain, providing drivers with a sporty yet economical sedan with alloy wheels, decklid spoiler, and optional ABS. Trek models return midyear with alloy wheels and GT styling cues, but no optional ABS. Mid-year, the JAZZ was introduced with alloy wheels, standard six-disc CD changer, and upgraded trim. A Turbo Direct Injection (TDI) model has been expected in showrooms for more than a year, but quality glitches have kept it off the market. VW says the car will arrive imminently and 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. Current Jettas come with a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty that 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 sporty midlevel GT, loaded with anti-lock brakes, power 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 Dodge Stratus, Ford Contour, and Honda Accord. The GLX undercuts premium German sedans by thousands of dollars, without sacrificing performance, features or that Teutonic feel. Sign us up.

1997 Highlights

Wolfsburg models are gone, and the Jetta GT arrives sporting the look of the GLX without the VR6 engine. Trek gets alloy wheels. GL, GLS, Trek and GT run more quietly, thanks to a new cylinder head design.

Consumer reviews

Read what other owners think about the 1997 Volkswagen Jetta.

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Most helpful consumer reviews

Never Buy a VW
I really hate this car with a passion. Literally every day something goes wrong. Yesterday my starter went. I had it replaced. Today the idle is going crazy and its smelling like gas really bad. The coolant system is terrible. Pretty much everything on this car is designed poorly and made of plastic. The exhaust rattles of the underside of the car. The electrical system is total junk. I have had problems with this car since day one. If you are reading this and are considering getting a VW, please go buy a Honda, seriously.
1997 VW Jetta GL
We currently have 180K miles and no major problems other than the necessary and routine maintenance plus its FUN to drive! I understand some of the cars were put together in Mexico and others in Canada; ours was from Canada. We would definitely consider purchasing another VW when the time comes to replace this one (which won't be too long from now).
My First Car
I got this as my first car in 2007. It was a 5 speed stick shift with about 185,000 miles on it. I loved it from the start. Radio sounded awesome, seats were comfortable, plus it was super fun to zip around in. Almost 35 miles to the gallon. Almost 4 years later and less than 800 dollars into it, it had 216,000 miles on it and still kicking! Slight exhaust leak, and new struts needed, but only major problem was a leak in the radiator. The only reason I gave it up was to trade in for an SUV for the twins coming soon. Overall, absolutely loved this car!
Great overall car, maintenance is key to go 200k+ miles
I owned 2 VWs on the past, a 02 Jetta Wolfsburg, and 03 Gti , both 1.8t 5spds. I recently got rid of my newer truck to go back to No payments, and found a 1997 Jetta Gt black with black leather w/140k miles this past January. This car has been awesome, ive taken great care of her, since it was a 1 owner and interior is immaculate with no rips and paint looks new. mechanically car seems very sound, especially on the freeway, its very smooth. Ive had a few hiccups with car, such as gas gauge not always working or power door locks not working on driver side, but its expected with a older car. I plan to do a full overhaul and tune up to car in next 6 months, glad i finally own MK3 JETTA.

Features & Specs

See all Used 1997 Volkswagen Jetta features & specs


NHTSA Overall Rating

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration offers independent analysis.
  • Frontal Barrier Crash Rating
    OverallNot Rated
    Driver3 / 5
    Passenger3 / 5
  • Side Crash Rating
    OverallNot Rated
  • Side Barrier Rating
    OverallNot Rated
    DriverNot Rated
    PassengerNot Rated
  • Combined Side Barrier & Pole Ratings
    Front SeatNot Rated
    Back SeatNot Rated
  • Rollover
    RolloverNot Rated
    Dynamic Test ResultNo Tip
    Risk Of RolloverNot Rated
IIHS Rating
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety uses extensive crash tests to determine car safety.
  • Side Impact Test
    Not Tested
  • Roof Strength Test
    Not Tested
  • Rear Crash Protection / Head Restraint
    Not Tested
  • IIHS Small Overlap Front Test
    Not Tested
  • Moderate Overlap Front Test

More about the 1997 Volkswagen Jetta

Used 1997 Volkswagen Jetta Overview

The Used 1997 Volkswagen Jetta is offered in the following submodels: Jetta Sedan, Jetta Diesel. Available styles include Jazz 4dr Sedan, GLS 4dr Sedan, TDi 4dr Sedan, Trek 4dr Sedan, GLX VR6 4dr Sedan, GL 4dr Sedan, and GT 4dr Sedan.

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Should I lease or buy a 1997 Volkswagen Jetta?

Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.

Check out Volkswagen lease specials
Check out Volkswagen Jetta lease specials