Used 1997 Volkswagen Jetta Review

Edmunds expert review




What's new for 1997

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.

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.






Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.