1999 Volkswagen Jetta Review
Pros & Cons
- Fun to drive, comfortable ride, available VR6, solid construction, rich interior materials, lots of standard features, generous 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
- Some controls hard to decipher, CD player should be standard, expensive compared with other compact sedans.
Edmunds' Expert Review
The Jetta, Volkswagen's sedan version of the Golf, has always been one of our favorites. Like many cars conceived in Germany, the Jetta possesses an uncanny ability to keep the driver in touch with every undulation and irregularity on the road without sacrificing comfort. Introduced in 1993, the chunky third-generation Jetta has earned quite a following among consumers who like to drive and enjoy the Jetta's roomy, user-friendly cabin accommodations. However, this Jetta is now in its sixth year of production, so Volkswagen has seen fit to introduce a completely redesigned fourth-generation sedan halfway through the model year.
Both generations will be sold as 1999 models, but the new version is easily the better choice. Advantages include greater structural rigidity, which yields tighter body panel fits and improved handling characteristics; engine, suspension and brake upgrades; more standard equipment and a more stylish interior (replete with VW's signature blue and red backlighting at night) with more comfortable seats.
The base engine for both Jettas is a 115-horsepower 2.0-liter inline four, but a new cross-flow cylinder head in the redesigned hatchback allows drivers to access the engine's horsepower and 122 pound-feet of torque lower in the rpm range. You can choose either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, though fuel economy is nothing to write home about with either transmission (24 mpg city/31 mpg highway versus 22/28). Still, we'd encourage you to go with the manual gearbox if possible, so that you can make the most of what little power the base four has. Long-distance commuters will want to check out the available 1.9-liter turbocharged direct injection (TDI) diesel four-cylinder, which is rated at 42/49 with a manual and 34/45 with an automatic. Although the TDI is low on horsepower, its 155 lb-ft of torque at just 1,900 rpm will ensure that your Jetta has plenty of pep for quick maneuvers.
The top engine for the Jetta family is a smooth 2.8-liter VR6. It makes 172 hp in the older Jetta, while a new intake manifold in the new generation allows it to generate 174 hp and 8 more pound-feet of torque (for a total of 181) at a much lower rpm (3,200 vs. 4,200). A manual transmission is standard, and an automatic is optional. If you're looking for something to bridge the gap between the economy-oriented four-cylinders and the VR6, just wait until the 2000 model year when VW offers its excellent 150-hp 1.8T.
Trim levels for the third-generation Jetta include the base GL, the frugal TDI, the well-equipped Wolfsburg and the loaded GLX. The GL comes with the base four-cylinder, a height-adjustable driver seat, keyless entry, an anti-theft alarm and power locks; options include air conditioning, cruise control, ABS, a stereo with cassette player, a CD changer, side airbags and a moonroof. The TDI is outfitted just like the GL, save for its diesel engine and standard cruise control; the options list includes power windows and mirrors in addition to the above items. The Wolfsburg is saddled with the base four, but it gives you all of the above (including the CD changer), except ABS, side airbags and a moonroof, which are optional. The GLX comes with the VR6 engine, a sport suspension, traction control, rear disc brakes, ABS, the moonroof and a cassette stereo, leaving you to purchase leather upholstery, seat heaters, side airbags and CD changer as options.
Fourth-generation Jetta buyers can choose between GL, GLS and GLX trim. Right away, you'll note that VW has substantially increased the amount of standard equipment, as even the GL includes four-wheel antilock disc brakes, side airbags and a telescoping steering wheel, as well as A/C and a stereo. Further, GL buyers can choose between the base 2.0-liter four and the 1.9-liter TDI. The GLS adds power windows, heated power mirrors and cruise, with leather upholstery, seat heaters, moonroof, CD changer and alloy wheels available as options. What's more, you can purchase a GLS with any of the three engines; if you select a GLS VR6, you also get a sport suspension (previously limited to the GLX). The GLX is, of course, equipped exclusively with the VR6, and now it's even more upscale, as VW has added heated leather seats to the standard features list. Sport seats have joined the CD changer on the options list.
Though engineered to provide a comfortable ride, both Jettas are endowed with communicative suspension and steering setups, which makes them more fun in corners than a typical Honda Civic or Accord. The fourth-generation Jetta also gives you a lot more style and content than you could ever hope to find in any competitor. What the VW doesn't give you is Honda's reputation for dependability, but we've been impressed by the solid construction of the Jetta specimens we've examined recently -- enough so that we feel that most Jettas can provide years of entertaining service (while backed by a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty).