Used 2002 Volkswagen Jetta Review

The Jetta is no longer an economy car; however, its powerful engine lineup, near-ideal balance between ride and handling and high-quality cabin materials make it one of our top recommendations to small sedan and wagon buyers.

what's new

For 2002, the turbocharged four-cylinder engine receives 30 extra horsepower for a total of 180, which you can couple to a five-speed automatic with Tiptronic -- the 1.8T is now available for both sedans and wagons. In the spring of 2002, the Jetta GLX sedan's optional 12-valve 174-hp VR6 is replaced by a new 24-valve unit providing 200 ponies. A six-speed manual gearbox and the aforementioned five-speed automanual become available with the new VR6. Later on, the GLI sedan will appear -- it includes the new VR6, the six-speed and stability control without all the expensive GLX trimmings and replaces the manual-shift GLX. Other changes include the availability of the 1.9-liter turbodiesel engine for GL and GLS wagons. The base GL trim level is new to the wagon in 2002 -- previously, you had to step right up to the GLS model. A CD player is now standard on all GLS and GLX models, and all-new Volkswagen vehicles come with an improved four-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, up from two years/24,000 miles. Volkswagen also offers a fully transferable limited powertrain warranty that covers five years or 60,000 miles. An on/off switch for auto-dimming rearview mirrors, a cruise control indicator light, a trunk escape handle for sedans and a new exterior color (Reflex Silver replaces Silver Arrow) complete the changes.

vehicle overview

The Jetta, Volkswagen's sedan and wagon versions 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. And with 2002's significant powertrain upgrades, the Jetta will be among the fastest small cars on the road.

The model lineup includes GL, GLS and GLX versions of both the sedan and wagon; a value-packed GLI sedan will be added in the spring of 2002. The entry-level GL model comes with either a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine that makes 115 hp and 122 pound-feet of torque or a 1.9-liter turbocharged direct injection (TDI) diesel engine worthy of 90 hp and 155 lb-ft of torque. Both engines provide ample torque low in the rpm range for easy around-town acceleration and are available with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. In addition, the TDI is a serious fuel miser and thus ideal for long-distance commuters. With a manual gearbox, the TDI-equipped Jetta can achieve 50 mpg on the highway.

Standard features on GL sedans and wagons include seat-mounted side airbags for front passengers and head-curtain airbags for front and rear occupants; four-wheel antilock disc brakes; a height-adjustable driver seat; tilting/telescoping steering wheel adjustment; power locks and an eight-speaker stereo with cassette player.

The next step up the Jetta ladder is the GLS trim level, which has more powertrain choices and offers more standard content like cruise control, power windows and mirrors, a CD player and a center armrest. Engine choices include the frugal TDI, a delightful 180-hp turbocharged 1.8-liter four called the 1.8T and a smooth 2.8-liter VR6 (like a regular V6 but more compact for the Jetta's small engine bay).

If you're looking for a compact luxury car and don't want to pay the premium for an Audi or BMW, you should check out the top-of-the-line Jetta GLX, which comes standard with the VR6 and provides such nifty equipment as automatic climate control, heated eight-way power seats, leather upholstery, a sunroof, a premium Monsoon sound system, 16-inch wheels, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shift knob and parking brake handle, self-dimming mirrors, rain-sensing wipers and wood trim.

For the first couple months of 2002, all VR6 buyers (GLS and GLX) will continue to get last year's 12-valve 174-hp version of this engine, but in the spring of 2002, a new 24-valve 200-hp version will arrive for the GLX sedan and a new GLI sedan only (wagons won't get this upgrade until the 2003 model year). When this upgrade comes, you'll be able to choose either the GLI with a six-speed manual or the GLX with a five-speed automatic with Tiptronic rather than the standard Jetta VR6 choices -- the five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. Note that the Jetta GLI will replace the manual gearbox-equipped GLX sedan. Until the new 24-valve VR6 arrives, the GLS 1.8T sedan and wagon definitely offer the best performance in the Jetta lineup, and they're already available with the Tiptronic automanual. All 2002 Jettas equipped with the 1.8T or VR6 come with VW's Anti-Slip Regulation (i.e., traction control).

Optional features on the GLS 1.8T, GLS VR6 and GLX include a sport suspension and 17-inch wheels, and you can get leather upholstery, seat heaters, Monsoon sound and a sunroof for all GLS models.

In an appeal to those who want maximum performance without extraneous (and expensive) luxury features, VW will introduce the GLI sedan to take the place of the increasingly out-of-reach manual-shift GLX. Scheduled to arrive at dealerships sometime in May 2002, the GLI will come with the 200-hp VR6; the six-speed manual; stability control; 17-inch wheels; cloth sport seats; and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and brake handle.

Regardless of which trim level you choose, the Jetta's exterior is sleek and curvaceous, and if you opt for the more practically shaped wagon, you get 34 cubic feet of luggage space with the rear seats up and 51.9 cubic feet when they're folded. Built with high-tech bonding agents and laser-welding techniques, Jettas are structurally rigid, which makes for crisp handling and a solid feel. This VW has always been a driver's car, providing an enjoyable experience despite a simple MacPherson-strut front suspension and a torsion-beam rear axle.

Due to its popularity and subsequent price increases, the Jetta is not quite the bargain it used to be in the 1990s. Still, Volkswagen's bread-and-butter sedan and wagon lineup offers powerful engines, a pleasant balance between ride and handling, and upscale interior components. Unless cost is your primary concern in selecting a compact sedan or wagon, the Jetta merits serious consideration.

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.