Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: Intro
If you're an automotive manufacturer with a car as iconic as the Volkswagen Beetle, once you realize it has run its course, the car you follow it with needs to be something very special. And so it was in 1979 that Volkswagen introduced the Jetta.
A complete departure from the Beetle, the Jetta was angular where the Beetle was round. The Jetta was front-wheel drive where the Beetle used rear drive. Further, while the Jetta’s engine was in the front and its trunk was in the back, the Beetle was configured precisely the opposite. What's more, where the Beetle was a classic Bauhaus design and unmistakably German, the Jetta was styled in Italy.
The noted designer Giorgetto Giugiaro (Jor-jetto Zhew-jaro) penned the car at his firm ItalDesign in Moncalieri, Italy. (Interestingly, Volkswagen bought ItalDesign through its Lamborghini subsidiary in May of 2010.)
An immediate hit in North America, the Jetta became very popular, particularly among successful young women. Essentially, a Volkswagen Golf (a.k.a. Rabbit) with a trunk, the Jetta’s primary mission was to appeal to buyers who might reject the idea of a hatchback. And, it did just that. In short order, the Volkswagen Jetta became the best-selling European car in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Named for the Jetstream air current flowing across the Atlantic Ocean (during the period when Volkswagen was naming its cars for winds) there have been six generations of the VW Jetta since the model was launched in 1979. This retrospective picks up with the fourth generation of the Jetta, introduced in 1999 as a 1999.5 model.
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: 1999 - 2005
There are actually two different versions of the 1999 Volkswagen Jetta. The fourth generation, or MkIV VW Jetta was introduced as a midyear replacement for the third generation, or MkIII 1999 Volkswagen Jetta. Though it was an all-new product, it too was designated a 1999 model.
This version of the Jetta, mimicking its larger sibling the Passat, reintroduced curvilinear lines to Volkswagen’s design language. Another distinguishing characteristic was the “Whiptenna” mounted at the trailing edge of the roof of the car. This design and placement was intended to reduce aerodynamic drag. While shorter than the car it replaced, the MkIV Jetta boasted more interior space and more trunk capacity.
A choice of three engines was offered to power this model for the United States. The base engine was a 115 hp 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder, producing 122 foot-pounds of torque. The next step up was a 174 hp six-cylinder VR6 engine, producing 181 foot-pounds of torque. Rounding out the engine offerings was a 90 hp diesel powerplant, producing 155 foot-pounds of torque.
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: 1999
The fourth generation of the Jetta was offered in three states of trim; GL, GLS, and GLX.
Standard features of the 1999 VW Jetta GL included the 2.0-liter engine, a set of 15-inch wheels, a pair of front bucket seats, a center console, a remote keyless entry system, power brakes, a rear window defroster, tinted glass, a five-speed manual transmission, cloth upholstery, cruise control, power steering, a remote trunk release, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, air conditioning, intermittent windshield wipers, power door locks, and an AM/FM/cassette-based audio system.
The GL's options list contained metallic paint, a compact disc changer, and a four-speed automatic transmission. The diesel engine could be fitted to the GL as well.
Safety features included four disc brakes with ABS, driver and passenger front airbags, front side airbags, an antitheft alarm system, and daytime running lights.
Opting for the GLS added power windows with remote operation, and heated exterior power mirrors. The GLS options list contained alloy wheels, leather seating, heated front seats, a power moon roof, an AM/FM/cassette/CD audio system, leather shift knob and steering wheel trim, in addition to the options available for the GL.
The GLX came equipped with all of the standard features and all of the optional features of the GLS except the compact disc changer, metallic paint, and a four-speed automatic transmission. Those were offered as options. Also offered as an option was a pair of sport seats for the driver and front passenger.
Standard features of the GLX— not offered for the GLS—included a sport suspension system, a trip computer, traction control, an automatic climate control system, and an auto dimming interior rearview mirror.
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: 2000
A broadening of the GLS trim’s engine range happened in model year 2000. A 1.8-liter 150 hp turbocharged in-line four-cylinder engine producing 155 foot-pounds of torque was introduced, called the 1.8T. The GLS was also granted access to the 2.8-liter VR6 engine. It should be noted both of those engines require premium-unleaded fuel. The GLS could still be had with the diesel engine, as well as the 2.0-liter four will-cylinder running on regular unleaded gasoline.
GLS and GLX models also got an upgraded audio system by Monsoon (optional for GLS, standard for GLX). Other new options for the GLS included the cold weather package, and for the VR6 GLS model, a set of 16-inch alloy wheels.
All the Jetta models were fitted with a brake wear indicator, and a sliding sun visor extension. Dealers could install an optional in-dash CD player.
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: 2001
The fourth generation's version of the Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen debuted in 2001 in GLS and GLX trim. Side curtain airbags were installed in all Jettas, while 17-inch wheels and a multifunction steering wheel with switches for the audio and cruise control systems were added for GLS and GLX models.
Another upgrade for GLX and GLS was a new sport suspension system, however, it was only available to GLS models with the 1.8T or the VR6.
A Wolfsburg Edition Volkswagen Jetta was also offered in 2001. Featuring a sport suspension system, sport seats and alloy wheels, the Wolfsburg Edition Jetta used the 1.8T engine and featured a leather wrapped steering wheel, shift knob, and handbrake handle. It was further distinguished with Wolfsburg Edition exterior badges and 16-inch BBS wheels.
Amidst all this change, the GL wasn't forgotten. That version of the Jetta got upgraded interior materials.
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: 2002
Output of the 1.8T was increased to 180 hp. The VR6 got bumped to 200 hp. A new five- speed automatic transmission with a manual function called “Tiptronic” was offered for the 1.8T, as well as the VR6. A new six-speed manual gearbox was offered for the VR6 as well.
A new trim level called GLI was introduced with the VR6 engine, a six-speed manual transmission, and stability control. This model displaced the manual transmission equipped GLX. Something of a de-contented GLX, the GLI was basically a sporty GLS with the VR6 and a manual transmission. In addition to what was mentioned above, this model came with 17-inch wheels, and a set of cloth sport seats for the driver and front passenger. The GLI also came with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and handbrake handle.
The wagon was offered in GL trim. GLS and GLX models got CD players as standard equipment, auto dimming rearview mirrors got an on/off switch, an indicator light was added for the cruise control system, and a interior trunk escape handle was fitted to the sedans.
Optional kit for GLS 1.8T, GLS VR6, and GLX included a sport suspension with17-inch wheels. Leather upholstery, seat heaters, Monsoon sound and a sunroof could be added to all GLS models as optional choices.
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: 2003
The GLX wagon was discontinued, which meant no more VR6 Jetta wagon. However, in an effort to keep the wagon’s content level up, 1.8T GLS wagons offered a premium package—featuring the power seats, automatic climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, rain-sensing wipers, wood interior trim, and trip computer previously fitted to the GLX wagon.
Power windows and mirrors, along with cruise control and a CD player were made standard equipment for GL sedans and wagons. Alloy wheels and a sunroof were made standard equipment for GLS. Stability control, heated seats, and the Monsoon sound system were added to the options list for GL, making those items available to all Jetta models.
The 1.8T was also offered in GL sedans and wagons.
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: 2004 / 2005
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: 2004
A mild styling update refreshed the look of the Volkswagen Jetta for 2004. The 1.8T engine was dropped from the GL trim. The GLI got a new set of 17-inch wheels, along with heated seats and heated windshield washer nozzles (the Cold Weather Package). The Monsoon stereo system was made standard for the GLS.
A new 1.9-liter diesel engine was employed, producing 100 hp and 177 foot-pounds of torque. It should be noted however, that the 2004 VW diesel engines (and forward) require a special motor oil meeting Volkswagen oil specification 505.01 (or newer). Serious damage to the engine, particularly the camshaft and injectors will result if oil not meeting the standard is used.
The Jetta’s GLX trim was dropped altogether.
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: 2005
GLI VR6 was killed; GLI 1.8T got an automatic transmission option, and the fifth generation Jetta debuted as a midyear replacement.
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: 2005 – 2010
Just as it did with the fourth generation Jetta in 1999, Volkswagen introduced the fifth-generation Jetta as a midyear replacement, this time during the 2005 model year. This means there are two completely different versions of the 2005 Volkswagen Jetta.
Introduced at the 2005 Los Angeles Auto Show, the MkV Jetta was the second Volkswagen product to make its world debut in the United States. (The first was the Volkswagen New Beetle.)
Jetta MkV debuted with a choice of two engines, a new 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine producing 150 hp and 170 foot-pounds of torque, or the carryover 1.9-liter four-cylinder diesel from Jetta MkIV. The 2.5 L came with either a five-speed manual transmission, or a six-speed automatic.
The diesel powered TDI Jetta came with Volkswagen’s six-speed DSG direct shift gearbox. While it was capable of shifting like an automatic transmission, the DSG is actually a manual transmission with an automatic clutch. Computers and hydraulics control the activity of the clutch and shift the gears. The DSG also permitted manual shifts to be executed by the driver.
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: 2005
The MkV 2005 Volkswagen Jetta was offered in three trim levels; “Value Edition”, “2.5”, and “TDI”.
Standard equipment for the 2005 Value Edition Jetta included a set of 15-inch steel wheels with full wheel covers, a full-size matching spare tire, variable intermittent windshield wipers, a rear defogger, cargo tiedowns, the 2.5-liter in-line five-cylinder engine, a five-speed manual transmission (the six-speed automatic was optional), and an all-independent suspension system.
Both the driver and front passenger bucket seats were height adjustable and featured manually adjustable lumbar support. Velour upholstered all the seats in the car and the rear seat back split folded. The Value Edition Jetta also featured rear ventilation ducts for passengers in the back seat.
The model employed remote power door locks, heated exterior power mirrors, and four one-touch power windows. Cruise control, a front console with storage, front cupholders, front door pockets, front seatback storage, and a remote trunk release were also included in the base price. Additionally the Value Edition Jetta retained accessory power when its engine was shut off. The electric speed proportional power steering system used a tilt and telescoping steering wheel. There were also 12V power outlets in the front seating area, as well as in the cargo area.
The climate control system used interior air filtration and featured air-conditioning. A beverage cooler was incorporated as well. There were reading lights in the front and rear passenger compartments, a trunk light, and a set of dual illuminating vanity mirrors. The exterior mirrors contained turn signal repeaters. Front and rear floor mats were also standard equipment.
The audio system featured speed sensitive volume control, an element antenna, and an AM/FM/single-disc CD player with CD MP3 playback capability.
The 2005 Jetta 2.5 substituted 16-inch steel wheels with full wheel covers and a full-size matching spare tire. The 2.5 also got rain sensing intermittent windshield wipers and both its driver’s and front passenger’s seats were heated and power adjustable. Its rear seat back featured a pass through behind the center armrest into the trunk and would split fold as well. The climate control system was automatic and featured dual zones. Additionally, the inside rearview mirror was electrochromatic (auto dimming).
The 2005 Mk5 TDI was equipped largely the same as the Jetta 2.5.
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: 2006
Two new Jetta models were rolled out for 2006; Jetta 2.0T, and a new take on the GLI concept. Both featured a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 200 hp and 207 foot-pounds of torque.
Key components of the 2.0T’s feature-set built upon the standard equipment offerings of the Jetta 2.5, with the addition of 16-inch wheels, a choice of a six-speed manual or the DSG transmission, a sunroof, 115-volt power outlets, and heated seats.
To get from 2.0T to GLI, a set of 17-inch wheels, a firmer suspension system, bi-xenon HID headlamps, color-keyed body cladding, and sport bucket seats were added.
Optional fare included a navigation system, leather upholstery, power seats, automatic climate control, a six-disc CD changer—and a set of 18-inch wheels for the GLI.
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: 2007
Jetta TDI was dropped due to smog regs; the Value Edition designation was dropped, but the model lived on and was simply called “Jetta”. Two new option packages were introduced for Jetta 2.5, and the Volkswagen Jetta Wolfsburg Edition returned.
The new option packages were dubbed Package 1 and Package 2; Package 1 added a set of alloy wheels, leatherette trim, a power reclining feature for the driver’s seat, additional interior storage options, and an upgraded audio system with an in-dash CD changer and satellite radio head unit to the standard feature set of the 2.5.
Package 2 incorporated all of the above, plus genuine leather seating, a power adjustable driver’s seat with memory, a pair of heated front seats, a dual-zone automatic climate control system, Homelink for garage doors and security gates, a trip computer, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, and a 115-volt rear power outlet.
The Jetta Wolfsburg Edition was basically a 2.5 with Package 1 already incorporated—minus the nice stereo system.
The 2.0T bought a CD changer and of course the turbo engine. And, as in 2006, the 2007 GLI came with 17-inch wheels, a firmer suspension system, bi-xenon HID headlamps, color-keyed body cladding, and sport bucket seats.
Optional gear for all 2007 Jettas included 17-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof and a navigation system with full iPod integration capability.
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: 2008
The trim levels dropped the number system. Jetta models got new “letter” names; S, SE and SEL. The 2.5-liter engine got a power upgrade to 170 hp and 177 foot-pounds of torque. The 2.0T became exclusive to the Wolfsburg Edition (the only Jetta left at that point with words for a name) and the GLI. Also, the GLI was no longer referred to as “Jetta” GLI. From 2008 forward, the model was simply known as Volkswagen GLI.
The “letter” models were all equipped with the newly reinvigorated 2.5-liter engine. “Wolfsburg” and GLI continued to share the 2.0T, and also shared the fact they both came with six-speed manual transmissions. S and SE Jettas offered a five-speed manual transmission as standard equipment or an optional six-speed automatic. Jetta SEL came only with the six-speed automatic. The DSG transmission could only be acquired with the Wolfsburg Edition for 2008
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: 2009
The TDI returned to the lineup, along with a new wagon version, called “Jetta Sportwagen”. Stability control, heated seats, and heated washer nozzles were added as standard equipment to all Jetta models. The optional navigation system was improved to incorporate a touchscreen interface and a 30GB hard drive.
The Sportwagen was offered in S, SE, SEL and TDI trims.
The Jetta TDI sedan was set up pretty much like the SEL sedan, but with 16-inch alloy wheels and no sunroof. A special diesel edition for 2009 was named “TDI Loyal” although all it added were a set of premium speakers to the audio system. Similarly, the Sportwagen TDI was equipped similar to the SE Sportwagen, although it did add a trip computer to the package.
Fit a 2009 SE sedan with a turbo engine, 17-inch wheels and remove the chrome trim, then all you’ll need to do is add a set of Wolfsburg badges to come up with a 2009 Wolfsburg Edition Jetta.
The 2009 Jetta’s a’la Carte options list included an iPod interface and a set of rear side airbags. All models other than the Jetta S could be fitted with the touchscreen navigation system with a 30GB hard drive for digital music storage. It also had an SB memory card slot, a USB port, and DVD playback capability.
The 2009 VW Sportwagen was offered with a panoramic sunroof as a stand-alone option.
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: 2010
The interior treatment was reworked a bit for 2010 to incorporate a revised instrument panel, updated cabin trim, and new climate control and audio systems. A new steering wheel was introduced, along with Bluetooth for every model except the Jetta S (Bluetooth was available as an option for that one).
The Volkswagen GLI was laid to rest, along with the SEL Sportwagen. However, on the diesel side, a GLI-ish TDI model was introduced called the TDI Cup "Street" Edition.
This model featured 18-inch wheels with all-season high-performance tires, a sport body kit, and a larger set of brakes with red calipers just for grins. It inherited the sport-tuned suspension system from the GLI, and mated it with a set of cloth sport seats and paddle shifters (when equipped with the DSG transmission).
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: 2011 – Current (2012)
The first Jetta in Volkswagen history to be completely separated from the VW Golf, the all-new 2011 Volkswagen Jetta is larger, more spacious, and for the American market at least, packaged specifically to be more affordable.
Though past Jetta models were often more interesting to drive, boasted nicer interior treatments, better fit and finish, more standard equipment, and more sophistication than their competitors from Honda, Toyota, and Nissan; Volkswagen still took a lot of flak because the Jetta’s base price was higher in compassion to those cars.
So for the 2011 model, Volkswagen scaled back the offerings of the base model Jetta S to enable it to have a starting MSRP under $15,000. This meant the premium upscale materials that used to routinely be found in the base model Volkswagen were gone—along with standard air conditioning. It also meant that rather than having four disc brakes, for the first time in this century a Jetta was offered with rear drum brakes.
And while VW cognoscenti may recognize the differences, many first-time VW Jetta buyers drawn in by the price, simply found a compact sedan that drove better than their Toyota Corolla.
The engines largely carried over from the MkV Jetta. The base was a 2.0-liter in-line four-cylinder producing 115 hp and 125 foot pounds of torque. A five-speed manual transmission was the standard offering with this engine, a six-speed automatic was optional. The next step up was a 2.5-liter in-line five-cylinder making 170 hp and 177 foot-pounds of torque, sharing the same transmission options. The diesel powerplant was a 2.0-liter in-line four capable of 140 hp and 236 foot-pounds of torque. This engine got a six-speed manual transmission as standard equipment and VW's DSG six-speed dual clutch automated manual gearbox as an option.
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: 2011
The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta was available in “Base”, “S”, “SE”, “SEL” and “TDI” (diesel) trim levels. There was also a Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen
Standard equipment for the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta Base sedan included; 15 inch steel wheels with full wheel covers, variable intermittent windshield wipers, a rear defogger, the 2.0-liter in-line four-cylinder engine, height adjustable driver and front passenger seats, cloth upholstery, and a split folding rear seat back.
There were four one-touch power windows, front cupholders, front door pockets, front seat back storage, and the Jetta retained accessory power when its engine was shut off. The electric power steering system used a tilt and telescopic steering wheel and the Jetta boasted front and rear12V power outlets.
Options included a “Jetta” ground effects kit, chrome exhaust tips, splash guards, a luggage net, rubber floor mats, and carpeted floor mats.
Safety and security features included four-wheel ABS, emergency braking assist, electronic brake force distribution, tire pressure monitoring, stability control, and traction control. There were also a set of front and rear side curtain air bags, dual front side mounted airbags, a passenger airbag occupant sensing activation system, a rear center three-point seat belt, front seat belt pre-tensioners, and rear door child safety locks.
The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta used an engine immobilizer, daytime running lights, and a post collision safety system, along with driver and passenger head restraint whiplash protection systems.
The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta S sedan, in addition to the features above, got remote power door locks, heated exterior power mirrors, remote trunk release, an air-conditioning system with interior air filtration, dual vanity mirrors, and a four-speaker audio system featuring an AM/FM in-dash single-disc CD player with CD MP3 playback capability and an auxiliary MP3 audio input.
The 2011 Jetta SE came with the 2.5-liter in-line five-cylinder engine, 16-inch steel wheels with full wheel covers, Volkswagen’s leatherette (vinyl) upholstery, a split folding rear seat back with a pass-through folding center armrest—incorporating storage, cruise control, an overhead console with storage, a trunk light, front reading lights, front and rear floor mats, and turn signal repeaters in the exterior rearview mirrors’ housings.
Bluetooth was an option.
The Jetta SE’s Convenience Package added 16-inch alloy wheels, heated windshield washer nozzles, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, Bluetooth and a six-speaker sound system with satellite radio and an iPod interface.
Options for the Convenience package included a sunroof, which came with a six-speaker sound system with a touchscreen interface, an SD memory card reader, and a six-disc CD changer.
The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SEL was equipped with all of the standard features for each of the models above, plus; 17 inch alloy wheels, four disc brakes, fog lights, audio controls on the steering wheel, leather trim on the shift knob and steering wheel, an external temperature display, and a compass. The audio system used six speakers and was fed by a stereo AM/FM–single-disc CD player head unit, featuring Sirius satellite radio, an auxiliary input for portable audio devices, full iPod integration, a memory card slot, and a USB connection. There was also a hard drive-based navigation system display with voice activation and directions, and a Bluetooth wireless data link for hands-free phone operation.
The 2011 Jetta TDI was basically a Jetta SE with the Convenience and Sunroof bundles and the SEL’s brake system. If the optional Nav system was ordered, it also incorporated foglights, keyless entry and start, and the touchscreen navigation/stereo interface
The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen was available in “S”, “SE” and “TDI” trim levels. The 2.0-liter engine was not fitted to the Sportwagen, so both the S and SE models were powered by the 170-horsepower 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder. A five-speed manual is standard with this engine, while a six-speed automatic is optional. The TDI Sportwagen got the 140 horsepower VW “clean diesel” engine and was equipped largely the same as the TDI sedan.
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: 2012 (Current Model)
Minor tweaks were all that was deemed necessary to carry the MkV Jetta into MY’12. The SEL and TDI trim levels offer an optional Fender audio system, and the Sport package for the SEL was discontinued in anticipation of the new MkV GLI model.
Volkswagen Jetta Used Car Buyer’s Guide: Summary
For much of its lifetime, the Volkswagen Jetta has been an entry-level near-luxury German automobile for upwardly mobile youthful individuals. Over the last two generations of the model VW made a concerted effort to “grow the Jetta up”. That said, much of the youthful exuberance of the MkIV Jetta is missing from the most current versions of the car.
Still, unless you get a base model of the 2011 car, you’ll find the Jetta to be better equipped than nearly anything in its class, more fun to drive and smoother in operation, particularly on the highway. We are fans of the car, although you do need to be careful as Jettas do exhibit some mechanical problems. We strongly recommend cruising the VW forums on the ‘Net to learn which maladies are likely to affect the model year of your choice.
A vehicle history report, run against the VIN will provide much useful information in terms of the car’s service history and etc. You’ll also want to research recalls, as there have been a few for VW’s entry-level sedan/wagon offering. And of course, no purchase should ever be transacted before subjecting your choice to a very thorough pre-purchase inspection by a trusted professional independent VW mechanic.