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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Output of the 1.8T wa 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.
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.
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.
GLI VR6 was killed; GLI 1.8T got an automatic transmission option, and the fifth generation Jetta debuted as a midyear replacement.
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.
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 cover, 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.
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.