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.