Volkswagen Variants on a Theme: 2003 Jetta GLS 1.8T v. 2001 Passat GLS 1.8T

Obviously, this post comes to you from someone who likes Volkswagens – and, in particular, 5-door VWs. I’m not sure exactly what the attraction is for me, but the last two Volkswagens I’ve had – both Passat GLS 1.8T Variants – have been faithful and fun-to-drive companions. Despite their relative popularity (VW sold nearly 110,000 wagons in North America – 20% of production overall), they somehow manage to stand apart from the crowd. And for about ten years VW enthusiasts got to choose not only from the Passat’s fairly robust lineup of wagons which featured everything from luxurious automatic V6 all-wheel drivers to thrifty diesels and outrageous W8s, but there was also the slightly smaller Jetta Wagon as well. Like the Passat, several options were available, from a basic 2.0, the turbo 1.8, the TDI and the crazy VR6 model.

Today I’ve got two examples to consider; in this case, both are front-drive 1.8T 5-speed manual GLSs. Despite what should be a very similar basis, these two take on remarkably different character. Pricing is pretty similar but presentation and mileage are quite different. Which is the one to buy? Let’s start with the Jetta:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2003 Volkswagen Jetta GLS 1.8T Wagon on eBay

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Reader Rides: 1984 Volkswagen Jetta Turbo Diesel

It’s always great to hear from a reader who appreciates the blog or just sends in a link to a neat car that they spotted. While I don’t always take enough time to acknowledge them, I’ll let you know now that we always are thankful that you’re out there thinking of us! But it’s really special when one of our readership buys a car that we featured, and last fall that exact thing happened with this cool 1984 Volkswagen Jetta Turbo Diesel:

1984 Volkswagen Jetta GL Turbo Diesel

I caught up with its new owner, Jesse, who was kind enough to share his story and some images of the car!

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1991 Volkswagen Jetta Carat

When going through the not particularly extensive product range of Volkswagen in the early 1990s, I really find it hard to get excited about the Jetta. Okay, there were fast Jettas, like the GLI. And they were pretty cool in their own right. But as the GLI was available with less weight and better looks in more famous hatchback form, I’ve never been as excited about them.

I also found the trim levels very confusing. There was the standard Jetta, which pretty much got you nothing other than seats and a motor. Then there was the GL, which got you slightly more of something, but I’m not really sure what. Pretty much everything remained optional on these two models. Everyone knows about the Wolfsburg models, of course. They were more loaded, with special colors, interiors, radios and wheels – generally. Each model year was a bit different, and the A2 resource guide is helpful to sort it out..

In the middle was a strange one – the Carat. Technically, this model was placed above the GL and below the Wolfsburg model. But sometimes it wasn’t as well equipped as the GL, and other times it seemed better equipped than the Wolfsburg. It came with rear headrests (shared with the GL), power locks (shared with the GL), delay dome light (shared with the…are you seeing a trend?). So what did you get for the substantial premium in price? Unseen was the motor upgrade, which gave the Carat the 105 horsepower engine. Carats also differed from other non-GLI Jettas because they were equipped with 4-wheel disc brakes – but only for some years. In 1991, drums returned as standard. They also had an upgraded sports suspension, sport steering wheel, cruise control, sport seats and a power package which included mirrors and windows. So, it was a sporty option of the Jetta – wait, wasn’t that the goal of the Wolfsburg? It certainly seems like mission creep. Still optional were sunroof, automatic transmission, and somewhat shockingly alloy wheels. The Carats came standard with “unique” wheel covers – so unique, they were borrowed straight from the same year base Passat. It was a strange package of piece-meal parts for which Volkswagen charged a serious premium; the Carat cost nearly 50% more than a base Jetta out the door.

But in the company of the neat-looking and 2.0 16V-powered Passat, the supercharged and then VR6-powered Corrado, the legendary Cabriolet and Vanagon models, and the best looking GTI ever produced, it’s really hard to see the Jetta as anything other than an “also ran” for 1990-1992. Still, once in a while a nice one comes along…

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 Volkswagen Jetta Carat on eBay

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2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagon Golf R Conversion

While Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have all given us superb performance wagons (yes, even in the U.S.!), the German manufacturer with “Wagen” in its name has managed to skirt a really the opportunity to engage 5-door fanatics of ‘Freedom’.

But wait, you say, what about the Passat W8 4Motion Variant 6-speed?

Yeah sure. It was a really cool concept, and with the sport package BBS wheels it even looked really neat. But it wasn’t really a performance wagon. The follow-up 3.6 4Motion Variant actually did offer a bit more sport, but only came in automatic form. The more serious R36 never came here.

However, a few years ago Volkswagen launched an even MORE potent option – the Golf SportWagon R. With a 300 horsepower version of the 2.0 TSFI linked to the 6-speed manual or DSG dual-clutch box and utilizing the same Haldex all-wheel drive as the regular Golf R, the result was no surprise – a slightly bigger Golf R equaled a small performance wagon with few peers. 0-60 could be topped in 4.5 seconds and the quarter was gone in 13.3 seconds with the DSG, it topped out at 155 mph and yet would return 30 mpg on the highway. Eat your cake and have it too, indeed!

Of course, it hasn’t come here. But since it’s a VW and VW enthusiasts are swap-happy….

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagon R on VW Vortex

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1990 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 16V

Much like the S4 I posted over the weekend, the Jetta GLI 16V is a car which on paper I should like very much. After all, I’m a huge fan of the same-generation GTI 16V, and the Jetta was little more than a trunk added to that formula. Underneath, there were almost no changes between the two. You got the same high-strung 9A 2.0 16V with Motronic fuel injection pushing 134 horses through that open-diff front end. Your only choice was a 5-speed manual, of course, and it was a close-ratio one – enjoy those highway speeds! Brakes were updated to 10.1″ and dual tailpipes emerged from the new ‘big bumper’ A2 refresh. Central locking and a cassette player were standard, while you could opt for many power options including windows, mirror, anti-lock brakes, trip computer, cruise control and of course a sunroof. The GLI also carried over BBS wheels from the pre’90 1.8 models, in this case the 15″x 6.5″ ‘RA’.

These items should have conspired to produce a deeply desirable product for me. And yet, somehow I never really took to the Jetta though many did. I suppose it’s the same as the 4000 quattro/Coupe GT fan bases. Rarely do they seem to cross over, yet there’s a mutual respect between them. I like the Jetta, and in the absence of the GTI it would probably be a great favorite of mine. It was aimed at being a more refined alternative to the racier hot hatch. But ultimately it falls second fiddle to the GTI, which always seems (and, arguably is) just that little bit more neat.

For enthusiasts, though, that means potential value. As GTI 16V prices climb steeply with no real relent in sight and few good examples hitting the market, you can get a bit of a value if you don’t mind the junk in the trunk:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1990 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 16V on eBay

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2004 Volkswagen Jetta GLS 1.8T Wagon

While I spend most of my early 2000s Volkswagen attention on Passats and GTIs, there was another pretty compelling package in that period. The Jetta Wagon launched in 2002 and brought with it a myriad of engines and transmission options. Finally, the United States had access to the ‘Golf Variant’ that the rest of the world had enjoyed through the 1990s. And, you could have a TDi, a VR6 or even the 1.8T hooked up to a manual. Aside from it being called a Jetta and therefore you had the same car as all of the ‘Jenna’s from ‘Jersey (‘Cause, like, it’s like almost the same like spelling as like my name is like OMG!!!), there weren’t many drawbacks to the small wagon.

Judging from the number of Mk.4 Jetta Wagons that I still see on the road, the TDi was the most successful model sold in this area. Neat – in theory – is the VR6 model with a 5-speed manual, though finding one can be a bit of a trick. And they were pricey; you’d assume the Jetta would be cheaper than the more upscale Passat, right? Not always. While my 1.8T GLS Passat went out the door around $26,000 in 2002, if you opted for a modestly equipped VR6 Jetta you’d pay over $27,000. And while the VR6 may have seemed to be the best bet, I’d argue that the 1.8T was better value.

That’s because for the 2002 model year, Volkswagen reprogrammed the 1.8T to make a bit more twist. The resulting AWW was seen in the GTI and GLI cars, but also carried over unchanged in the Jetta. Rated at 180 horsepower, it produced 10 horsepower more than the Passat and 6 more than the 2.8 liter SOHC 12V VR6. While the GLI package didn’t carry to the wagons, you could still get 17″ wheels, leather interior, a 5-speed manual and some pretty colors, too:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2004 Volkswagen Jetta GLS 1.8T Wagon on eBay

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2.Slow Double Take: 1996 Volkswagen Jetta and 1998 Volkswagen GTI

I was thinking about how to relate my feelings about the first few generations of water-cooled small VWs, and I came up with the analogy of the BBC Doctor Who! reboot in the 2000s. The first generation was Christopher Eccleston; edgy, completely different from the prior generations with a fresh face, impossible not to view with a smile but also something you didn’t completely trust. The second generation? David Tennant took ‘The Doctor’ to new levels of popularity; more refined, more fun and with an infectious smile, he was quirky but somehow much easier to live with than Eccleston had been. He also developed a rabid fan base that consider him the best (this author included) even if he had some faults.

Then came Matt Smith. There’s certainly a fanbase who appreciates Smith’s rounder, softer and…well, weird portrayal of the Doctor. I’m not a fan personally, and often find myself pleading with other Who watchers to go back farther because the earlier variations were much, much better. Yet floppy and oddly proportioned, Smith was nonetheless very popular and took the show to a wider audience. See the Mk.3 VW.

Not really the best at anything aside from being pretty expensive relative to its contemporaries, the 2.0 inline-4 ABA-equipped VW’s nonetheless outsold the prior versions. The were poorly built and even more poorly owned; this was clearly a move towards disposable automobiles for the company, and it worked. I never really got the appeal of the third generation until I somewhat reluctantly owned one. And you know what? It wasn’t as good-looking as my ’86 Golf was to me, but in every aspect it was better. It was more reliable (amazingly), got better mileage, had a nicer interior, was faster and had both heated seats AND air con. And both worked! Plus it had fog lights and more stuff fit inside. In short, it was just better at being a car.

While I still don’t lust after Mk.3 VWs, I can appreciate them much more when I see them today. They’re affordable and fun transport that’s quite efficient. In 1993 they felt huge compared to their predecessors. But today? They’re downright tiny. And though this duo has high mileage, they don’t often come to market looking anything like these two anymore:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1996 Volkswagen Jetta on eBay

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2001 Volkswagen Jetta VR6 Smyth ‘Ute’

I’m sure you’ve seen it once before. Someone takes a regular sedan or wagon, grabs a sawzall, then three months later out rolls a car with a bed on it. Usually the rear window is something out of a truck at the junkyard and is held in by some leftover bathroom caulk. The entire car now has the structural integrity of a pool noddle and it’s only a matter of time before the entire thing collapses. But what if I told you that there is now a way to make a ute from your VW or Audi without risking your life and everyone elses lives on the road? Thanks to this 2001 Jetta ”Ute” in Detroit, I now know there is an entire market for these conversions.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2001 Volkswagen Jetta VR6 ”Ute” on Detroit Craigslist

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1984 Volkswagen Jetta GL Turbo Diesel

As we saw with the Dasher Hatchback from last week, just because it’s older and in good shape doesn’t automatically mean it’s worth a lot. If it’s a GTI or a Scirocco, sure – sit back with the popcorn and watch the bids roll in, but that Dasher? It sold for $1,600. Admittedly, it needed at least that amount and probably more in mechanical freshening, but still – you’re looking at a unique classic for well under $5,000 all in.

Today is another such beast, and like the Dasher, it’s a niche car that most will probably pass over for the more exciting metal. But this is one trick little bit of kit as you look a little closer. A1 Jettas are pretty rare to begin with, and this is a claimed rust-free example – always a good place to start. Euro bumpers slim down the look while Corrado Sebrings and a lowered ride height beef it up, but the clean presentation is really highlighted by the rare drivetrain – the CY turbocharged diesel inline-4 mated to a 5-speed manual transmission, good for 68 horsepower and 98 lb.ft of torque. This motor was also briefly available in the first generation Audi 4000. The 10.6 quoted 0-60 time won’t sound particularly exciting, but it was quite a bit quicker than the standard diesel and recorded better fuel economy (Volkswagen claimed it could top 54 mpg!). But the key to this car is the relative obscurity and rarity of the package.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1984 Volkswagen Jetta GL Turbo Diesel on eBay

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1986 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

Like its brethren GTI, in 1985 the Volkswagen Jetta GLI went a bit more upscale with the second generation of water-cooled performance. While the two shared most underpinnings between them, the Jetta was aimed at a slightly more upscale buyer. As a result, things like power windows, locks and mirrors and (gasp!) even an automatic transmission were available in the sedan but not the hatch. The GLI package, like the GTI, offered visual clues that greater performance lay under the hood; you got a red-striped exterior and alloy wheels outside. But unlike the GTI, VW omitted the blacked-out VW badges and the flashy “GLI” grill insert until later in the run. Inside, special velour sport seats, a multi-function display and standard power steering (it was optional in the rest of the range) with a leather-wrapped steering wheel helped to distinguish the model. But the meat of the meal was the added sport; the HT-code inline-4 was good for 100 horsepower and mated to a close-ratio 5-speed manual as standard. You also got disc brakes all around and an upgraded sport suspension with front and rear anti-sway bars. You could grab all of this fun for just a hair under $10,000 with no options – exactly $100 per a horsepower.

For 1986, power was up slightly to 102 with a new RD-code motor, again shared with the GTI. That massive power increase was met with a corresponding increase in base price to $10,190. Yet most reviews of the period felt that even at that price, the Jetta represented a great value; a perfect mix of sport and practicality with reasonably good build quality. The GLI of the period never sold quite as well as the GTI or caught on in quite the same way, though, so it’s a special treat to come across a clean and mostly original ’86 like this one:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1986 Volkswagen Jetta GLI on eBay

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