1999 VOLKSWAGEN JETTA GL
By Tom Hagin
SPECIFICATIONS Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 16,700 Price As Tested $ 18,200 Engine Type SOHC 8-valve 2.0 Liter I4 w/SMFI* Engine Size 121 cid/1984 cc Horsepower 115 @ 5200 RPM Torque (lb-ft) 122 @ 2600 RPM Wheelbase/Width/Length 98.9"/68.3"/172.3" Transmission Four-speed automatic Curb Weight 2937 pounds Fuel Capacity 14.5 gallons Tires (F/R) 195/65R15 H all-season Brakes (F/R) Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS) Drive Train Front-engine/front-wheel-drive Vehicle Type Five-passenger/four-door Domestic Content 76 percent Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) N/A PERFORMANCE EPA Economy, miles per gallon city/highway/average 22/28/26 0-60 MPH 10.5 seconds 1/4 (E.T.) 18.0 seconds @ 85.5 mph Top-speed 110 mph * Sequential multi-port fuel injection
The term "New Volkswagen" is used extensively at the German company, and its renaissance began last year with the New Beetle. Then came the mid-sized New Passat, followed closely by the New Jetta, the subject of this week's review. With a full line of all-new vehicles targeted at a worldwide audience, VW is definitely experiencing a rebirth.
Jetta comes in three trim levels, each with a different powertrain. We'll eventually test them all, but this week we'll review the entry-level GL, the version that will no doubt be the most popular.
OUTSIDE -Jetta is about an inch shorter and slightly wider than the model it replaces, but its wheelbase is over an inch longer. Its redesigned chassis is stiffer in both twisting and bending, which these days is almost a prerequisite for overall improvement. The body style is very different as well. Its nose contains trapezoid-shaped headlights and a body color grille with the familiar VW logo in the center. The hood is fairly flat, but the sleek roof line and sharply raked rear glass give it an aerodynamic flair. The door handles are pulled in tight to the body and painted to match the car. GL models like our test vehicle come with 15-inch steel wheels and styled wheelcovers, though sporty five-spoke alloy wheels come on uplevel models.
INSIDE -Jetta is sold in the compact class, so it's unreasonable to expect five adults to reside inside comfortably. There are shoulder belts and headrests for five, however, but those in back will be cramped unless they're small. The rest of the interior has been updated and modernized, with a small, to-the-point binnacle that is backlit a glowing blue at night. The radio buttons are somewhat small, but the sound is good. The rotary knobs of the climate controls are easy enough to use, though they are located low in the dash. Standard GL features include air conditioning, heated, power side mirrors, height adjustable front seats, a 60/40 split rear seat, adjustable steering column, variable speed intermittent wipers, an eight-speaker AM/FM/cassette stereo, remote locking system and rear seat ventilation ducts.
ON THE ROAD -Jetta is available with three different engine choices. Topping the list is a 174-horse, 2.8 liter, narrow-angle V6. Its narrow profile allows it to be squeezed into engine bays that are normally only big enough for a four cylinder engine. A 1.9 liter turbo diesel is also available, and allows Jetta to squeeze 49 miles per gallon on the highway. Our tester, however, used the most popular of drivetrain layouts - a 2.0 liter inline four with 115 horsepower and 122 lb-ft of torque. It's a simple design, with a cast iron cylinder block and an aluminum head. It uses a single camshaft to operate the valve train, and there are two valves per cylinder. It's more than capable power-wise, especially when mated to the standard five-speed manual transmission, and gives a respectable 28 mpg on the highway. It's also smooth and quiet, even when it's pushed to the upper limits of its rpm range. An electronically-controlled four-speed automatic transmission is optional.
BEHIND THE WHEEL -Its unit-body chassis is stiffer now, which allowed VW engineers to soften the suspension for a smoother ride. Since the wheelbase is longer and the track is wider on the new version, handling feels more assured on the New Jetta. The suspension components consist of MacPherson struts up front and a simple torsion beam rear axle. Both ends use anti-roll bars, which help keep it firmly planted to the road. Still, it exhibits some body lean and plowing in hard turns, due in part to its rather smallish tires. A set of wider, more aggressive aftermarket tires would help. Uplevel Jetta models are equipped this way, and the handling difference is quite noticeable. Power rack-and-pinion steering is standard, as are four-wheel disc brakes with an anti-lock braking system (ABS).
SAFETY -Dual dashboard and side-impact airbags, ABS and side-impact door beams are standard.
OPTIONS -Automatic transmission: $875; California emissions: $100; Destination charge: $525.