2002 Volkswagen Jetta Review

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High Gear Media Staff High Gear Media Staff  
November 19, 2002

by Dan Carney

Ever since the Volkswagen Rabbit sprouted a trunk in 1980, the Jetta has been a popular, if thoroughly conventional three-box small sedan. The little car became VW’s best-seller in the U.S. in 1985, and it has held that title ever since.

The rest of the world doesn’t appreciate the virtues of a small car configured as a sedan; they prefer the Golf hatchback to the Bora, as the Jetta is called elsewhere. But VW thought that perhaps a station wagon version of the car would appeal to those practical Europeans, so it introduced a Bora wagon two years ago.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., buyers began snapping up European sport wagons from Audi, BMW, Saab, and Volvo. “It was pretty clear to us that the European wagons were becoming more popular,” said VW spokesman Tony Fouladpour. “All we had to do was look at our [Audi] A4 wagon sales.”

Volkswagen decided to target this market with the Jetta wagon, which arrived in this country in the middle of the model year. “We looked at how the wagon market was trending, and we thought there was room between the Jetta and the Passat wagon,” Fouladpour said.

Wagon credentials

Outfitted with the 174-horsepower, 2.8-liter VR6 engine and five-speed manual gearbox, the Jetta wagon boasts sporty credentials. Our GLX test car included the sport option package, which adds beautiful 17-inch alloy wheels and Michelin MXM Pilot radials, along with stiffer springs and shocks. The tires alone significantly boost dry traction over the all-season MXV Energy radials.

2002 Volkswagen Jetta

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The combination works tremendously well — so well in fact, that it is almost impossible to recall that there is a wagon body following you. Handling and steering are crisp and responsive, with none of the tail-wagging behavior common to rear-heavy wagons. Driven briskly over undulating country roads, the Jetta Wagon revealed a need for a touch more rebound damping, to discourage the car from leaping up after bumps, but it was a minor issue.

Even with the sport package, the ride is smooth and comfortable. The VR6 engine delivers ample power through the manual transmission, with torque steer detectable, but not intrusive. In current VW/Audi fashion, the slightly rubbery shifter and stiff clutch with a high engagement point make the driver certain he is driving a Wolfsburg product. The characteristics give all of the company’s products a similar feel, and set them apart from competitors, but more precision in the shifter and a lighter clutch that engages more quickly would be nice improvements.

Turbo cargo

The 180-horsepower 1.8T turbo four-cylinder is new for 2002 and is helping attract customers who were put off by the higher price of the six-cylinder, according to Fouladpour. A more powerful 201-horsepower V-6 should start to arrive in the U.S. in July, to maintain a power edge over the turbo four. Another nice update is a switch for 2002 to a Monsoon stereo that includes a built-in CD player. The previous lack of an integrated CD player in the top-of-the-line model, with premium sound, bordered on absurd.

The wagon is fractionally longer and taller, has more ground clearance and weighs more than the sedan. But none of these differences are visible, or discernable while driving. The wagon’s cargo area provides an ample 51.9 cubic feet of space when the rear seat is folded, though the resulting space is a little short to serve as a bed during road trips.

The rear seat is comfortable, with adequate room for a car of this size. Shoulder belt seat belts and head protectors are provided, responsibly, for all three rear seat positions in the Jetta, though the middle spot has to be considered an occasional-use seat because the Jetta just isn’t wide enough to seat three across comfortably. Kids small enough to fit three abreast in the Jetta need to be in booster seats, and those seats won’t fit three-across, so forget squeezing a bunch of kids in there.

The tested GLX was outfitted with a luxurious leather interior and wood-paneled dash that put the car squarely into the near-luxury market. The $26,000 price tag also put the car in that market, where shoppers are going to be looking at cars with significantly more prestigious nameplates, which could be an obstacle.

But the Jetta is available well-equipped, though without the leather, for many thousands of dollars less, and that is certainly where the value is. Drivers in cold-weather climes should appreciate that heated seats are a cheap option in Volkswagens.

2002 Volkswagen Jetta Wagon GLX VR6
Base Price: $25,500; as tested: $26,750
Engine: 2.8-liter V-6, 174 hp
Transmission: five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 99.0 in
Length: 173.6 in
Width: 68.3 in
Height: 58.5 in
Weight: 3280 lb
Fuel economy: 19 city/ 28 hwy
Standard safety equipment: Anti-lock brakes, dual front airbags
Major standard equipment: Electronic Differential Lock and Anti-Slip Regulation, fog lamps, leather seating surfaces, electronic climate control, power windows (with one touch up/down) and door locks, air conditioning, eight-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo, power moonroof
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles


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