2002 Volkswagen Jetta Sedan Reviews and Ratings

Sedan 4D GLS

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2002 Volkswagen Jetta Sedan
John Matras

The Volkswagen Jetta is the best-selling European import on the U.S. market, and with good reason. It's like the Schmoo, the critter in the old Lil' Abner comic strip that was anything you wanted it to be. The Jetta is available in any guise, from low-cost sedan to compact luxury car to high-mileage diesel to station wagon.

If you want the Schmoomobile to be a sports sedan, the Jetta happily obliges as a Jetta GLS 1.8T. Volkswagen retuned the 1.8-liter turbocharged engine for this little sports sedan to produce 180 horsepower, up 30 from last year's model. Starting at less than $20,000, the Jetta GLS 1.8T is a subcompact that is a lot of fun to drive, but still offers a lot of practicality. Model Lineup
Jetta comes in seven permutations, including three trim levels and four engines: GL 2.0L ($16,850); GL TDI ($18,145); GLS 2.0L ($17,900); GLS TDI ($18,950); GLS 1.8T ($19,550); GLS 2.8L VR6 ($20,200); GLX 2.8L VR6 ($24,700). The Jetta is also offered as a station wagon, including the GL 2.0L ($17,650); GLS 2.0L ($18,700); GLS 1.8T; GLX 2.8L VR6 ($25,500).

GL is the entry level, providing access to VW's build quality at a reasonable price. Its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produces a meager 115 horsepower, but makes up for it with a 24/31 mpg city/highway EPA fuel economy rating. Like all Jettas, it has four doors, and it comes with full body color exterior trim, 15-inch steel wheels with full wheel covers, intermittent wipers, rear window and side mirror defrosters, power locks, AM/FM/cassette, manual remote mirrors, HVAC filter, cloth interior, air conditioning and side curtain and seat airbags, but you'll have to crank your windows manually.

GL TDI is powered by a turbodiesel; it's rated at just 90 horsepower, but that's deceiving because it is not at all sluggish with its 155 foot-pounds of torque. And the 34/49 mpg city/highway EPA rating is not overstated, according to TDI owners. Cruise control is standard.

GLS adds power mirrors, front center armrest, cruise control, AM/FM/cassette/CD, velour interior, power windows.

GLS 1.8T includes the 180-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine and an electronic differential lock.

GLX not only gets the VR6 six-cylinder engine, but also projector lens foglamps, 16-inch alloy wheels, heated windshield washer nozzles and rain sensor windshield wipers, automatic climate control, trip computer, automatic dimming inside rearview mirror, driver and passenger 8-way power seats, manual rear sunshade, leather seats, steering wheel and so on, and real wood trim. Walkaround
There should be no doubt that the Jetta is anything but German, and there is no doubt that it's a Volkswagen. In a form-follows-function sort of way, the lines are simple and clean, looking more machined than carved (i.e., by a designer in clay). But there are features that are distinctively VW, including the compound headlight units that also enclose the bullet-shaped turn signals, and the body-color four-bar grille either side of the VW logo that keys into the leading edge of the hood and is second only to the three-pointed star in the grille of a Mercedes-Benz SL 500. The arch-shaped greenhouse is another VW/Audi trademark. The rear deck is high, short and chiseled.

Our test Jetta was equipped with 17-inch wheels wrapped with 225/45 performance tires, part of the Sport Luxury package. They look great, but drivers will want to be particularly careful during pothole season with ultra low-profile tires. Overall, seams are tight and even. The Jetta looks more expensive than it is. Interior
The Jetta looks just as expensive inside as it does outside. The layout is simple and straightforward. Our silver Jetta had a gray fuzzy fabric headliner over black from the dash and window line down. That's not as claustrophobic as it might seem, as the Jetta has large windows. The instrument panel features a large 7500-rpm tachometer (redlined at 6500 rpm) and an optimistic 160-mph speedometer: at 80 mph the needle is straight up. The lettering is white on black in daylight, but at night with the lights on, it changes to the cool blue introduced on the New Beetle. The needles and controls are illuminated in an intense red. Most love it, a few hate it. It's a must-see-before-buying item.

The interior is arranged well for the enthusiast driver. The steering wheel has a thick rim shaped well for the hand, and a grippy leather covering. It tilts and telescopes, and the driver's seat ratchets up and down as well as slides fore and aft and reclines with the turn of a knob on the base of seatback. Another twist-knob controls lumbar support. There's a driving position for everyone, without an electric motor in (or out of) sight. The twist-knob recline function allows more precise seat back angle than the more common release lever adjuster, even if it is slower and more difficult to use. Front buckets are well bolstered and deserve to be called sport seats. Cushy they're not, but they work exceedingly well for sporty-type driving and don't numb, well, anything even after several hours behind the wheel. The HVAC controls are simple and easy to use, while the buttons on the excellent Monsoon audio are small and somewhat blocked by the cup holder when it's in use. The cupholder, which exerts an ironman grip on Styrofoam cups, completely blocks the 6-CD changer, but with that much listening time, CDs can be changed at rest stops.

The Jetta doesn't have the legroom of, say, a Passat-which makes sense if you think about it-but a pair of average-sized adults can be happy in the Jetta for extended jaunts. Full LATCH anchorage systems are provided for two child safety seats as well. The rear seats fold 60/40 for extended luggage capacity, and although they don't lie completely flat, we were able to carry a complete mountain bike (with front wheel dismounted) when the kid decided she wanted it at college after all. The trunk's short lid does open wide, limiting access somewhat, but the trunk is big for this size of car and, with its articulated hinges, it's all usable space.

All-around vision is good, with small pillars and well-placed mirrors. Driving Impressions
There ought to be a rule that Jetta GLS 1.8T drivers have an accessible winding road, or else they'll be wasting some of the Jetta's finer aspects. The Jetta, especially with the 17-inch wheels, 45-series performance tires and sport suspension, gobbles up the twisties like a seven-year old goes after Fruit Loops. The Jetta has lots of lateral grip and the stability to utilize it. Shock absorber damping is compliant but firm, allowing the suspension to react to a bump in mid-corner and be done with it. Transients-left to right and back again-are equally well handled. While the front-drive Jetta does not have the precise handling of, say, a BMW, it does not have near the price, either.

The turbocharged engine slings the front-wheel-drive Jetta forward with authority. Despite a claim from VW that sound deadening was added to the turbocharger, a faint whistle can be heard as the turbo spools up. Turbo addicts will enjoy it, others won't notice. The engine has minimal turbo lag, that small time lapse some turbocharged engines have between the moment you slam down the gas and when you begin to feel the car rocket forward. Instead, the Jetta has a broad torque spread. It offers good pulling power almost from idle. A quick launch, as you might need to jump from a standstill into a gap in fast moving traffic, requires some revs and a little slip of the clutch, however. Otherwise the engine bogs for what seems like an eternity as that truck looms in the rear view mirror. The engine, once up on the turbo, is hoot for enthusiast driving, willing to rev smoothly to redline with a clean mechanical sound. It'll blast out of a toll plaza.

The shifter's throw is on the long side, front to back, but close side to side. It's precise and has little slop, and is enjoyable to use, with even clutch take-up with a well-weighted pedal. There is an optional 5-speed automatic that has the Porsche-developed Tiptronic manual-shifting system, the only car in the class so equipped.

The engine is not just for sporting driving, however. It delivers sufficient torque (power) across the rev range to eliminate the need to downshift for most hills, and it integrates well with the cruise control, always maintaining a steady speed. The turbo can be caught out in some situations, however: lifting and repressing the throttle can make the engine feel momentarily like it swallowed an egg. It's smooth at idle and quiet on the highway, overall a very civilized engine with more than a bit of a wild streak. Premium unleaded is the recommended fuel.

Payback for the Jetta's aggressive handling abilities comes on the highway. Either the performance tires generate more noise than others, or the firm suspension transmits more, but a noticeable amount of road noise comes up through the chassis. The ride is firm, but not objectionable, and will provide the driving enthusiast with a desirable feel of control.

The four-wheel disc brakes are remarkable in their casual effectiveness, very linear in result and with just the right amount of required pressure. The pedals are spaced well for the enthusiast, and a dead pedal to the left gives the driver place to brace the left foot. Electronic brake proportioning distributes braking power as needed for hard braking with any passenger or cargo load, reducing the application of ABS and shortening braking distances. In other words, you can stop more quickly no matter what the situation.

1.8T and VR6 Jettas come with an electronic front differential lock, which improves grip on pavement and in slippery conditions under acceleration, reducing the amount of traction control application. That means quicker, more stable acceleration performance. Summary
It's significant that Volkswagen offers the 1.8T engine only in the midline GLS, not in the base GL or fancy GLX. The bigger VR6 engine is smoother and torquier, but doesn't make as much horsepower. The VR6 is a better choice for the driver who just wants to drive around town with a responsive engine and let an automatic transmission do the shifting. Driving enthusiasts who prefer a manual gearbox will be happier with the lively 1.8T and sport suspension.

Model as tested
Jetta GLS 1.8T ($19,550)
Basic Warranty
5 years/60,000 miles
Assembled in
Puebla, Mexico (Jetta Wagons built in Wolfsburg, Germany)
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
Sport Luxury Package ($2,025) includes power glass sunroof, 17-inch alloy wheels, and sport suspension; Leather Package ($1,050) includes multifunction steering wheel, leather seating surfaces, leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift boot and knob; cold weather package ($150) includes heated windshield washer nozzles and heated seats; Monsoon« Sound System ($325); California & Northeast emissions ($100); reflex metallic paint (no charge)

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
GL 2.0L ($16,850); GL TDI ($18,145); GLS 2.0L ($17,900); GLS TDI ($18,950); GLS 1.8T ($19,550); GLS 2.8L VR6 ($20,200); GLX 2.8L VR6 ($24,700)
Safety equipment (standard)
side-curtain protection, front airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags, seat-belt tensioning, 3-point rear seatbelts, LATCH child safety seat mounting, ABS, electronic brake distribution, traction control
Safety equipment (optional)
1.8-liter turbocharged intercooled dohc 20-valve inline-4
5-speed manual

Specifications as Tested
power steering, height adjustable front seats, rear reading lights, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, heated side mirrors, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, 60/40 split folding rear seat, power locks, power windows with one-touch up-down front windows, front and rear floor mats, anti-theft, AM/FM cassette audio w/8 speakers, rear defogger

Engine & Transmission
1.8-liter turbocharged intercooled dohc 20-valve inline-4
Drivetrain type
front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
180 @ 5500
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS and EBD
Suspension, front
Suspension, rear

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

J.D. Power Rating
Overall Quality Not Available
Overall Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Powertrain Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Body & Interior Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Features & Accessories Quality - Mechanical
Not Available
Overall Quality - Design
Not Available
Powertrain Quality - Design
Not Available
Body & Interior Quality - Design
Not Available
Features & Accessories Quality - Design
Not Available

Overall Dependability Not Available
Powertrain Dependability
Not Available
Body & Interior Dependability
Not Available
Feature & Accessory Dependability
Not Available

J.D. Power Rating Legend
Among the Best
5 / 5
Better than Most
4 / 5
About Average
3 / 5
The Rest
2 / 5

* The J.D. Power Ratings are calculated based on the range between the car manufacturer or car model with the highest score and the car manufacturer or car model with the lowest score. J.D. Power generates a rating of a five, four, three, or two. If there is insufficient data to calculate a rating, a dash (—) is used in its place.

J.D. Power Ratings may not include all information used to determine J.D. Power awards, visit the Car Ratings page to learn more about awards and ratings.

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