2004 Volkswagen Jetta

    (6 Reviews)




    MSRP
    $18,670
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    2004 Volkswagen Jetta Expert Review:New Car Test Drive

    The following review is for a 2002 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.

    More horsepower emphasizes the jet in the Jetta.

    Introduction

    The Volkswagen Jetta is the best-selling European import on the U.S. market. It's available in any guise. There's a low-cost sedan, a frugal diesel, a sports sedan, and a sport wagon. 

    If you want a sports sedan, there's the Jetta GLS 1.8T and the new Jetta GLI. Power is up for both the 1.8T and the VR6. Volkswagen retuned the 1.8-liter turbocharged engine to produce 180 horsepower. The mid-year return of the Jetta GLI model includes a big power boost for the 2.8-liter VR6 engine, which jumps to 200 horsepower. 

    Lineup

    Jetta comes in eight permutations, including four 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); GLI 2.8L VR6 ($22,950); 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. 

    The GLI, Volkswagen's highest-powered V6 car, comes with a 6-speed manual transmission, spin-controlling ESP technology, 17-inch alloy wheels, dual chome exhaust, special sports seats and leather-covered steering wheel. 

    Walkaround

    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. 

    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 Impression

    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

    The Jetta offers classy, functional accommodations, sharp handling, and excellent brakes. There's a choice of engines, all good choices depending on your lifestyle, budget, and view of the world. 

    The 2.0-liter keeps monthly payments down. The TDI diesel offers amazing fuel economy. The 1.8T delivers spirited performance for the enthusiast willing to shift manually. And the VR6 provides smooth, linear performance that makes the Jetta feel like an expensive German sports sedan. 

    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); GLI 2.8L VR6 ($22,950); GLX 2.8L VR6 ($24,700). 

    Assembled In

    Puebla, Mexico (Jetta Wagons built in Wolfsburg, Germany). 

    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 Tested

    Jetta GLS 1.8T ($19,550). 

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    Read 2004 Volkswagen Jetta GL TDI 4dr Sedan reviews from auto industry experts to gain insight on the Volkswagen Jetta's drivability, comfort, power and performance.
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