For more than three decades, the Volkswagen Jetta has experienced multiple transformations, but continues to remain a popular vehicle choice for drivers who desire a compact sedan with a proven safety record and fuel efficiency.
The Beginning: 1979
In 1979 at the Frankfort Auto Show, Volkswagen, a German car manufacturing company, introduced a new, small family car called the Jetta. 1979 was a monumental year - Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of the U.K., Sony released the Walkman, ESPN launched on cable television, and the Volkswagen Jetta debuted in Europe. With gas in the United States at 86-cents a gallon and petrol in the United Kingdom at 79-cents a gallon, the new VW Jetta offered an economic fuel option in comparison to some of the larger, less fuel-efficient cars popular in that era.
First Generation A1 (1979 - 1984)
The first generation Jetta models were produced in Germany at the Wolfsburg plant and in Mexico, where the car was introduced in 1981 as the Mark 1 and known by the name Volkswagen Atlantic .
The 1979 VW Jetta lineup included the Jetta 1300, Jetta 1500 GLS, Jetta GLi, and Jetta 1600 Diesel. The Jetta models were offered as a two-door coupe or four-door sedan with FWD (front-wheel drive) and a 4- or 5-speed manual transmission. Available in Base and GL trim levels, the early Jetta featured the angular styling of ItalDesign by Giorgetto Giugiaro and included a more upscale interior in comparison to the Volkswagen Golf. The Jetta design offered higher style for drivers on a budget but aimed at a younger demographic, including young families. It included a roomy trunk, seating for four, solid braking, and a sturdy yet comfortable ride.
In mid-1981, VW added the Jetta 1600 GLS to their model lineup, which had 5-speed transmission.
The first generation Jetta earned five stars for a frontal crash via the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Second Generation A2 (1984 - 1992)
The second generation of VW Jetta surpassed the popular Golf in sales and quickly became one of the best-selling cars in Europe and North America.These A2 Jetta models featured exterior design by Giorgetto Giugiaro, like the first generation. However, by 1984, the car's lines had changed slightly with an angled hood and a more square rear. The rear deck was raised to provide more trunk space and square headlights also were added. Volkswagen built the second generation Jetta on the newest Golf platform giving the Jetta a wheelbase increase over the first generation - the Jetta went from a 94.5 wheelbase to a 97.3 wheelbase, taking the occupant capacity from four to five.
The 1984 Jetta was sold in Europe and included the following models:
- Jetta 1.3 C, CL, and GL (2- and 4-door sedan, FWD, and 4-speed manual)
- Jetta 1.8 GL or the CARAT (2- and 4-door sedan, FWD, and 5-speed manual)
- Jetta GT (2- and 4-door sedan, FWD, and 5-speed manual)
- Jetta Diesel C, CL, and GL (2- and 4-door sedan, FWD, and 5-speed manual)
In 1985, the second generation arrived in North America, with similar models and specifications. The second generation evolution saw the GLI emerge, a high-performance Jetta sedan with a sport-suspension 5-speed manual transmission, and a high-end leather-wrapped steering wheel. The GLI also featured an upgraded instrument display that included three new gauges. Built on the Golf's powertrain it had the 90-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine.
Other horsepower upgrades came in 1987 and 1989. In 1989, the GL and GLI trim packages also included special Wolfsburg editions with interior upgrades, sports seats, and an upgrade from the standard 14-inch wheel to the larger 16-inch BBS wheel. WV removed the coupe model from North American in 1991.
Fuel economy continued to be a selling a point with the Jetta - the 1990 base sedan diesel offered 39mpg/highway and 31mpg/city with a tank mileage range of 565.5 miles/highway and 449.5/city.
Fun Fact: A 1986 Jetta TurboDiesel from Blue Rock, Ohio won a Volkswagen of America contest in 2007 for having the highest distanced traveled on its original diesel engine. This well-traveled Jetta had 562,000 miles (904,000 kilometers) on it and even had the original muffler still in place.
Fighting Radio Theft. Earlier Jetta models had a high instance of radio theft, so with the second generation VW introduced a theft protection system. The new system sent the radio into a safe mode if its power supply was cut off. It required a special owner's code to restart the radio. If a thief stole the radio from the car, it wouldn't play if reinstalled into another vehicle.
Third Generation A3 (1992 - 1999)
Wind-inspired car-naming trends in 1992 Europe influenced Volkswagen to rename the European Jetta to the Volkswagen Vento,while the A3, which didn't debut in North America until 1993 kept its Jetta name. The third generation of Jetta dropped its twodoor
model but boasted an extended wheelbase and upgraded suspension as well as a new 115-horsepower 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine. The square headlights remained but the overall lines were more sleek and modern.
The GLS and GLX trims were added in 1994 along with an expanded standard feature list that included air conditioning, cruise control, power brakes and steering as well as power locks and windows. The GLX came equipped with a 2.8-liter V6 engine for 172-horsepower and upgraded with antilock brakes, a rear spoiler, and a leather-trimmed steering wheel.
Trek Edition. From 1996 to 1998, the Jetta Trek edition was available, catering to the outdoor enthusiast. The Trek edition came as a well-equipped GLS with a 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine, 115-horsepower, and a choice of 4- or 5-speed automatic or 5-speed manual shifter. It had an independent suspension and stabilizer bars to accommodate those who liked to trek off the beaten path. It also included a roof-mounted bike rack and a Trek bicycle.
Other limited editions of the A3 Jetta included the Jetta K2 and the Jetta Jazz, a special edition targeted for music lovers and featuring a higher-end sound system with CD changer. The K2 was another sport enthusiast edition, like the Trek, but this one
came with skis or a snowboard.
Fast and Furious Jetta. The 1995 VW Jetta used in the first Fast and Furious movie, driven by the character Jess, sold at the Barrett-Jackson Auction for $42,000. The car with a 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine had been signed by actors Paul Walker and Chad Lindberg as well as director Rob Cohen.
Fourth Generation A4 (1999 - 2005)
The A4 or fourth generation Jetta 1999 model actually debuted in 1998 with an elongated wheelbase once again. The new A4s also debuted a more modern design appearance, discarding its traditionally boxy shape despite keeping the square headlights.The sleek look, including a sloped rear window, added to the car's overall improved aerodynamics. In Europe and Latin American the A4 debuted as the Bora.
The Volkswagen four generation vehicles were available in four trims, the GL, GLS, GLX, and GLI. In January 2001, the Jetta station wagon was introduced at the LA Auto Show. An optional 1.9-liter TDi engine was available with the A4s as well as the turbocharged 1.8-liter engine - available on the Wolfsburg edition.
Beyond the base GL, the GLS had leather seat and sport package options, while the GLX was more luxurious offering "Climatronic" or an automatic climate control system. VW dropped the GLX model in 2004.
GLI. The GLI, introduced in 2004, featured a 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder engine with 6-speed manual transmission with sport suspension plus front and rear sway bars and an Electronic Stability Program or ESP. The ESP acts as a safety feature, providing better handling when road conditions are unfavorable. The GLI interior included Recaro bucket seats and even sported the letters GLI embroidered in red.
Fifth Generation A5 (2005 - 2011)
Volkswagen debuted its fifth generation of Jetta at the LA Auto show. New innovations for the Jetta ranged from a dual clutch transmission (DSG) to the first Jetta independent rear suspension. The North American Jetta base engine was a derivative of the V10 in the Lamborghini Gallardo. The wheelbase of the fifth generation extended to 101.6-inches, while the overall length of the A5 stretched to 179.1-inches.
Design changes were minimal, the A5 had the similar rounded lines of the A4 Jetta except with a new chrome front grille.Volkswagen did redesign the electrical system and added new dual-climate control options as well as electro-mechanical power steering. While upgrades were prevalent with these newer models, Volkswagen opted to add a Value Edition trim model as a base/entry-level option for the budget-minded.
Jetta SportWagen. The VW Jetta SportWagen debuted in 2007 at the New York International Auto Show and was produced through 2014. The SportWagen sold in Europe as the Golf Variant.
2010 VW Jetta TDI Cup Street Edition. A replica racer, the TDi Cup Street edition had 18-inch wheels, wide-mouth front,side skirts, larger brakes, and a sport suspension. The 2-liter, turbo-diesel, 4-cylinder engine was available in a 6-speed DSG or 6-speed manual.
Sixth Generation A6 (2011 - Present)
In 2011, the Jetta sported a new Audi-inspired interior plus almost three additional inches of leg room. This sixth generation Jetta still has its traditional European sporty ride and concise handling plus a general fuel economy of 42mpg/highway and 30mpg/city for its turbo diesel. NAV, satellite radio, and Bluetooth are features available. 2012 saw few changes but features do include a touch-screen sound system and navigation and a panoramic sun-roof option.
New in 2013 in both the SEL and GLI trim level is the 6-way power seat option. Also new in 2013 is the optional 2-liter TDi diesel engine with 140-horsepower. In 2014 the Jetta sedan now was available with a 1.8-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine.
Car-Net. New in 2014, Car-Net is a connectivity service allowing the driver to access easily a variety of convenience and security features as needed.
2014 Best Car for the Money. The Jetta SportWagen was named by U.S. News & World Report as a 2014 Best Upscale Small Car for the Money.
The sixth generation Jetta includes other award-winning models like the 2015 Jetta sedan which won the Top Safety Pick+ award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) with its forward collision warning system, an optional vehicle feature. The 2016 Jetta was named a Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS as well.