- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

Here's the truth of the matter: In the compact arena, you can spend $18,000 to $25,000, and wind up with a lot less car than the Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T.
Even when considering some of the high-performance competition such as Nissan's Sentra SE-R or the Subaru Impreza WRX, the Jetta 1.8T stands out. Sure the WRX has nearly 50 more horsepower, but the damage to the bottom line ends up being about $75 for each extra pony over and above the 1.8T's 180.
While the Sentra SE-R offers a six-speed manual transmission, its engine performance is very similar to the Jetta 1.8T's. However, it has so much torque steer, getting on the accelerator nearly rips the steering wheel out of your hands. In the Jetta you have a meticulously engineered sedan, packed with more safety equipment than any vehicle in its price range, that provides great driving fun. And after all, isn't that what it's all about?
Sharing a platform, engines and other components with the Golf/GTI, Jetta offers similar trim packages. It comes as the entry-level GL, midrange GLS and high-end GLX. Its engine lineup includes a peppy 2-liter four-banger, a fuel-stingy four-cylinder diesel, the spirited 1.8-liter turbo in my test Jetta and a brawny 2.8-liter V-6. Certain engines are restricted to specific trim levels. All are standard with a five-speed manual, but can also be paired with an optional automatic transmission. For all but the 1.8T that automatic is a four-speed. The 1.8T gets a five-speed automatic with Tiptronic.
Volkswagen provided a Jetta GLS 1.8T with manual transmission. Nimble, stable and comfortable, it proved ideal for congested city streets as well as less traveled county roads.
VW revised the 1.8T for 2002. It now packs 30 additional horsepower. Although a bit of turbo lag is evident, the 1.8T is an aggressive power plant. It shoots the Jetta from 0-60 in about eight seconds. The manual shifter is smooth enough and the clutch has a good feel. A little turbo whine can be heard under hard acceleration, but overall, the engine isn't terribly noisy.
Fuel economy is decent with an Environmental Protection Agency miles-per-gallon rating of 24 in the city and 31 on the highway.
Once upon a time Volkswagen's marketing tagline was: It's not how fast you go, but how you go fast. More than simply a clever play on words, VW seems committed to engineering excellence. This is evident in its small and larger cars alike. Remarkably stable, the Jetta handles with surgical precision. Its four-wheel independent suspension is sufficiently firm to hold things together in the turns, yet it still manages to deliver an acceptable degree of ride comfort. Particularly rough surfaces will get it chattering a bit, but this isn't uncommon in shorter-wheelbase vehicles.
Jetta is no slouch in the safety department. Jetta and Golf have performed well in crash tests. Standard passive safety gear such as front side-impact air bags, plus front and rear side-impact safety curtains supplement the protection offered by the dual frontal air bags. Other safety items include anti-lock brakes and the LATCH child seat system.
Jetta's fit and finish are nearly flawless. This is true inside and out. The cabin is quite roomy up front, providing plenty of leg-, head- and shoulder room. The rear seat is cramped, however, compounded by narrow rear door openings. A height-adjustable, telescoping steering wheel makes it fairly simple for the driver to establish his optimum driving position. An eight-speaker audio system is standard. Instrumentation is easily viewed and all controls are well within the driver's reach. Trunk space is about average.
The base price of the Jetta GLS 1.8T is $19,550. Adding leather seating, an upgraded Monsoon sound system, and the Sport Luxury Package with sunroof, sport-tuned suspension and 17-inch alloy wheels added another $3,400 to the asking price. Tacking on the $550 delivery charge brought the price as tested to $23,500.


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