The Volkswagen Jetta Mk IV was introduced around 1998 or so and was advertised with such advanced features as a full-size spare:

It was, well, a continuation of the Jetta, from the earlier Mk. III, and, uh, stuff.


Full disclosure: Even though I was only in high school at the time, Volkswagen wanted me to test drive the then-new Jetta so much that my mom had to go down to the dealership and get the run-around and eventually paid about two grand under sticker, or something, and then I got to take it for an extended test drive for half a decade. Read the full story here.

The Jetta kind of gets a bad rap, especially this one for being unreliable and boring, maybe. It's meant to be a bread and butter volume seller, something VW tries to keep tweaking with every generation. The current Mk VI is the ultimate (so far) expression of that, but the Mk IV still maintained at least some semblance of sportiness.

Exterior: 8/10

It's a bit boxy, but timeless. The lines are nice and clean without being cluttered, the overhangs are short and the wheel size helps make it look like a pretty tight package. There's not a lot to get excited about but nothing to complain about.

Interior: 8/10

The fabrics are of a pretty surprisingly good quality and feel appropriate for an entry-level Audi product of the time. Other than that it's...pretty plain, but once again nothing to complain about. Seating for even four can be on the cramped side. My GL only has manual-everything, so expect a lot of thumbing around with levers and knobs for things like lumbar support.

Acceleration: 6/10

Ah, but with manual everything comes a big stick that you move around the middle! Unfortunately the 115 HP four-banger is, well, what you'd expect. Keeping it revving high will still pass the normal flow of traffic but having the 1.8 turbo or even the VR6 is a considerable option if you don't want to be left behind with everyone else.

Braking: 8/10

The upside to the lack of power is that the brakes can grab well. A bit lighter than a midsize sedan, it won't stop like an F1 racer but it will stop.

Ride: 8/10

This was when VW actually still built sport sedans so the ride is firm, but not bone-jarringly, what-MT-keeps-complaining-about-Kia-to-the-point-where-I-wonder-if-they-know-what-they're-talking-about firm. Being the base model, you get exactly one suspension setting, so there is nothing to adjust on the fly at least.

Handling: 8/10

Having a short wheelbase and firmer-than-average suspension helps the little sedan corner better than what the stats would otherwise suggest. I never tracked it but it felt nice on twisty roads.

Toys: 0/10

It's got none, except a radio, and I guess I should be thankful for that. Speaking of which:

Audio: 5/10

The radio is average and came with a CD player, which I suppose I should be thankful for.

Value: 8/10

As a potential sleeper sedan, or something to hoon (with four!) it was surprisingly fun and perhaps that's where most of its value lies. It was also a very efficient grocery-getter. Compared to the competition (namely the same-gen Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic) it was arguably overpriced, but the Mk IV Jetta was also a bit larger than either car so it helps even out the value. Compared to the Escort/Focus, Cavalier, Neon and what Hyundai had at the time, you certainly notice what you pay for. But if you're looking for goodies and toys, well, you're really in the wrong market segment. The VR6 was certainly very well loaded but you'd probably have better luck in the midsize segment especially if you want to shop outside the VW brand.


But if you want something like a bare-bones, four-door fixed-roof FWD Miata, this is probably as close as you're going to get in the immediate pre-9/11 era.