Pre-Owned Profile: 1994-1998 Volkswagen Jetta

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author photo by John Rettie January 2000

Volkswagen's Jetta is the top selling European car in the US.

It’s generally true to say that people who enjoy driving tend to favor European cars as they have a certain character that appeals to driving enthusiasts. Volkswagen cars have long been popular in the US but after falling on hard times, it’s only in the past five years or so that they have regained their popularity.

The Jetta is the most sought after Volkswagen in the US and deservedly so. It offers great handling, good performance and a spacious interior compared to its closest competitors. It might not be quite as sporty as a BMW, but it comes close and costs a lot less money.

The Jetta that went on sale in 1999 is regarded as one of the nicest compact cars on the market. The previous generation, which was sold between 1994 and 1998, is powered by the same engines but is not quite as refined. However, it offers just as much fun and is better value. A VW Jetta might just be the ticket if you cannot afford a pre-owned BMW.

What You Need To Know:

1. Review of a 1995 Volkswagen Jetta

2. Summary of Good and Bad Points by Owners

3. History of Jetta

4. Review of Current Model

5. Basic Facts

6. Changes Year-to-Year

7. Safety Information

8. Value Guide

9. Option Installment Rate

10. Sales History

11. Awards and Commendations Earned

12. Other Reviews

13. Recall Information

14. Price of Spare Parts

1. Pre-Owned Vehicle Evaluation - 1995 Volkswagen Jetta

Likes: good handling, roomy interior, great performance with V-6 engine

Dislikes: stark dashboard, somewhat noisy

Competitors: (on same platform: VW Golf), Chevrolet Cavalier, Ford Escort, Toyota Corolla, Dodge Neon, Honda Civic, Nissan Sentra

Miles: 64,300

Condition: B+

Price when new: $16,065 (est.)

Posted Price: $9,588 (Nov. 1999)

At first sight the 1995 Jetta looks a little stodgy compared to some other cars on the road. But once you’ve switched on the engine and started driving you'll find this sedan is quite sporty, especially if it is powered by the optional V-6 engine. Even so the four-cylinder engine still delivers a decent amount of power.

Surveys show that owners of Volkswagen cars love driving them. The reason is simple, the Jetta, and the hatchback Golf that is all but identical, is a true European car and Europeans enjoy driving. In many ways a Jetta is a poor man’s BMW 3-series.

The third-generation Jetta, known as the Jetta III, came out in 1994 and was the first Jetta to be made in Mexico instead of Germany. Earlier models from Mexico had a spotty reputation for quality but since the mid-1990s the quality of VW models has improved tremendously, making them a good choice for those who enjoy a car with some character.

The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine powered the majority of Jettas sold during the period. However a small number came with the unique 2.8-liter VR6 V-6 engine which turns the car into quite a potent sports sedan. After 1997 there were an even smaller number sold with the frugal but still decent performing turbo diesel engine. Until the advent of the 2000 Honda Insight hybrid electric/gasoline car the diesel-powered Jetta was the most economical car on sale in the U.S.

This particular model I tested was a basic Jetta with a manual transmission and no power windows. The majority of Jettas are sold with manual transmissions, which is unusual but is no doubt a reflection of VW owner’s desire to have a car with more sporty tendencies.

Despite having 64,000 miles on the odometer this car still drove well with snappy acceleration. Indeed at times one could feel some torque steer when trying to turn corners at the same time as accelerating. The handling was good and the ride quite smooth. You could hear the engine more than in some cars, however if you enjoy the sound of a good engine it's not an unpleasant sound.

The Jetta's dashboard is mounted unusually high especially compared to the Honda Accord, for example, that has a really low dash. It gives one a sense of security as well as being a little claustrophobic. The instrument panel is well laid out with easy to read speedometer and tachometer. Surprisingly there’s no glove box as its place is taken by the passenger side airbag, which was added after the start of production. The situation was remedied in 1996 when the dashboard was modified to accommodate both.

The radio and climate controls are well situated high up to the driver's right, making them easier to reach than in cars with a lower dashboard positioning. The gearshift was pleasant to use and there did not seem to be any slack play, despite the mileage.

The cloth-covered seats were very comfortable with good lumbar support. There was no sign of any excessive wear or tear on any surfaces inside the car. Rear seat passengers will also like the interior as there is decent headroom and the overall accommodations are quite generous compared to the Jetta's closest competitors. Likewise the trunk is huge - or should I say it has a great shape with useable space and it is unhindered by the trunk lid hinges as they do not intrude into the storage area as they do on so many cars.

The rear seat back can be folded down to provide pass-through access from the trunk. However the seatback cannot be split as in newer cars. Oh I nearly forgot: yes, this Jetta does have cupholders - two of them in front, under the edge of the dashboard, which means they cannot hold big containers as they would run foul of the ashtray.

All in all this Jetta was in good condition for its age. It only had a few minor squeaks but seemed to have a solid feel all round. A pre-owned Jetta such as this one is an ideal four-door sedan for somebody who enjoys driving and wants to carry up to five passengers and needs decent trunk space.

2. Summing It Up - Owners' Views


"I love the handling"

"Great trunk"


"Cheap feel to interior"

"Small parts come adrift too easily"

3. History of Jetta

The Jetta was first introduced in 1980 and was little more than a Golf (or Rabbit as it was known at the time) with a trunk grafted on the back. Nonetheless a lot of people reckoned it was more attractive than the hatchback Golf. Within a few years it became Volkswagen's top selling vehicle in the U.S. Ironically in Europe the Jetta has never sold as well as the Golf as it seems Europeans prefer hatchbacks while Americans would far rather have a sedan with a trunk.

The second generation Jetta was introduced n 1985 and it remained popular in the U.S. although Volkswagen’s overall sales plummeted so badly that volumes were low. In 1994 VW made a concerted effort to improve its reputation in the US and the Jetta III went a long way to achieving that goal as it proved to be a marked improvement on previous models.

In 1999 Volkswagen really turned itself around in the US market with the introduction of the New Beetle and the latest versions of the Golf and Jetta. All three models are distinctly different in looks and styles even though they are all based on the same floorpan and use the same range of engines. If you find an old style model sold as a 1999 model do not be concerned as a few previous generation Jettas were sold before the introduction of the all-new 1999 model.

Volkswagen is doing well again in the U.S. Like so many other car companies, VW has proven that the right vehicle with good quality and value will sell well.

4. Review of Current Jetta

The latest Jetta was first introduced in 1999. For the first time it has a distinctly different look from the Golf, on which it is still based. In fact the current Jetta is one of the prettiest small cars on the road. Although the same range of engines as before power it, the car is even sportier in character, especially when fitted with the V-6 engine.

The most exciting part of the 1999 Jetta though is the interior - it surpasses the quality of its competition delivering a look and feel that is almost as good as a luxury car. Volkswagen went all out to fit the car with switches with a good feel and high-quality materials one would expect in a BMW. The instrument panel has a wonderful blue tint to it when illuminated at night.

Of course the cost of the vehicle has increased making it more expensive than other cars in its class but nonetheless it is still less than comparably equipped luxury cars. The four-cylinder model with an automatic transmission is still a tad slow. Fitted with a manual transmission or the V-6 engine the car is a solid performer. The biggest surprise is the turbo-diesel engine - it is actually faster than the gasoline engine as it provides more low-end torque, which translates to faster acceleration rather than top speed.

5. Basic Facts: 1994 - 1998 Jetta

Vehicle Type: Compact Sedan

No. Passengers: up to five

Origin of assembly: Puebla, Mexico and Wolfsburg, Germany (5,013 in 1994 only)

Engine: (standard): 2.0-liter 115 hp I-4

(optional): 1.9-liter 90 hp diesel I-4; 2.8-liter 172 hp V-6

Transmission: 5-spd manual, 4-spd automatic; front-drive

Length: 173 inches

Wheelbase: 97 inches

Width: 67 inches

Height: 56 inches

Curb weight: 2735 lbs. (approx.)

Cargo volume: 15 cu. ft.

Fuel tank capacity: 14.5 gals.

Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway): 40/49 (1.9-liter, manual diesel); 24/31 (2.0-liter, manual); 22/28 (2.0-liter, automatic); 19/26 (2.8-liter, manual); 18/24 (2.8-liter, automatic)

6. Changes in the Volkswagen Jetta Line 1994 - 2000

1994 Model Year (first year of new model)

New model with revised body on same chassis debuts

Dual airbags now standard

1995 Model Year

Pre-tensioner belts become available

1996 Model Year

Dashboard mounted glovebox returns

1997 Model Year

Turbo-diesel engine available as option

1998 Model Year

Side airbags become available

1999 Model Year (first year of new model)

Totally redesigned Jetta debuts

More stylish exterior with decidedly upmarket interior

2000 Model Year

Traction control standard on VR6 model

Side airbags standard

7. Safety Notes

NHTSA Crash rating (‘95 model year): Driver 3; Passenger 3 (5 is best)

ABS optional

Dual air bags standard from 1994, safety belt pre-tensioners standard from 1996

Side airbags offered as option from 1998

8. Value Guide

Prices listed are for base models. Options can add considerably to the lowest price listed as these are usually "stripped" models. In many cases, very few vehicles are ever sold at the lowest price listed! Source: Kelley Blue Book

1994 Model Year (first year of new model)

New: $14,140 to $20,365

1995 Model Year

New: $13,865 to $20,410

1996 Model Year

New: $14,675 to $21,080

1997 Model Year

New: $15,070 to $21,055

1998 Model Year

New: $15,095 to $21,430

1999 Model Year (first year of new model)

New: $17,225 to $24,025

9. Option Installment Rate

Generally, when you order a new car you have a choice of factory-installed options. When you buy a pre-owned vehicle the choice is limited to what was actually installed on vehicles sold in that model year. Use this option installment rate as a guide to the chances of finding particular options on a pre-owned vehicle. Source: Ward's Automotive Yearbooks

1994 Model Year

Installment Rate


2.0-liter 4-cyl 88%

2.8-liter V-6 12%


Auto 30%

Manual 70%

Air Conditioning: 98%

Cruise Control: 35%

ABS Brakes: 10%

Power Windows: 30%

Dual Airbag: 80%

1995 Model Year

Installment Rate


2.0-liter 4-cyl 85%

2.8-liter V-6 15%


Auto 32%

Manual 68%

Traction Control: 4%

Air Conditioning: 99%

Cruise Control: 100%

ABS Brakes: 12%

Power Windows: 34%

Leather Seats: 2%

1996 Model Year

Installment Rate


2.0-liter 4-cyl 96%

2.8-liter V-6 4%


Auto 39%

Manual 61%

Traction Control: 4%

Air Conditioning: 99%

Cruise Control: 100%

ABS Brakes: 7%

Power Windows: 31%

Remote/Keyless Entry: 100%

Leather Seats: 4%

1997 Model Year

Installment Rate


1.9-liter 4-cyl turbo diesel 1%

2.0-liter 4-cyl 89%

2.8-liter V-6 10%


Auto 36%

Manual 64%

Traction Control: 9%

Air Conditioning: 99%

Cruise Control: 86%

ABS Brakes: 11%

Power Windows: 37%

Remote/Keyless Entry: 100%

Leather Seats: 8%

1998 Model Year

Installment Rate


1.9-liter 4-cyl turbo diesel 11%

2.0-liter 4-cyl 78%

2.8-liter V-6 11%


Auto 36%

Manual 64%

Traction Control: 11%

Side Airbag: 4%

Air Conditioning: 99%

Cruise Control: 78%

ABS Brakes: 13%

Power Windows: 30%

Remote/Keyless Entry: 100%

Leather Seats: 10%

10. Production/Sales Volume History

Normally a model year runs from October to September. Often though, when a new version is introduced it hits the market before October. Legally, a model year can start as early as January of the preceding year. Accurate model year sales counts are almost impossible to collect as different model year vehicles are regularly sold side-by-side for several months. Production figures, when listed, often include vehicles made for export to Canada, Mexico and overseas. Source: manufacturers/Ward's Automotive Yearbooks

1994 Model Year (first year of new model)

Production run: Oct. 1993 through May 1994

Total number produced: NA

Total no. sold in U.S.: 50,882

1995 Model Year

Production run: June 1994 through Sept. 1995

Total number produced: 74,100

Total no. sold in U.S.: 73,252

1996 Model Year

Production run: Oct. 1995 through Sept. 1996

Total number produced: 83,754

Total no. sold in U.S.: 82,118

1997 Model Year

Production run: Oct. 1996 through Sept. 1997

Total number produced: 91,872

Total no. sold in U.S.: 87,806

1998 Model Year

Production run: Oct. 1997 through Sept. 1998

Total number produced: 74,693

Total no. sold in U.S.: 95,489

1999 Model Year (first year of new model)

Production run: Oct. 1998 through Sept. 1999

Total number produced: NA

Total no. sold in U.S.: 113,922

11. Awards and Commendations


"Top Ten Engines (VR-6)" - Ward’s Auto World


"Total Value Award" - Strategic Vision

"Most Appealing Entry Midsize" - J.D. Power and Associates

"Compact Car of the Year" - Auto Channel


"In fact, the third-generation Golf-with-a-trunk has all the desirable traits that have made the Jetta the best-selling Volkswagen in the U.S. since 1984; a spacious cabin with four doors, a cargo compartment large enough to swallow a rocking chair, European flair without European price, excellent steering and suspension tuning that prompts enthusiastic clipping of apexes." - Road & Track, August 1994.

"But it’s the V-6’s 172 horsepower that raises the Jetta to German sports-sedan standards, giving it the vigor to match its solid, four-square feel and dependable handling." - Car and Driver, Jan. 1994

13. Recalls (Only major recalls listed)

ID Number: 95V054000

Component: Equipment: Jacks

Potential Number of Units Affected: 104,000

Year: 1994-1995

Manufactured From: Apr. 1993 To: Oct. 1994

Year of Recall:'95

Summary: The jacks supplied with these vehicles were assembled with an improperly machined spindle, so that a sharp ridge on the edge of spindle's thread would have remained. This ridge can damage the inside thread of the jack's scissor shoe when the jack is used to lift the vehicle. The jack could collapse with the possibility that a person standing close to the vehicle could be injured.

ID Number: 95V178000

Component: Engine Cooling System: Fan

Potential Number of Units Affected: 34000

Year: 1994-1995

Manufactured From: Apr. 1993 To: Feb. 1995

Year of Recall:'95

Summary: Improper material was used in manufacturing the radiator fan motor shaft causing the shaft to wear and become noisy. A worn and noisy fan motor shaft can seize rendering the fan motor inoperative, eventually causing the engine to overheat and stall. A stalled vehicle in traffic can increase the potential for a vehicle accident.

ID Number: 98V160000

Component: Structure: Hood Assembly: Latches

Potential Number of Units Affected: 238,000

Year: 1994-1996

Manufactured From: Aug. 1992 To: Feb. 1996

Year of Recall:'98

Summary: The bolts securing the front hood latch can loosen over time. The latch would move causing disengagement of the hood striker from the latch.

Unexpected opening of the hood could occur obstructing the driver's view of the road while driving, increasing the risk of a crash.

ID Number: 98V195000

Component: Brakes: Hydraulic: Lines: Hose: Non-Metallic

Potential Number of Units Affected: 153,000

Year: 1994-1995

Manufactured From: Feb. 1992 To: June 1995

Year of Recall:'98

Summary: The rear brake line on the passenger side was routed too close to the corner of the fuel tank. The line could be damaged by chafing against the fuel tank. Repeated chafing could eventually result in a leaking brake line causing diminished braking in one brake circuit increasing the vehicle's stopping distance.

ID Number: 99V022000

Component: Structure: Frame And Members (Give Side/End)

Potential Number of Units Affected: 36,258

Year: 1999

Manufactured From: Sept. 1998 To: Jan. 1999

Year of Recall:'99

Summary: Vehicle Description: Passenger vehicles. The sound absorbing mat attached to the inside of the B-pillar side trim panel could have been improperly installed. Surface and edges of the mat could have been damaged during the assembly process. It could ignite when exposed to the exhaust gas of the seat belt pre-tensioner in the event of a severe front or side collision.

This could result in a fire.

ID Number: 99V251000

Component: Structure: Frame And Members (Give Side/End)

Potential Number of Units Affected: 67,076

Year: 1999

Manufactured From: Jan. 1999 To: July 1999

Year of Recall:'99

Summary: Some of these vehicles do not comply with the head injury criterion requirements of FMVSS No. 201, "Occupant Protection in Interior Impact." The upper retainer clip near the BP1 impact location is designed to break when impacted by the head form. In some cases, the material of the trim part may be more impact resistant as a result of variations in the molding process. This condition could prevent the clip from breaking on impact and result in less deformation in the impacted area and a higher deceleration of the head form, increasing the risk of personal injury in the event of a crash.

14. Cost of Parts (relative to other vehicles)

Headlight unit: $117 (below average)

Side marker lamp: $23 (below average)

Door (left front): $324 (below average)

Fender (left front): $99 (below average)

Note: these are estimated retail prices for commonly replaced body parts on a 1995 model. Prices are current as of late 1999 but will vary from region to region and are subject to change at any time. Source: ADP Collision Repair Services

The Rettie Report and Pre-owned Profiles contain objective information from a variety of sources. The subjective comments are those of John Rettie.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Pre-Owned Profile: 1994-1998 Volkswagen Jetta - Autotrader