First Drive: 2008 VW City Golf and City Jetta  volkswagen first drives
2008 Volkswagen City Golf. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Paul Williams

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Photo Gallery: 2008 VW City Golf/Jetta

Orlando, Florida – After the successful introduction of the Canada-only City Golf and City Jetta for 2007, Volkswagen Canada has made some significant changes to these models for 2008. Pricing remains close to the previous years, with the City Golf four-door hatchback starting at $15,300 (up from $14,900) and the City Jetta sedan at $16,900 (up from $16,700).

Aside from the roof and doors, all exterior panels are reworked. Both models receive new sheet metal front and rear that modernizes the cars and harmonizes their appearance with other vehicles in the Volkswagen line-up. New headlights, tail lights and grille are the most obvious changes, with the City Golf (but not the City Jetta) also receiving integrated turn signals in the rear view mirrors.

First Drive: 2008 VW City Golf and City Jetta  volkswagen first drives
First Drive: 2008 VW City Golf and City Jetta  volkswagen first drives
2008 Volkswagen City Jetta. Click image to enlarge

Inside, both cars feature a new instrument cluster and new upholstery. The City Jetta receives aluminum-look trim for the centre stack. The standard six-speaker radio now has an auxiliary jack for your digital media device, and a USB port into which you can plug your memory stick (a small display reads the devices and identifies artist and track).

Under the hood, the 2.0-litre, inline four-cylinder engine remains. It generates 115-horsepower and 122 pounds-feet of torque at a low 2,600 rpm and drives the front wheels. Both cars come standard with a five-speed manual transmission, but the automatic is now a six-speed “Tiptronic” ($1,400) which is far more refined than the outgoing four-speed automatic (vehicles equipped with the automatic transmission are also fitted with a trip computer).

Standard equipment on both models includes four-wheel disc brakes with antilock, tilt/telescoping steering column, height adjustable driver’s seat, fifteen-inch steel wheels with wheel covers, retained accessory power, and the six-speaker audio system.

City Golf options include an $1,175 Comfort package with 15-inch alloy wheels, alarm, power locks, windows and power heated mirrors. A $275 Cold Weather package includes heated seats and windshield wiper nozzles. Other options include vehicle stability control (Volkswagen’s ESP, which also features traction control and brake assist) for $450; side impact airbags for $150; side curtain airbags for $450, and air conditioning for $1,350.

First Drive: 2008 VW City Golf and City Jetta  volkswagen first drives
First Drive: 2008 VW City Golf and City Jetta  volkswagen first drives
2008 Volkswagen City Jetta (top) and Golf. Click image to enlarge

City Jetta options are similar to the City Golf’s, with the Comfort package priced at a lower $975, as power locks and alarm are standard on the City Jetta.

Volkswagen Canada’s Vice President, Marketing, Bruce Rosen described the City Golf as a “compact car at a subcompact price,” and this is a fair description. It is priced to compete with the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris and Nissan Versa. The City Jetta is seen as a competitor to the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Mazda3, among the large range of cars in this segment.

While these Volkswagens are riding on a comparatively old chassis, and do use an equally long-serving powertrain, they offer undeniable value and several features not available on competing vehicles (or even on more expensive cars). Initially introduced to compensate for Volkswagen Canada’s temporary absence from the diesel market, both cars proved to be very popular (these are models that would have been retired otherwise, replaced with the new Rabbit and Jetta).

Volkswagen Canada has done a nice job of modernizing the City Golf and Jetta while adding features and retaining functionality. For example, the City Golf cargo area, with its rear seats tumbled forward, is well-known for accommodating very large items, and the City Jetta’s trunk seems cavernous for a compact car.

First Drive: 2008 VW City Golf and City Jetta  volkswagen first drives
First Drive: 2008 VW City Golf and City Jetta  volkswagen first drives
2008 Volkswagen City Golf (top) and Jetta. Click image to enlarge

On the road, there’s no discernable difference driving the City Golf or City Jetta. They have a compliant but stable suspension, some body roll in the corners, and an overall comfortable and relaxed ride (the 65-series tires contribute to this). Acceleration is leisurely and sufficient, though the engine doesn’t deliver much when pushed. At highway speeds, the manual transmission could use a sixth gear, or an overdrive fifth, as you’ll see well over 3,000 rpm at 110 km/h, and hear a pronounced background hum from the engine. This is not evident when equipped with the automatic transmission, as the engine speed is lowered and virtually eliminates sound intrusion into the cabin.

Volkswagens do have a distinctive feel on the road, especially at highway speeds. They seem to “settle down” the faster you go. It’s a subjective observation, but real nonetheless, and quite distinctive. They simply seem to become more poised. This is no less true for the City Golf and City Jetta, which feel bigger and more substantial than you expect from small cars. It makes them good commuters and good family cars, while still appealing to younger buyers (in 2007 46 per cent of “City” buyers were in the 18-34 age bracket; 29 per cent 35-49 and 25 per cent 50-64). In other words, these cars appeal to a broad range of buyers.

First Drive: 2008 VW City Golf and City Jetta  volkswagen first drives
2008 Volkswagen City Jetta. Click image to enlarge

What would be appreciated is greater availability of safety features like stability control and side curtain airbags. These desirable options combined are less than $1,000, but in 2007, very few City Golfs and Jettas were so equipped (and special orders took well over three months).

These are by no means “cutting edge” type cars, but many consumers will be completely satisfied with their combination of features and driving characteristics. This, coupled with the low price (popular lease rates for “City” cars are $100 per month lower than the 2008 Rabbit/Jetta), should keep the City “brand” popular for at least another year.

The Volkswagen warranty is four years/80,000 kilometres (five years/100,000 powertrain) and fuel consumption for the manual City Golf is 9.8/7.0 L/100km, city/highway. The automatic returns 9.9/6.9 L/100km, city/highway. The City Golf is built in Brazil and the City Jetta in Mexico.

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