Final Drive: 2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T Wagon volkswagen motoring memories final drive car culture car culture
2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T Wagon. Click image to enlarge
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Article and photos by Mike Schlee

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2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T wagon

Yes, I am back at it again, ready to take a 100-km journey in a vehicle that is past its prime and may have developed a few interesting personality traits along the way. Today, I am in a 2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T Wagon. But wait, you say: “That car is only 10 years old? What gives?” Despite its relative young age, it is ready to eclipse the 200,000 km mark and has lived a hard life; it is Jonathan Yarkony’s personal vehicle, after all. I know you may be shocked by the fact that Jonathan owns a Volkswagen and that a German car is still running at 200,000 km, but both are true. So please read on while I prepare for the inevitable fallout from MkIV Jetta every Volkswagen owners ever.

1 km – I get in the car, fire it up and am amazed that all the gauges, power windows, power mirrors and power locks work. This is unheard of at this age! Bonus: A/C works too!

Final Drive: 2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T Wagon volkswagen motoring memories final drive car culture car culture
Final Drive: 2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T Wagon volkswagen motoring memories final drive car culture car culture
Final Drive: 2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T Wagon volkswagen motoring memories final drive car culture car culture
2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T Wagon. Click image to enlarge

2 km – Check engine light is on. (This is less shocking.) Now that’s a good little German car.

5 km – The rubber on the top of the steering wheel is flaking off like a bad case of plastic dandruff. Maybe Jonathan should get one of those aftermarket steering wheel covers with Hello Kitty on it. Hmmm, I think I just thought of his Christmas present; score! [I like that idea! –Ed.]

11 km – The five-speed automatic transmission in this car must have been created by a rodeo clown. It is the epitome of herky-jerky randomness; a bucking bronco in a metal box. It feels like some invisible giant is making a field goal kick into the rear bumper of the car every time a gear change occurs.

15 km – Once the car has finished giving you whiplash through the gear range, the power from the 1.8L turbocharged four-cylinder is good. Actually, I would go as far as to say it is great. Torque is everywhere throughout the rev range and always on tap.

21 km – I’m now getting used to the driving issues nuances of this Jetta. I reach out and touch the sun-drenched dashboard and find out is has rotted into a hard material formerly known as a soft-touch plastic.

25 km – There seems to be road noise at any speed exceeding 10 km/h. Must just be a strange harmonic imbalance point or something. I am sure it will go away, right? Right?

36 km – I pull onto the highway and merged behind a slow-moving truck. Noticing a sizable gap in the lane to my left, I merge over once more to pass the big rig. I hammer the gas and… nothing. A large dump truck is now gaining on me, and I begin to pray for the transmission to wake up and engage when WHAM, down a gear we go. Alright, that was close, now I’m starting to gai… WHAM! What, down another gear? Cool, now we are flyi… WHAM! Oh, dear god! Second gear engaged, 6,500 rpm achieved, car about to self-destruct.

Final Drive: 2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T Wagon volkswagen motoring memories final drive car culture car culture
Final Drive: 2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T Wagon volkswagen motoring memories final drive car culture car culture
Final Drive: 2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T Wagon volkswagen motoring memories final drive car culture car culture
Final Drive: 2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T Wagon volkswagen motoring memories final drive car culture car culture
2003 Volkswagen Jetta 1.8T Wagon. Click image to enlarge

37 km – Having had it with this transmission, I put it in ‘manumatic’ mode and find it to be marginally better. The delay in response is gone, but the vertebrae-compressing changes are still present and accounted for.

50 km – In a battle to ‘drive’ me crazy (Get it? GET IT?!), road roar is in a close competition with wind noise in this squarish wagon.

63 km – Now cruising along comfortably on the highway in fifth gear, I notice there is a massive two pronged gaping hole in the driver seat. I make a mental note to inquire with Jonathan if there was a wolverine attack in the Jetta once, or if he occasionally carries a Sai on his right hip. [That’s where the seat heaters started smoking and nearly started a fire. Electrical issues? What electrical issues? –Ed.]

71 km – Having exited the highway, I decided to test out the legendary Volkswagen handling and steering feel around some fun back roads. [This was the generation before VW fixed the steering feel… –Ed.] I hit the gas hard coming out of a corner and I notice a light begins flashing on the dash. Damn German ca… oh wait, it is the traction control kicking in. Sweet; this car is advanced.

79 km – I can now honestly say that every panel, spring, button, attachment, and component of this Jetta flexes, creaks, and rattles as the wagon moves down the road.

87 km –Being a little thirsty, I pull into an undisclosed coffee shop and grab myself some java. I get back into the Jetta and cannot find the cupholders upon first glance. I finally realize they are a pop-out unit located near the top of the dashboard. This pop-out cupholder looks like they may have issues holding an empty Dixie cup, but I throw caution to the wind and place my large coffee in there anyway. It holds… but allows the cup to leans to the left, threatening my right leg with a searing hot accident-waiting-to-happen.

90 km – I try to listen to some music, but the genius cup holder precariously “holding” my coffee cup is completely blocking my view of it. I try to ‘feel’ around for the radio controls and accidently engage Jonathan’s three-year-old daughter’s ‘Booster Seat Car Ride-Along Sing-Along Fun Songs’ tape. Yes, I said tape.

100 km – I return the car to Jonathan, who reluctantly takes the keys back. I tell him, “Might be time to head upstairs and fire up autoTRADER.ca.” “What do you mean? It’s in mint condition!” he replies. I shake my head as I head back to my desk. Volkswagen owners…

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