2002 Volkswagen Jetta GLS 1.8T
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by Greg Wilson

The turbocharged 2002 VW Jetta 1.8T gets a 20% horsepower increase to 180 horsepower, making it one of the most powerful compact sedans on the market. Also new for the 2002 Jetta is an optional 5-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission with manual shift mode, a new standard AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo with eight speakers, and VW’s new 4 yr/80,000 km warranty and 5 yr/100,000 km powertrain warranty. 2002 Jetta 1.8T models range in price from $25,930 to approximately $32,000 fully loaded.

Awesome performance but pricey

The compact VW Jetta 1.8T sedan receives a 20% increase in horsepower for the 2002 model year, transforming what was already a sporty performance sedan into a real ‘three-box’ rocket.

Its slightly modified 1.8 litre turbocharged four cylinder engine (which is also offered in the GTi and the Passat), has increased from 150 horsepower at 5700 rpm to 180 horsepower at 5500 rpm. Engine torque has also risen from 155 lb-ft. at 1950 rpm to 174 @ 1950 rpm.

Also new for 2002 is an optional five-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission (replacing the four-speed automatic) that allows the driver to shift the car manually without a clutch pedal. This is the only 5-speed automatic available in the compact sedan class and the only one with a manual shift mode.

Another upgrade for the 2002 Jetta is a standard eight-speaker AM/FM stereo with an in-dash single CD player and cassette player (a trunk-mounted CD changer is optional).

Like all 2002 Volkswagens, the Jetta offers a new standard 4 year/80,000 km basic warranty (previously 2 yrs/40,000 km) and a new 5 year/100,000 km powertrain warranty. Kia is the only manufacturer of cars under $40,000 to offer a better warranty than Volkswagen.

The 2002 Jetta 1.8T’s manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $25,930, a not-unreasonable $600 increase over the 2001 model.

Substantial boost in horsepower

2002 Volkswagen Jetta GLS 1.8T
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As before, VW Jetta’s are available with four different engines: a 115 horsepower 2.0 litre four cylinder, a 174 horsepower 2.8 litre V6 (soon to be upgraded to 200 horsepower), a 90 horsepower 1.9 litre turbocharged diesel four cylinder engine, and the 180 horsepower 1.8 litre turbocharged four cylinder powerplant.

The Jetta’s 1.8 litre turbocharged engine hasn’t changed a lot from 2001 – it has five valves per cylinder, a turbocharger and intercooler, and double overhead camshafts. But for 2002, it has new ECU (electronic control unit) software that revises ignition timing, fuel mixture and air intake; and a new, less restrictive exhaust system. Both of these contribute to a substantial 20% increase in horsepower and a 12% increase in torque.

As well, a new turbo noise filter has been added to reduce turbocharger whistle.

Driving impressions

2002 Volkswagen Jetta GLS 1.8T
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Previously, the turbocharged 1.8 litre four cylinder engine was known for its smoothness, quiet operation, and generous pulling power for such a small displacement engine – useful for passing and merging onto the freeway. With the extra horsepower and torque for 2002, this engine is even more responsive. The extra 30 horsepower is noticeable right away – step firmly on the gas pedal, and there is a sudden surge in acceleration when the turbocharger boost kicks in at about 1800 rpm. In fact, the driver has to ease back on the accelerator to prevent the front tires from losing their grip and to keep the front end of the car from hopping from side to side as the car furiously tries to put all that power to the pavement. ASR (anti-slip regulation) traction control and an electronic differential lock are standard on the 1.8T, but the ASR doesn’t activate immediately, so the driver needs to modulate throttle input manually in order to affect a smooth take-off.

The 1.8 litre turbocharged/intercooled four cylinder engine is an extremely smooth, free-revving, quiet, and powerful powerplant that revs willingly to its 6,500 rpm redline. Despite the reduction in turbocharger noise though, I noticed a slight whistling sound from turbocharger — perhaps because the engine is so quiet!

With 180 horsepower on tap and a relatively trim curb weight of 1378 kg (3038 lb.), the Jetta 1.8T’s acceleration is blisteringly fast. According to Volkswagens’ published performance figures, the 2002 Jetta 1.8T with a five-speed manual transmission accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds, almost a second faster than a 2001 Jetta 1.8T that was tested at the AJAC Car of the Year test-fest. That’s faster than any other compact sedan on the market with the exception of the 227 horsepower Subaru WRX (which is considerably more expensive) and possibly the Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V.

Equipped with the 5 speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, the Jetta 1.8T’s 0 to 60 mph time rises to 8.9 seconds, a surprising difference given the sophistication of the Tiptronic transmission in automatic mode. Still, it’s certainly not slow..

The manual transmission in my test car had a refined, ‘well-oiled’ shifting feel with fairly short shifts. Getting into Reverse requires pushing down on the lever and pushing it over to the left and up — that way, there’s no danger of shifting into Reverse by mistake. The clutch pedal has a firm but not unduly heavy pedal feel.

The Jetta 1.8T is a great highway cruiser. Motoring along the highway in fifth gear at 100 km/h, the engine does 2600 rpm, and at 120 km/h it does 3000 rpm — but it’s such a smooth engine, that you don’t really notice any noise or vibration until it goes above 4000 rpm. Aside from its smooth performance, the engine displays a surprising amount of torque in fifth gear – there’s no need to shift down into fourth when climbing a hill – the engine pulls strongly as long as the revs are above 2000 rpm.

2002 Volkswagen Jetta GLS 1.8T
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Because the engine is so smooth and the body is so tight, the Jetta feels like it’s going slower than it actually is — I advise first-time drivers to repeatedly check the speedometer because it’s easy to go over the speed limit. Fuel consumption is surprisingly good according to government figures: 9.9 l/100 km (29 mpg) in the city and 6.9 l/100 km (41 mpg) on the highway. However, my experience with other turbocharged cars is that fuel consumption rises rapidly with more aggressive driving, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see real world figures 10 to 20% below published figures for the Jetta 1.8T.

The Jetta’s compact size and relatively short wheelbase contribute to its nimble handling and excellent manoeuvrability. Jettas have independent McPherson struts, coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers, and stabilizer bar in front; and a torsion beam axle, coil springs, gas shocks, and stabilizer bar at the rear. While the standard tires are P195/65R-15 inch, my test car had the optional Michelin Pilot HMXM4 225/45R-17 inch summer performance tires (with alloy wheels) which offer superb lateral grip and straight-line tracking (they also look way better). My car also had the stiffer sport suspension which I found firm but not jarring — a good compromise between stable, balanced handling and a comfortable ride.

The Jetta’s standard power-assisted rack and pinion steering is direct and responsive without being tiresome on extended drives, and a relatively tight turning diameter of 10.9 m (35.8 ft.) makes it easy to park and do u-turns.

The brakes are discs at all corners with standard ABS and EBD (electronic brake differential) which helps to even out front to rear braking forces. According to braking tests done on the 2001 Jetta 1.8T last year, it was able to stop in 39.6 metres (130 feet) from 100 km/h, a distance that is up to 4.5 metres (15 feet) shorter than some of its competitors.

In terms of the ‘seat of the pants’ driving experience, the Jetta is superior to almost every other compact car on the market — it has a solid, well-built feel reminiscent of Audis and BMWs; a really superb engine that blends power with refinement; and a sensation of down-the-road quality that is typical of many German luxury sedans — unusual in a car that starts under $30,000. It also says something about VW’s ability to build a German car in Mexico.

Interior has a quality look

2002 Volkswagen Jetta GLS 1.8T
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The Jetta is a compact sedan, and the interior is about the same size as that of a Honda Civic or Mazda Protégé, perhaps a bit narrower. This is noticeable in the rear seat where there is only enough cabin width for two adult passengers even though there are three (3 point) rear seatbelts and three rear head restraints. Front and rear legroom and headroom is adequate if not generous.

The Jetta has fairly large front and rear doors which open out almost 90 degrees, for easier entry. The driving position offers good visibility in all directions and the manually height-adjustable driver’s seat and tilt/telescopic steering wheel make it easy to find a comfortable seating position. Though there are three rear head restraints, the middle one is lower in height, so it doesn’t impede rearview mirror vision.

My test car had a black, monotone interior, with optional leather seats. The quality of the dash plastics and switches is excellent and the look of the round white-on-black gauges (blue-backlit at night) and red-backlit controls is very attractive.

The knobs and controls are generally well-positioned for reach. The upper centre instrument panel has controls for the optional seat heaters which include five adjustable heat settings, ASR on/off button, and rear defroster with timer.

Below that are two pull-out cupholders. When extended with two large soft drink cups in place, the cups obscure the CD player controls beneath it. Also, I had trouble placing a large cup into the spring-loaded cup grips with one hand — I found it was a two-handed operation.

Lower on the centre console is the heater/air conditioner system which has three easy-to-use dials for fan speed, temperature and ventilation.

Just below that is a lid which hides a red plastic insert in the ashtray which serves as a coinholder. A lighter/12 volt powerpoint beside it is useful for charging cell phones.

Between the driver and passenger seats is an armrest with an integral storage compartment that is big enough for cassettes but not CD’s. The armrest folds up vertically so that in manual transmission-equipped cars, the driver can change gears without bumping his/her right arm into it. Additional storage can be found in the hard plastic front door pockets, and in the glovebox.

Jetta 1.8T models include standard power windows, power door locks and heated power mirrors, and controls for these are easily accessible on the driver’s door.

The rear seats are comfortable for two, but there isn’t a folding centre armrest and (gasp) no rear cupholders. The height-adjustable rear head restraints are useful for resting the head on long drives.

Folding down the standard 60/40 folding rear seatbacks is a two-step operation: first the rear seat cushions pull up against the front seatbacks, and then the rear seatbacks fold flat on the rear floor creating a flat load floor from the trunk to the front seats — however, the rear head restraints have to be removed first. To prevent thieves from accessing the trunk from the car, the rear seatbacks are lockable with the ignition key.

The trunk can be opened with a lever near the driver’s seat, with a remote key fob, or with the key (the keyhole iis hidden in the VW logo on the trunklid). The trunk has a wide opening, a protective stainless-steel scuff-guard on the trunk lip, and is deep and fully carpeted to prevent scratching the walls. The trunk also includes a 12 volt powerpoint and small storage bin on the right side.

High on safety

Among small cars, Jetta’s have always ranked high in passive and active safety features. The 2002 Jetta includes standard driver and front passenger front and side airbags, five three-point seatbelts, seatbelt pre-tensioners with load limiters, height-adjustable front seatbelts, five height-adjustable head restraints, rear door child locks, LATCH (Lower Anchorage and Tether for Children) attachment points for rear child seats, and automatic tensioning retractors for front and rear passenger seatbelts to secure child seats in place. Side curtain airbags, which protect the heads of both front and rear passengers, are available as an option.

As mentioned, the Jetta 1.8T also includes standard four wheel disc brakes, anti-lock brakes and electronic brake differential.

The Jetta also has a rigid passenger compartment and deformable front and rear crush zones. In recent U.S. government crash tests, the Jetta fared well. In a 35 mph frontal collision into a fixed barrier (which is equivalent to a head-on collision between two identical cars travelling at 35 mph), the driver received five stars and the front passenger received four stars. Five stars means a 10% or less chance of sustaining serious injury while four stars means a 11% to 20% chance of injury.

Price and features

2002 Volkswagen Jetta GLS 1.8T
Click image to enlarge

The 2002 VW Jetta 1.8T has a manufacturers suggested retail price of $25,930 with a standard 5 speed manual transmission, or $27,330 with the 5-speed Tiptronic transmission.

For that price, standard equipment includes an AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo with 8 speakers and trunk-mounted CD changer preparation, air conditioning, height-adjustable front seats, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, 60/40 split folding lockable rear seatbacks, power windows with pinch protection and driver’s automatic one-touch down feature, heated driver & passenger side power mirrors, remote central power locking system and a key-operated feature that will open and close the windows, folding door key with remote door and trunk openers, wipers with programmable intermittent wipe feature, cruise control, doors that lock automatically when vehicle reaches 12 km/h (dealer can disable this feature), a standard non-smoker package that includes a power outlet and ashtray with red insert, and anti-theft vehicle alarm system.

Options can easily boost the price over $30,000. Available option packages include the Luxury Package ($1,440) which includes a power glass moonroof and 15 inch alloy wheels; a Sport Luxury Package ($2,640) which includes 17 inch alloy wheels, summer performance radials, sport suspension, and power moonroof; a Cold Weather Package ($205) with heatable front seats and heated washer nozzles; and a Leather Package ($1,400) which includes leather seats, steering wheel, shift knob and hand brake lever, driver’s lumbar adjustment, steering wheel controls for radio and cruise control, and heatable front seats and washer nozzles. A Sport Suspension package ($300) can be ordered as a stand-alone option. A high-performance Monsoon Sound System is $470.

Fully loaded, a Jetta 1.8T can go over $32,000. That’s more than the V6-powered Jetta GLS VR6 which starts at $26,840, and not far off the V6-powered Jetta GLX which goes for $33,775. The Jetta 1.8T is pricey even by Volkswagen standards..

Competitor overview

Its difficult to pinpoint the Jetta 1.8T’s competitors because there aren’t many four cylinder compact cars with this much horsepower. The 175 horsepower Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V might be one — it’s thousands less but is certainly not as refined as the Jetta 1.8T. The 165 horsepower Subaru Impreza 2.5RS is another possibility — it’s also not as refined but it has all-wheel-drive. The Subaru WRX has comparable power but it is priced in the mid $30,000 range and has all-wheel-drive. Other four cylinder sport compact sedans include the Infiniti G20, Mazda Protegé ES, Honda Civic LX Sport Edition, and domestic competitors like the Ford Focus ZTS sedan, Dodge Neon R/T, and Pontiac Sunfire. Potential Jetta buyers might even be tempted to look at mid-size V6-powered cars in the same price range, such as the Nissan Altima SE V6 and Maxima GXE, Chrysler Sebring LXi, Honda Accord LX-V6, Mazda 626 LX-V6, Toyota Camry SE V6, Pontiac Grand Am GT, Chevrolet Malibu, or Oldsmobile Alero GLS.

There’s a lot of choices out there for around $30,000.


In terms of performance, vehicle quality, warranty coverage, and safety, the Jetta 1.8T ranks at or near the top of its class — but it’s pricey, and the interior is not as roomy as you might expect for a car in this price range.

Technical Data:

2002 VW Jetta 1.8T GLS
Base price $25,930
Price as tested $30,810
Freight $555
Type four-door, five passenger compact sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 1.8 litre 4 cylinder, turbocharged, intercooled, DOHC, 20 valves
Horsepower 180 @ 5500 rpm
Torque 174 @ 1950 – 5000 rpm
Transmission 5 speed manual (5-speed Tiptronic)
Tires Michelin Pilot HMXM4 225/45R-17 (P195/65R-15 standard)
Curb weight 1,378 kg (3,038 lb.)
Wheelbase 2,513 mm (98.9 in.)
Length 4,376 mm (172.3 in.)
Width 1,735 mm (68.3 in.)
Height 1,440 mm (56.7 in.)
Trunk capacity 400 litres (14.1 cu. ft.)
Fuel Premium unleaded gasoline
Fuel consumption City: 9.9 l/100 km (29 mpg)
  Hwy: 6.9 l/100 km (41 mpg)
Basic Warranty 4 years/80,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 years/100,000 km
Corrosion warranty 12 years/unlimited km

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