by Jeremy Cato

1999 VW Jetta GLS
1999 VW Jetta GLS, Click image to enlarge

The arrival of the then-new 1999 Volkswagen Jetta signalled the end of a complete VW lineup overhaul that began with the Passat and was carried over into Volkswagen’s lineup of luxurious Audi models.

Regardless of model, critics and industry analysts have been a chorus of praise over the direction VW’s products took in the late 1990s. All VWs from this time frame have proven to be not just better in terms of quality and reliability, but also just plain better looking.

The ’99-and-newer Jettas are a prime example. They are less boxy than their predecessor, more like a scaled-down Passat. That’s a good thing. The Passat is a fine looking family sedan.

Just as important, the previous Jettas had their quality woes, but the newer cars look and feel tighter, with thick, durable materials and thin, precise gaps between body panes. While the pre-’99 crop of Jettas received below average quality scores in important consumer surveys, the newer ones have been rated well above average by any number of researchers, including Consumer Reports and J.D. Power and Associates.

The truth is, major studies have shown that as of the 1999 model year, VW had clearly turned the corner in consumers’ minds. The Jetta has proven to be a leading choice for buyers who want vehicles that look great and perform up to expectations.

The ’99 Jetta lineup included a choice of four engines, starting with a base model powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine (115-122 horsepower). A second engine has been the 1.9-litre diesel four (90 hp but 155 foot-pounds of torque). VW has also offered a 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder (150 hp). But the engine of choice was and remains the 174-181 horsepower V6.

All Jettas from this era come with four-wheel disc brakes for better stopping power, 15-inch wheels for better road grip, a telescoping steering column, height-adjustable driver and passenger seat and power door locks with remote entry.

When test driving a used ’99-and-newer Jetta, expect a ride free of squeaks, rattles and groans. The critical element there is a very solid body structure, one very well engineered.

As I said, the V6-powered cars are the ones to have. This is a solid little engine, with lots of guts from the get-go. The base four-banger is another story. To be kind, it’s simply anaemic. As for the diesel, it gets astonishingly good fuel economy and while the horsepower numbers are unimpressive (90 hp.), the torque output is very good. I’m reluctant to recommend the turbo because it has more parts and there is always the potential for heat issues associated with turbocharging.

VW has billed this Jetta as a driver’s car, but in truth its ride and handling characteristics are similar to a Honda Accord’s. It’s all very nice, very predictable. But not quite as sporty as some VW ads might lead you to believe.

1999 VW Jetta GLS
1999 VW Jetta GLS
Click image to enlarge

The cabin? VW has used top-grade materials in the Jetta – and the most expensive models come with leather upholstery and wood trim. The big, readable gauges are easy to read and at night they glow blue with red needles. What seems rather silly is the location of the radio and climate controls. They’re too low for comfort in the centre-dash console.

At the back, the seating space is strictly pre-teen. Marginally tall people will be squeezed back there. There are three-point belts at all three rear seating positions, but there isn’t enough room on the rear bench for three child booster seats.

These Jettas have proven to be well made cars. Great to look at, pleasant to drive, well-equipped and with above average build quality. All in all a very good used buy.

Current Red Book Pricing (avg. retail) July 2002:

Year Model Price today Price new
2001 Jetta GLS VR6 $22,300 $26,300
2000 Jetta GLS VR6 $19,675 $26,300
1999 Jetta GLS VR6 $18,000 $25,990

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site,, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site,

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see

Jeremy Cato is an award-winning print and broadcast journalist. He is a columnist and feature writer for the Globe & Mail newspaper and his articles are syndicated to a variety of other publications.

More Used Vehicle Reviews…

Find this vehicle in Autos’s Classified Ads

Connect with