Used Vehicle Review: VW Golf/Jetta/New Beetle, 1999 2005 volkswagen used car reviews
2004 Volkswagen Jetta TDI PD. Click image to enlarge

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By Chris Chase

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Volkswagen’s water-cooled small car legacy is long in North America, having started back in the 1970s with the tiny Rabbit. Needless to say, the Rabbit – which became the Golf in about 1985 and was recently rechristened the Rabbit for 2007 – has come a long way, and it brought a few friends with it.

The GTI started out as a performance variant of the Rabbit, while the Jetta was basically a Rabbit with a trunk, comparisons that carry on to this day. What’s changed is the cars’ target markets: where early models competed with Civics and Corollas, VW started to move these cars upmarket in the 1990s. When the fourth-generation versions – referred to as MK4 (say “mark four”) – debuted late in that decade, they had essentially become compact cars that carried many of the hallmarks of much more expensive European cars.

The drive was wonderful, with responsive handling, even in basic versions, and a comfortable ride. The look was lovely too, inside and out. Interior space was good as well, though the rear seat in the Golf and Jetta seemed tighter than in previous versions.

Used Vehicle Review: VW Golf/Jetta/New Beetle, 1999 2005 volkswagen used car reviews
2004 Volkswagen New Beetle. Click image to enlarge

Then there’s the New Beetle, the ultimate retromobile that joined the MK4 Golf and Jetta for 1999, though it arrived in showrooms a few months earlier than those cars. Its throwback styling, coupled with the same on-road feel as its platform mates, made it a big hit and certainly caused countless sore arms (red punchbuggy, no punchbacks!).

If the price-tags attached to the MK4 models were unconventional for the compact segment, so was the variety available in the powertrain department. Base models carried on with the 2.0-litre four-cylinder that powered third-generation cars. Dubbed the “two-point-slow” by VW enthusiasts, this motor produced a rather average 115 horsepower throughout the MK4’s model run.

Another carryover motor was the VR6 engine that made its debut in the third-generation GTI and top-line Jetta and was found in the corresponding fourth-gen cars. In the MK4, the VR6 began as a 12-valve engine making 174 horsepower; in 2003, it got a 24-valve cylinder head and 26 more horsepower, for an even 200.