Model: 1999 to 2005 Volkswagen Golf / Jetta
Vehicle type: Sedan / Hatchback
Approximate used price range: $3,000 to $14,000
History/description: Few if any cars brought German-engineered motoring to the masses like the Volkswagen Jetta and its hatchback sibling, the Golf. By offering a high-quality cabin, refined powertrains and a taste of the European luxury highlife, the Jetta and Golf brought the sought-after attributes of a German car to an affordable level. Last-generation models were on sale from 1999 to 2005.
The Jetta and Golf model range offered something for everyone. In addition to hatchback, sedan and wagon body styles, several engines were also available-- including a standard 115-horsepower four-cylinder and a powerful 2.8 litre V6. A turbocharged four-cylinder were also available, as was the brand’s acclaimed TDI diesel engine.
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Look for horsepower ranging from 115 with the standard four-cylinder engine up to 200 with the late-model VR6 powerplant on board. Transmission choices included a five or six-speed manual, as well as a four or five-speed automatic-- depending on the model in question.
Features included heated leather seating, remote access, a sunroof, an upgraded stereo system and plenty more.
What owners like: No surprises here. Most owners say they love the way their Jettas and Golfs feel — in terms of handling, ride quality, steering and acceleration. Performance with the up-level engines is also frequently praised, as are the luxurious appointments, styling, mileage and high-quality driving atmosphere.
What owners hate: Common gripes include a tight rear seat, louder-than-expected base engine, and the placement and size of the cupholders.
Common issues: The Jetta and Golf were popular for many reasons, but relative reliability wasn’t one of them. A list of careful checks is advised prior to setting off on a test-drive. Check for smooth, operation of all power windows in both directions, and spend some time ensuring all interior electronic devices work as expected-- noting that many owners have reported niggling electrical and wiring problems. An illuminated check-engine light, hesitation under acceleration or poor overall performance could be the result of a failed or failing engine control sensor. If you notice any of these symptoms, be sure to have them addressed.
Skip any model with an automatic gearbox that feels jerky or hard during gear changes, and also avoid models with the 1.8 liter turbo engine if its full service history isn’t available. These engines were known for a potentially fatal oil sludge problem that could be an issue if the oil wasn’t changed religiously.
The verdict: If you’re set on a Jetta or Golf for its upscale driving experience, be sure to have any model you’re considering inspected by a qualified VW technician prior to purchase.