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2003 Volkswagen Jetta

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San Francisco: Volkswagen has come a long ways from the early Beetle days when the choices were limited to essentially the color. Today, VW dealers offer a large range of models from the budget-oriented Golfs and Jetta GLs to the new Taureg SUV and the $60,000- plus Phaeton sedan. Additionally, each model lineup includes several versions to choose from.

For example, the Jetta comes in no less than 15 versions when both four-door sedans and wagons are considered. These are powered by four different engines – a four-cylinder, 2.0-liter (2.0L); four-cylinder, 1.9-liter, direct-injection turbo-diesel (TDI); a four-cylinder, 1.8-liter turbocharged (1.8T) and a six-cylinder, 2.8-liter (VR6). The base GL and upgraded GLS can be ordered with any of the four-cylinder engines including the TDI. The GLI and GLX come with the VR6 engine and only in sedan form. The Wolfsburg Edition comes with the 1.8T engine and only as a sedan.

While the Beetle was reliable and quality-built, it was just basic transportation with minimal creature comforts. This is not the case with the Jetta. Even the lowest priced Jetta GL ($17,675) comes well equipped with power windows, air conditioning, AM/FM stereo with cassette/CD player and 8 speakers, cruise control, power door locks, heated power mirrors, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, 15-inch full wheel covers, anti-theft alarm and rear defroster.

Even the most basic Jetta shouts quality in terms of material used as well as fit and finish. By the time you reach the top-of-line GLX ($27, 515) you find a car the rivals its competition in the near-luxury market segment. The latest in technology is also available on Jettas including Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP) that is standard on the GLX and GLI and optional on the GL and GLS. ESP, which prevents loss of control in case of a skid and widely available on European cars, is just appearing on American-built luxury cars

The engine selection available in the Jettas offers something for everyone. For the ultimate fuel economy there is the TDI that turns in up to 49 mpg. The turbocharged, direct injection four-cylinder diesel engine is rated at 90-horsepower at 3750 rpm and 155 pound-foot of torque at 1900 rpm. Forget whatever you know about diesels since the TDI is smooth, quiet and without the diesel smell.

The 2.0-liter base engine produces 115-horsepower at 5200 rpm and 122 lb-ft at 2600 rpm. For sporty performance, there is 1.8T with 180-horsepower at 5500 rpm and 173 lb-ft at 1950 rpm. If you want a V6, the 2.8-liter engine offers 200-horsepower at 6200 rpm and 195 lb-ft at 3200 rpm. Both the 2.0L and TDI feature a belt-driven SOHC and four-valves-per-cylinder. The 1.8T andVR6 use a chain-link DOHC, 4-valves-per-cylinder and variable valve timing.

Also several transmissions are available. The five-speed manual is standard on the GL and GLS models with a four-speed automatic optional with the 2.0L and TDI engines. The 1.8T can be mated to an optional five-speed automatic with Tiptronic. The VR6-equipped GLI features a six-speed manual transmission and the five-speed automatic with Tiptronic is the only transmission on the GLX.

Like most German cars, the Jetta is a great road car, even the base GL and super economy TDI. After all the Jetta is made by the same company that builds Audis. Jetta sedans are assembled in Mexico while wagons come from Germany. Indeed, some VW buyers feel they are getting "almost" Audis when they opt for the lower priced equivalent VW models. In the Jetta’s case, this is the Audi A4. For those wanting a sports sedan, it is a toss up between the 1.8T and GLI/GLX either equipped with the excellent manual or Tiptronic automatic.

My test Jetta was a GLI that came with a sport suspension and wide P255/45HR17 tires on large 17-inch wheels. While the suspension was taut, the ride was comfortable with the firmness expected in German sports sedans. The six-speed manual did require quite a bit of shifting but the transmission is notchless, through the clutch was on the heavy side. Steering is "just" right in feel and control. Overall there is solid feel and it is quiet with little road or wind noise entering the cabin.

Safety features on the Jetta include front, front side-impact and full curtain airbags; seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters; adjustable head restraints in all five seating positions, ABS braking and the LATCH child safety seat system. The four-door Jetta offers excellent front seat head and legroom; however, the rear seating area is a bit cramped, but no worse than comparable cars from other automakers. The trunk is very roomy and the split rear seats fold down in 60/40 fashion. If you need more space to carry your stuff, the Jetta wagon is available.

I did find the driver seat somewhat uncomfortable after a long spell behind the wheel and the manual seat adjustments a bit cumbersome. The optional power seat might be a good investment here. All instruments and controls are user-friendly. The now traditional VW blue LED instrument lighting and red indicators are easy to read even in daylight.

The current Jetta has been around since 1999 so a replacement is due next year. However, when the current Jetta debuted it was quite advanced, so the 2003 model is still up to the competition and thus worth a serious look and a test drive. By Bill Siuru and Andrea Stewart AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name:  Like most German cars, the Jetta is a great road car
Topic:  2003 Volkswagen Jetta
Word Count:   968
Photo Caption:  2003 Volksagen Jetta
Photo Credits:  Volkswagen Internet Media
Series #:   2003 - 30

Download the Microsoft Word version here:   2003 VW Jetta

Download the original image file here:  2003 VW Jetta 13k

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