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Hidden Heroes: Volkswagen Jetta GTi

Published 26 July 2019

Having a good-looking best mate is pretty useful when you’re of a certain age. On every night out, you end up with a queue of admirers sidling up to you, desperate to see if your pal is taken. 

On the rare occasions that he’s single, the knock-on effect is that you can spend the entire evening riding on the back of his handsome popularity while pretending you’re almost as much of a catch. Or at least that’s what happened to me in my university years, anyway…

As for the Volkswagen Jetta, it has a similar tale to tell. For years, the four-door alternative to the Mk2 Golf lived in the shadow of a legend. Indeed, to a lesser extent, it still does. While everyone knows what a Mk2 Golf is all about and can instantly identify with one, the Jetta is a more specialist cup of tea. 

It’s a great car, which shares the Golf’s running gear and much of its interior, but it’s neither uniquely handsome nor as well-known as the legendary hatchback on which it’s based. 

Volkswagen Jetta (2)

As a result, it’s a rare beast, with less than 50 GTis still registered on UK roads, compared to more than 3000 Mk2 Golf GTis. That means that today, the Jetta is as collectable as the Golf Mk2 - its rarity, especially in unmodified form, along with the addition of VW ‘scene tax’ mean that the Jetta has matured into its looks. It’s no longer second best on a night out, and to certain people, it’s actually the prime choice. Its beauty is more than skin deep, assuming it hasn’t been attacked with crayons and a self-adhesive body kit.

But then it always was. As well as being arguably more interesting than its good-looking wingman (as is often the case with people…) the Jetta was also a better drive, especially in 137bhp 16v GTi form. The stiffer body, aided by a rear bulkhead and less body flex, meant it was sharp, agile and very difficult to unstick, while it was also eminently more practical. 

Today, then, the Jetta GTi is the forgotten hero of a Volkswagen line-up that was part of a golden era for the company. Find one and you’ll have a loyal and entertaining companion whose looks will grow on you the more you admire them. 


Pug RCZ    on 29 July 2019

About 1981 I hired a car from Hertz. I can't remember what car I actually booked but I got a Jetta instead. It wasn't a GTi but probably close to a base model.

I will never forget what happened soon after setting off. I was coming up to a roundabout on a dual carriageway and braked.

Nothing happened. I pressed much harder and some braking was felt. Hurtling rapidly to the point where I needed to stop, I floored the brake pedal as hard as possible. I just, just stopped before entering the roundabout where I was giving way.

I was twenty years old and learned to drive in a Ford Fiesta.I didn't own my own car. I had also driven my Dad's Maxi and my Father-in-law's Peugeot, not sure of the model, estate car.

I contacted Hertz and they told me that the braking was characteristic of the car. I was an avid reader of car magazines at the time and later read that VW had made a very crude conversion of the LHD car to RHD. A long extra mechanical lever was added which was downright dangerous.

So for me, Jetta has always meant, NEVER drive one again. My distrust of VWs lasted until I bought an Octavia twenty five years later. That was great ;O)

   on 29 July 2019

I had a Jetta GTi 16V as my company car from new for 3 years (E reg). I couldn't fault it - fast, great handling and reliable. No braking problems at all. Very practical with a huge boot - I took it to motor shows in France and Switzerland as part of my job and it was a really nice car to drive. It converted me to VWs and I've had several since, but just swapped a Golf for an A3 150hp, which brings back memories of the Jetta's power and handling.

tonytee    on 29 July 2019

I bought one from VW’s ‘ outlet’ store at Newport Pagnell in the 80’s. I used it every week from Oxford to Harrogate up and down the M1 for six months. It did not miss a beat. I had it for about 5 years, and didn’t even change a light bulb. The only problem was the complete coal black interior, which was a bit depressing after a while. However, the sheer joy of driving it more than made up for that. A great little car, but with a huge boot. So good for the growing family too. I loved it.

S Halliwell    on 1 February 2022

As my daily drive I have owned and run a16 valve Jetta Mk2 GTI (of which there are very few left) for over 20 years. I purchased the car second hand in 1998. I've kept it because it remains an engaging drive and has proven remarkably reliable. It always starts and since I've owned the car it has required just one tow due to breakdown. Not bad over the 23 years of ownership. The only real problem is sourcing genuine OEM spares. All credit to Volkswagen for producing such a great little workhorse.

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