The Jetta nameplate is a reference to the Atlantic 'jet stream', reflecting the period in Volkswagen's history when it named its vehicles after prominent winds. These also included the Volkswagen Passat (after the German word for trade wind), Volkswagen Bora (after bora), and Volkswagen Scirocco (after sirocco).
First generation (A1, Typ 16)
Although the Golf had reached considerable success, in the North American markets, Volkswagen observed that the hatchback body style lacked some of the appeal to those who preferred the traditional three-box configuration. The styling of the 1970 AMC Gremlin was controversial for truncating the Hornet sedan, but Volkswagen stylists reversed the process by essentially grafting a new trunk onto the tail of the Golf to produce a larger Jetta saloon. The Jetta became the best-selling European car in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The car is also popular in Europe, including the United Kingdom, Germany, and Turkey.
The Jetta was introduced to the world at the 1979 Frankfurt Auto Show. Production of the first generation began in August 1979 at the Wolfsburg plant. In Mexico, the Mark 1 was known as the "Volkswagen Atlantic".
The car was available as a two-door saloon/sedan (replacing the aging rear-engined, rear-wheel drive Volkswagen Beetle 2-door sedan in the United States and Canada) and four-door saloon/sedan body styles, both of which shared a traditional three-box design. Like the Volkswagen Golf Mk1, its angular styling was penned at ItalDesign, by Giorgetto Giugiaro. Styling differences could be found depending on the market. In most of the world, the car was available with composite headlights, while in the USA, it was only available with rectangular sealed beam lamps due to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108 (FMVSS 108). The suspension setup was identical to the Golf and consisted of a MacPherson strut setup in front and a twist-beam rear suspension in the rear. It shared its 2.4 metre (94.5 in) wheelbase with its hatchback counterpart, although overall length was up by 380 millimetres (15 in). The capacity of the luggage compartment was 377 litres (13.3 ft3), making the Jetta reasonably practical. To distinguish the car from the Golf, interiors were made more upscale in all markets. This included velour seating and color coordinated sill to sill carpeting.
Engine choices varied considerably depending on the local market. Most were based on 827 engines of the era. Choices in petrol engines ranged from a 1.1 litre four-cylinder engine producing 37 kilowatts (50 PS; 50 bhp), to a 1.8 litre I4 which made 82 kilowatts (111 PS; 110 bhp) and 150 newton metres (111 ft·lbf) of torque. Some cars were equipped with carburetors, while others were fuel injected using K or KE Jetronic supplied by Robert Bosch GmbH. Diesel engine choices included a 1.6 litre making 37 kilowatts (50 PS; 50 bhp) and a turbocharged version of the same engine which produced 51 kilowatts (69 PS; 68 bhp) and 130 newton metres (96 ft·lbf) of torque.
In 1984 Volkswagen offered the Jetta GLI in the US, adding many of the drivetrain features and improvements of the 1983-1984 US GTI, including the fuel-injected 90 hp engine, close-ratio 5-speed manual transmission, sport suspension, front and rear anti-sway bars, and ventilated front disc brakes. Externally, the Jetta GLI was distinguished by wide body-side moldings, a black airfoil on the driver's-side windshield wiper, black plastic trim panel between the rear taillights and GLI badging. The interior of the car sported leather 4-spoke steering wheel and shift knob, three additional gauges in the center console, sport seats similar to those in the GTI, and distinctive upholstery and interior trim. The Jetta GLI was offered in 5 colors, black, Atlas grey and red (with black interior) and white and Diamond silver (with blue interior).
Volkswagen briefly considered producing the Jetta in a plant located in Sterling Heights, Michigan in the USA. However, due to declining sales in North America, the decision was postponed and finally abandoned in 1982. The site was subsequently sold to Chrysler in 1983 and is still in operation as of 2009. This generation was also produced in Bosnia under the joint venture Tvornica Automobila Sarajevo (TAS) for the Balkan area.
Volkswagen was an early adopter of passive restraint systems. The first generation cars could be equipped with an "automatic" shoulder belt mounted to the door. The idea was to always have the belt buckled thereby doing away with the requirement that the driver and passenger remember to buckle up. Instead of a lap belt, the dashboard was designed with an integrated knee bar to prevent submarining underneath the shoulder belt.
In crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Mark 1 received five out of five stars in a 56 km/h (35 mph) frontal crash test for both driver and passenger protection.
Testing and review
The first generation was met with generally positive reviews. Testers found the car handled precisely, although the lack of power steering contributed to heavy steering when parking. The brakes worked well for a car of the day, but some brake fade was evident. The ride was taut but firm in the typical style of German cars, with large bumps being well absorbed by the suspension but smaller undulations coming through. Reviews differed on noise levels, some found the car fairly quiet, while others thought the engine contributed to higher noise levels. Critics found the seating comfortable, but noted that the rear seat lacked sufficient head room. Most major controls and displays such as the speedometer and climate controls were well liked, but some secondary switches were not well placed or intuitive. The aforementioned automatic seat belts in some markets that were attached to the door frame made it impossible to forget to buckle the belt, but it was difficult to enter the car with a package in hand. Writers liked that the luggage space was generous, especially for a car of its size. Additionally, numerous storage areas also gave practicality to the sedan. In one test, the car scored nearly as high as the more expensive Volkswagen Passat/Dasher and the Audi 80/4000.
The Volkswagen Atlantic was introduced in the Mexican market in February 1981. The sole competition for the Atlantic in the Mexican market was the Renault 18. The Mark 1 continued to be manufactured and marketed in South Africa after the introduction of the Mark 2, badged as the "Fox".
Second generation (A2, Typ 16 (1983-1989), 1G (1990-1992))
The Mark 2 series is the longest running Jetta so far. Introduced to Europe in early 1984 and to North America in 1985, the second generation Jetta proved to be a sales success for Volkswagen. The car secured the title of best-selling European car in North America, Farmers Journal COTY 1991 and outsold the similar Golf by two-to-one in that market. Based on the all new second generation Golf platform, the car was larger, heavier, and could seat five people instead of four as in the Mark 1. Exterior dimensions increased in all directions. Overall length was up by 100 millimetres (3.9 in), the wheelbase grew 66 millimetres (2.6 in), and the width went up 53 millimetres (2.1 in). The suspension setup was basically unchanged from the first generation, although refined slightly, for example by the inclusion of a separate subframe for mounting the front control arms to help noise isolation, as well as improved rubber mountings for all components. Aerodynamics improved considerably, with a drag coefficient of 0.36. With a 470 litre (16.6 ft3) luggage compartment, the trunk had grown nearly as large as some full sized American sedans. Interior room was also increased 14%, which changed the EPA class from sub-compact to compact.
Cars built in Germany were assembled in a brand new (at the time) plant at Wolfsburg in Assembly Hall 54. The plant was heavily robotised in an effort to make build quality more consistent. New innovations on the second generation included an optional trip computer (referred to as the MFA, German Multi-Funktions-Anzeige), as well as silicone dampened engine and transmission mounts to reduce noise, vibration, and harshness levels. In 1988, a more advanced fully electronic fuel injection system became available. This arrangement is known as the Digifant Engine Management system. Like the Mark 1, the second generation was offered as a two-door or four-door saloon/sedan. External changes throughout the series' run were few: the front-quarter windows were eliminated in 1988 (along with a grille and door trim change), and larger body-colored bumpers and lower side skirts were added from 1990.
In 2007, Volkswagen of America held a contest to find the diesel powered Volkswagen with the highest distance traveled on the original engine. The winning car was a 1986 Jetta Turbodiesel found in Blue Rock, Ohio which had 562,000 miles (904,000 km). A local dealer verified the odometer reading. Notable on this particular car was that it also had the original muffler despite being located in an area subject to road salt in the winter.
In a crash test conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Jetta received three out of five stars for both driver and passenger protection in a 56 km/h (35 mph) frontal crash test. The Highway Loss Data Institute (part of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) found the injury and collision losses for the Jetta to be among the best of the small 4-door sedan category. It was topped only by the Golf. Earlier models had the dubious distinction of having an especially high rate of radio theft. Apparently, the mounting of the radio made it especially easy to remove quickly. To correct the problem, Volkswagen introduced a theft protection system to all cars. When the power supply to the radio was removed, it automatically went into "safe" mode. When plugged back in, it would not work unless a secret code was entered. This made it essentially useless to thieves, although provided a hassle to customers who misplaced their code card. The dealership maintains a database of codes, and can replace a lost code if the radio serial number is provided.
The Jetta did not differ greatly from its European twin (at least as much as the Golf did), besides requirements such as bumpers, glass, etc. Also, North American models in general have a narrower range of specification available. For example, most models had things like a bigger engine, full console, door panel pockets, velour seating, and, later on, power steering, height adjustable steering column, and tachometer, standard. They also lacked some higher level options of European variants. The Jetta was perceived as slightly upmarket from the Golf. The level of features always was a step above (standard passive restraint in 1988, standard power steering in 1990, 14" wheels available for most years, etc.).
Canadian spec models were even better equipped. Generally, the Canadian base models received the same level of options as an American GL, and the same with the GL and Carat. Other Canadian specification differences were diesel engines (both naturally aspirated and Turbo) available for all years (in the US, there was no diesel for 1988, and only the n/a for 1989 and 1990), a 2 door model for 1992 (it was dropped in the US), the early Carat model (which had heated velour sport seats, a GLi engine, and optional automatic), and color and trim differences.
Testing and review
The car received generally positive reviews, with critics praising the car's excellent handling, as well as a roomier interior compared to the last generation. Stiff shifting manual transmissions were a downside, and braking worked reasonably well although some brake fade was evident in the lower trim lines equipped with solid discs in front and drums in back. A number of reviews noted that the ride was stiff and busy, even though it did have good control typical of German cars. Despite additional sound insulation, road noise was evident especially on coarse pavement. In top sport trim (sometimes called the GLI or GTX), some reviewers noted the car was a less expensive alternative to a BMW or Audi. The sport trim added larger wheels, a stiffer suspension, and closer ratios on the manual transmission. Later models of the Mark 2 GLI had a 16 valve dual cam engine, originally a 1.8 litre engine and beginning in 1990 with the newer Mark 2 body style an upgrade to a 2.0 litre 16 valve (in North America).