The Volkswagen Jetta is probably the best car I've tested recently that I wouldn't consider buying. The problem is that there is a better car in the VW lineup that is too close in price to the Jetta. Back in November I tested a 1995 Passat GLX, a
bigger sports sedan with the same great V-6 engine as this week's test Jetta. It had a sticker price of just $400 more than the Jetta, which came loaded with everything VW offers, including a leather interior and a full menu of power accessories.
After spending a week behind the wheel of a mauve Jetta sedan, I wondered why anybody would opt for this car when for practically the same money you could get the Passat, which offers more room, better handling and a more contemporary appearance.
PERFORMANCE If I were to compile a list of the world's best engines, the silky-smooth and abundantly powerful 2.7-liter VW V-6 would be very close to the top of it. In fact, the marvelous engine under the hood of the Jetta GLX muscles this car
out of the standard imported four-door sedan segment and into the sports sedan class. The Jetta's innovative 172-horsepower V-6 is so narrow that it requires only one cylinder head. Every otherV-6 in the world has two. The engine, which VW calls the
VR6, is so compact that it is not much bigger than VW's standard-issue 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Yet the VR6 delivers loads of power in every gear. The Jetta GLX will leave most similar sized cars in the dust. For instance, a V-6 Honda Accord is
dreadfully slow and dull when compared with the Jetta. The Jetta GLX is faster than the V-6powered Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Maxima, Chrysler Cirrus and Ford Contour, according to test-drive results in Car And Driver magazine. The Jetta zips from 0 to
60 mph in just 6.9 seconds. Speed is not the Jetta's only endearing trait. There's something very appealing about the way the engine revs up. It is uncommonly smooth and quiet, yet it conveysa bit of spunkiness. And then there is the terrific
five-speed manual transmission. Over the last three or four years, VW has made big improvements in its manual transmissions. The engineers got this one just right; the gearbox and clutch in our test car are the best I've seen yet from VW. You can go
60 mph in second gear. The gears are spaced perfectly to take advantage of the engine's power. The shifter glides easily through its pattern, and the clutch is as easy as they come. However, I have one major gripe: The Jetta (and every other VW
with a manual gearbox) can be started when the shifter is in gear and the clutch is not engaged. That means the car could jump forward if the key is turned and the shifter is in gear. Most other cars, import and domestic, have a safety switch on the
clutch pedal that prevents the car from being started unless the clutch pedal is pressed. I can't understand why VW doesn't have this important safety device, which would co
st little to add. Fuel mileage averaged 23 mpg in combined city/highway driving. HANDLING If you drive the Jetta GLX with a light or normal foot, you won't notice its one major flaw. But when you drive the car hard, you'll feel a very slight
tugging to the left or right. This is called torque steer. It used to be common on high-powered front-wheel-drive cars, but automotive engineers have figured out how to better integrate the front suspension system with the drivetrain to eliminate this
annoying trait. I'm surprised VW engineers haven't been able to solve the problem in the Jetta. The Jetta's torque steering is noticeable because the engine is so eager to please. It takes quite a bit of restraint not to drive the car fast. That
said, the Jetta has a very light and agile feel. The four-wheel independent suspension system does an excellent job of keeping the body straight in curves and of ironing out rough spots in the road. The Jetta
GLX has crisp and responsive rack-and-pinion power steering and strong four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes. The Jetta's easy-to-drive demeanor makes you feel comfortable and secure almost from the moment you take to the road. FIT AND FINISH One
reason our test car came so close in price to the Passat GLX was because it was outfitted with $975 worth of options, including a leather interior and metallic paint. Sometimes when you load everything onto a car, the price can get so high that it
takes away the overall value. In my view, that's what happened with the Jetta GLX. It's just not as good a value as the Passat, though it is priced competitively against comparable Japanese and American cars. Our Jetta was a nicely assembled car. It
conveyed a feeling of durability and longevity. Indeed, I know several people who own older Jettas who have driven them far more than 100,000 miles. And the cars are still running strong. With proper maintenance the 1995 model also should go the distance.
In fact, VW offers a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Inside, the interior seems a bit uninspired. Though the seats are firm and comfortable, they are not particularly attractive. The dash, although cleanly designed, is rather square, and the
electronic analog gauges seem somewhat plain. For this kind of money, I would like a little style to go with the exceptional performance. The Jetta offers plenty of head room and legroom for front and rear passengers, plus an extremely large trunk.
The rear seats split and fold forward, which is a very useful feature if you frequently carry large packages. Of all the cars in the VW lineup, the Jetta maybe the least attractive. It has a very large area behind the rear door that makes for an
ungainly appearance. Rear and side vision is good. This week's test of the Jetta GLX completes the VW lineup for me. I've driven all of VW's cars in the last year. Even though I generally like the Jetta GLX, if I had my heart set on a new VW, I would
choose the Passat GLX in a heartbeat. It is VW's best car ever, and it's a world-class value. The Jetta GLX doesn't quite measure up for the money. Specifications: 1995 Volkswagen Jetta III GLX Base price: $19,975 EPArating: 18
mpg city/25 mpg highway Price as tested: $21,340 Incentives: None Truett's tip: The Jetta GLX is a fast, fun-to-drive German sports sedan that comes loaded with equipment. However, for nearly the same price
you could buy the bigger, better Passat GLX, VW's flagship.