2002 VW Jetta GLS 1.8T

2002 VW Jetta GLS 1.8T

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These are heady times for Volkswagen. During the next two years, the German automaker is preparing to set sail into uncharted waters with a barrage of new, more upmarket products. Vehicles that will undoubtedly grab the majority of the headlines are the new W8-powered Passat, the Mercedes-challenging D1 super-luxury sedan and the SUV that VW co-developed with Porsche. The good news goes far deeper into the model mix: For 2002, VW's best-selling Jetta gains a healthy boost in performance courtesy of major improvements in the powertrain department.

It's not like the Jetta is struggling, mind you. In fact, it's never been more successful. Already enjoying the highest volume in its 21-year history in America, VW is projecting this compact front-drive sedan to not only continue its reign as the best-selling European nameplate sold in the U.S., but also to do so in even greater numbers-some 160,000 units-if all goes according to plan.

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Centerpiece of the Jetta GLS 1.8T is a 1.8-liter turbocharged 20-valve four that now packs a stout 180 horsepower and 174 lb.-ft. of torque. Those figures represent relative gains of 20 and 12.3 percent, respectively, over the 2001-spec 1.8T. That extra underhood muscle comes courtesy of new software for the electronic control module coupled with a freer-flowing exhaust system and an 11-percent bump in maximum turbo boost-changes that make it virtually identical to the engine used in the front-drive Audi TT. With this infusion of extra go-power, the 1.8T becomes the most potent motivator in its market segment (sub-$20K 4-cylinder sedans). Even more importantly, the engine feels liveliest where you need it most: Maximum torque is produced from 1,950 to 5,000 rpm, and power peaks at 5,500 revs.

Backing this force-fed four is either a standard 5-speed manual gearbox or an optional 5-speed Tiptronic autoshifter. While the former is still destined to hold sway among performance purists, the latter-available solely on the GLS 1.8T-wastes no time in endearing itself to the rest of the real-worlders.

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Another upscale element that VW is using to set the Jetta apart from its price peers is the well-proven Tiptronic, which is just way more efficient and a lot more fun to operate than the existing conventional 4-speed automatic used in all other Jetta variants. With the extra cog on hand to help close up the ratio set, it virtually ensures that the engine operates at maximum efficiency all of the time. The downside is fairly modest: EPA city/highway figures dip from 24/31 to 22/29 mpg while 0-60 mph times rise from a manufacturer-claimed 7.7 to 8.9 seconds compared to a Jetta 1.8T with the 5-speed manual gearbox. Even so, there was never a problem when it came to sprinting away from stop signs or smartly merging with traffic on a freeway ramp.

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While the standard underpinnings are far from soft, GLS 1.8T buyers can opt to turn up the tautness a click with the optional sport suspension and wheel/tire upgrade that were found on the cars we drove. The chassis tweaks bring stiffer springs/shocks/stabilizer while the rubber size rises from 195/65HR15 on standard 15x6-inch steel or optional cast-alloy wheels to 205/45VR17 boots on 17x7 rims. Yes, there's a small price to be paid in the form of additional road noise and harshness. But overall, it struck us a pretty reasonable tradeoff for this particular mix. Complementing that basic chassis hardware are standard ASR traction control and electronic differential locks plus 4-wheel ABS disc brakes.

Powertrain aside, there aren't a whole lot of changes on the rest of the Jetta package. However, that's not all that bad. The tastefully appointed four-door already comes with such standard features as air conditioning, front/front-side/side-curtain airbags, power windows/locks/mirrors, anti-theft immobilizer, cruise control and intermittent wipers. Biggest change for the new season involves the addition of a new 8-speaker stereo system with in-dash CD/cassette player. In addition to the aforementioned suspension package, the Jetta's modest option list is limited to leather upholstery, Monsoon stereo and cold-weather/luxury sport packages.

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Final touch in the Jetta's mid-term upgrade program involves an improved warranty. VW's "Protection Plus" package has been upgraded for 2002, with basic bumper-to-bumper coverage rising from 2 years/24,000 miles to 4 years/50,000. Although powertrain coverage dips from 10 years/100,000 miles to 5 years/60,000 miles, it also moves from non-transferrable to transferable status.

Despite all of its newfound punch and the primo sound system, VW is committed to maintaining a strong value story with the Jetta. The GLS 1.8T sedan starts at $19,550 (about a $200 bump over the 2001 model), and a comparable station-wagon variant opens at $20,350. With its Tiptronic transmission ($975), and Luxury Sport package ($2,225 for leather, a moonroof and sport suspension), our tester totaled $23,190 including $550 in destination fees.

In case you were wondering how all of this impacts the top-of-the-line Jetta GLX VR6, be advised that it, too, is in line for underhood upgrading. Although it starts the 2002 season with the existing 174-horsepower version of the 2.8-liter VR6, by spring, VW will fit the GLX with a new 4-valve head that bumps output to 201 ponies. Also, a new 6-speed shifter will replace its standard 5-speed manual gearbox. (www.vw.com)

2002 VW Jetta Engine
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