40 Years of the Jetta
Originally billed as a “Rabbit with a trunk,” the first generation Volkswagen Jetta was designed for the growing number of buyers worldwide who wanted extra cargo space and the style of a sedan in a compact car. Shortly after its U.S. introduction in 1980, the Jetta became the best-selling German model in America, with more than 3.2 million models sold since.
Comparing the original generation of the Jetta, as represented by a 1982 version recently acquired and restored by Volkswagen Group of America, to the all-new 2019 Jetta demonstrates just how far the VW brand has advanced in nearly four decades—and what traits have remained true since its introduction.
When it first hit American roads, the compact Jetta defined a new segment for Volkswagen. The brand had considerable success with the subcompact Rabbit in the late 1970s, following the end of Beetle sales in the United States. Built off the Golf platform and named for the German word for “jet stream,” the Jetta two- and four-door versions were the sixth models in the VW lineup for 1980, along with the Rabbit, Dasher, Scirocco, Vanagon and VW Pickup.
For its era, the Jetta offered a standard amount of power—76 horsepower from a 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine. More important was its handling prowess, tuned to offer a tighter road feel than the other compact vehicles of its era. It had a healthy list of standard features, from power-assisted brakes and AM/FM cassette-player combo, to cut-pile carpet and intermittent wipers. The only options were a three-speed automatic transmission (in place of the standard five-speed manual), air conditioning, sunroof, tinted glass, and aluminum-alloy wheels.
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