Back in 1999, I was absorbed in my consulting work and my tiny fleet of automotive toys (well, one car and one motorcycle). The IT industry, while not quite the party like Prince’s eponymous song, was still one hell of a ride. Y2K and the dot com boom were in full swing, and it seems like anyone who could pick up a book on HTML could bill themselves out as a web developer for a hundred bucks an hour or more.
The consulting company I was working for (you know, the one that was acquired three times) hitched their wagon train to a niche web development platform called ColdFusion, whose main hallmark was ease of learning. Unlike other web development platforms, which were largely code-driven, ColdFusion was tag-based, which meant that it looked just like HTML. This allowed us to take minimally skilled (and low paid) HTML developers and turn them into web application developers, and do it quickly, which at the time was an incredible competitive advantage.
Were these applications created by rookie programmers any good? Not really, but they only had to work well enough for us to deliver: Once turned over to the customer, maintenance was usually not our responsibility, or if it was we would charge extra for enhancements, so we came out ahead either way. Besides, technology was advancing rapidly in those days, so anything we delivered was expected to be obsolete and replaced within a few years anyways.
While I was working for probably a dozen different clients and projects, the one I had the greatest fondness for was one of the smallest: A little mail-order truck accessory catalog company with a quirky name: Stylin’ Concepts. Much like our little consulting company company, Stylin’ Concepts was in the right place at the right time, capitalizing on the SUV boom and truck customization fad. They also had catalogs for sport compact cars and PT Cruiser accessories, capitalizing on both of those fads as well. They wanted to get into the web in a big way, and I was excited to be working in the auto industry again, even if very tangentially.
In the year 2000, several big things happened: The dot com bubble started to collapse, I married my wife Kristen (and her Plymouth Neon), and soon had a son together (as detailed in my last COAL). By 2001, the consulting firm I was working at was in deep trouble, as web work had dried up faster than spilled gasoline. Out of desperation, I spoke to the owners at Stylin Concepts (who I had gotten to know fairly well) about going to work for them full-time. They agreed, and handed me the reins to their nascent web development team.
I decided to reward myself for surviving the dot com bust and soft landing by getting myself a new car (a trend that will repeat itself in future COALS). However, things were different now. Whereas before I was renting an apartment and had a roommate to split all the costs, I now had a wife, mortgage, a son and two cats, so my disposable income dropped considerably. Also gone was the 600F2, which in any case seemed to reckless to ride now that I had a family to be responsible for. In short, I needed to economize.
Economize, while hopefully maintaining my high standards. After my experience with the A4, I was hooked on German engineering. And if you are looking for an economical German car, that really only leaves one choice: Volkswagen.
Luckily, VW had just released the perfect car for me: The MkIV Jetta. Stylistically, it was (and remains) a knockout. It was a big departure from the boxy MkI through III models that preceded it. I still remember the first time I saw it on the iconic “Synchronicity” TV commercial. It had many of the contemporary Audi styling cues, in a smaller, more affordable package. I was hooked.
But the real draw was under the hood: A compact car with a 6 cylinder engine. By 2002, V6 engines were all but extinct in compact cars. A few years earlier, GM had offered their 2.8L V6 in various J cars (Like the Cavalier Z-24 and Cadillac Cimarron), and there were a few other oddballs like the Mazda MX-3 from the 90’s. But by 2002, VW pretty much had the 6-cylinder compact car market to themselves. The only thing holding me back was 12V VR6 engine. I specifically waited for the mid-2002 model year and the 24V VR6 before pulling the trigger.
In Volkswagen’s infinite wisdom, the 24V VR6 was available in two different Jetta models: the GLX and GLI. The GLX was better equipped, but was available only with an automatic. The GLI was available only with the 6-speed manual.
The six-speed was a requirement, so that meant giving up some of the GLX-only niceties like power seats and Climatronic. But hey, at least I had a stick shift. I would soon come to regret this trade-off.
After 2+ decades of shifting only 5-speeds, I could never quite “figure” out the six-speed. It was almost like learning to drive again. On the face of things, the six-speed appeared to be the logical culmination of the decades-long “more is better” approach to manual transmissions starting, with the appearance of domestic 4-speed manuals in the 60’s, followed by five-speeds in the 70’s and 80’s. However, I quickly found out that one can have too much of a good thing.
The gears seemed unnecessarily closely spaced, to the point where several seemed to be redundant. The joy of shifting quickly became drudgery. I tried various shortcuts: short shifting from 1-4 (hey, it worked for the C4 Corvette), starting in second, using only the odd gears, but nothing felt right. Plus, what was the point of paying extra for all these gears only to skip half of them? So most of the time I dutifully plodded through all the gears.
At the same time, my short 10 minute commute had morphed into a 30+ slog in frequent stop-and-go traffic. This, combined with the aforementioned 6-speed pretty much cooled what I had previously expected would be a life-long love affair with the manual transmission.
The inconveniences of the six-speed continued to grow. In early 2003, our family of three grew to four with the birth of our second son Ryan. Kristen couldn’t drive a stick shift, so transfers at the preschool meant schlepping kids from one car to another, rather than the more simple solution of just switching cars.
The Jetta was not exactly the mini A4 that I had hoped for. What I missed the most was all-wheel drive, especially now that I had 200 hp. under foot. The traction struggled to keep the front wheels from spinning, especially on rainy or snow-covered surfaces.
This is not to say that the Jetta was a bad car: It was actually a nice car, and probably the best I could do given my self-imposed limitations of the time.
I must say that even though the MkIV Jetta and GTI are universally derided for poor build quality and reliability issues, mine never gave me a spot of trouble. If felt solid and well-built. I had no windows drop into the doors due to glass regulator failures. The VR6 was trouble-free: It didn’t seem to have ignition coil failures and oil sludge problems that the 1.8T suffered from.
No, my problems with the Jetta were of the “its me, not you” variety. After being spoiled by luxury doodads like premium sound, Xenon headlights, and automatic climate control, giving them up felt like a step back. I know, these are first-world problems that anyone driving a decades-old beater would love to have deal with, but what can I say, I’m particular.
In closing, I’ll leave you with another iconic Jetta commercial (man, VW was really at the top of their advertising game back then)
Whenever I see 1 of these Jettas, I think it looks like a much larger car that’s been cut down to fit a Golf’s “chassis”. Seems kind of odd to offer 1 transmission in a trim level, then offer a similar model…again with 1 transmission, just a different transmission.
I also remember Stylin Concepts. I haven’t seen any of their ads lately, I guess I’m not reading the “right” magazines….seems like they advertised almost exclusively in truck-oriented magazines.
BTW, when the 4th generation of the Golf appeared, CAR magazine had 1 for long term test. At the end of the test they did a cover story about the poor quality of their example. The cover itself featured a giant wheeled lemon with VW hubcaps on the wheels. I forget the exact headline.
I’ll cover the fate Stylin Concepts in future COALs. It has a twist worthy of the “Big Day” ad.
@Howard Kerr: The CAR magazine you refer to was about the Mk3 example (note the 1994 publication date, before the Mk4 came out).
I had a 2000/Mk4 Golf VR6 (the European model with 4WD and 6-speed) and had exactly two problems: the electric sunroof occasionally needed to have the switch turned off and then on again to close, and one of the rear speakers buzzed sometimes. Apart from that it never sent a foot wrong.
“Whenever I see 1 of these Jettas, I think it looks like a much larger car that’s been cut down to fit a Golf’s ‘chassis’.”
Me too. The extreme sweep of the rear door cutout around the wheel is the giveaway. A few more inches in wheelbase were called for—not just for aesthetics, but too relieve a back seat that was as cramped as I have seen in any car.
That “Big Day” commercial seems like a copy of this Rover one, except with less 80s cheese and more of a darker (if slightly pretentious) vibe . The open ending that leaves you guessing is clever.
Holy crap. The VW ad was just a straight copy. Unbelievable.
Also, speaking of reusing things… The music from the Jetta ad was also used in Chrysler’s Arrive in Style campaign circa 2011.
… and the Rover ad is a copy of “The Graduate”
minus the red Alfa
minus Simon and Garfunkel
minus banging on the choir window
minus Anne Bancroft
minus the cross holding the church door closed
and minus the school bus.
But it’s a copy, in a flattering manner.
I would’ve said that it could be a coincidence, but the train going through eliminated that possibility.
Holy crap. The VW ad was just a straight copy. Unbelievable.
At least it gets your attention, wondering where they are going with it. Doesn’t say much about the car though.
VW ads in the US now are horrid. All they talk about is how much money they are putting on the hood. Remember the one where the guy licks the door handle to keep other people away from it? Or the guy that uses the panic button on the remote to keep other people away from the car in the showroom that he just bought?
I like this one, pushes the same buttons as the Miata ad from a year ago, but it’s for the UK market, for a model we never got here.
The VW ad is so much better. I think plagiarism is forgivable when the outcome is far superior to the original.
My brother-in-law had one, also a VR6. Driving the thing, I felt this engine was totally unsuited for this car. It was nose-heavy and didn’t like corners at all, so yes, AWD is probably what it needed, but then it would have been a different car altogether, for better or worse.
However, at traffic lights it shown brightly- kind off like an old muscle car, really. 🙂
Wow, that’s a young Kevin Rahm in that second commercial. And wow, I did not see that ending coming! What an enthralling yet peculiar ad…
These are the best-looking Jettas ever.
And I love manual transmissions but you’re right, if it’s not perfect, it’s awful and a chore. I’ve now discovered the beauty of automatics with manual shift mode and, properly calibrated, I find them to be a more than satisfactory substitute. A manual when I want it (hills, twisty roads, aggressive driving) and an auto when I don’t (traffic).
Nice COAL; I can relate.
Sounds like you had the tech world by the tail in the 1990s.
I worry about today’s young people and wonder if they have the same opportunities and welcoming environments that you and I did, albeit in our very different eras.
But then there’s the unplanned events that create their own opportunities, such as your well timed move with Stylin Concepts. Some call it luck or serendipity; I call it being smart and keeping your eyes and mind open to new opportunities.
On buying cars that seemed to check off all the “good” boxes, more than once I experienced buyer’s remorse due to a variety of reasons. But then, sometimes I bought a car not expecting much and was pleasantly surprised in the long run.
Life is a journey. The highs and lows are important parts of this journey, and the choices we make along the way make the trip … er, interesting.
And finally, yes, manual transmissions are losing a lot of their previous luster in my eyes as time passes. And I don’t even commute in heavy traffic any more.
I too worry about the next generation having the same opportunities I had (of which my own children will soon be a part).
I certainly has the right opportunities, but in the end it was up to me to take advantage of them. Sure, I’ve had some nice things, but I busted my butt to get them. I still regularly work 50-60 hours per week, and still find time to bang out a few posts here.
But at least I had the opportunity. With all the headwinds facing the current generation entering the workforce (automation, offshore outsourcing, crazy cost of college education), I wonder how anyone is supposed to get a decent job and move out of their parents basement.
Okay I hate to be mean on a Sunday morning, but really, you couldn’t figure out a 6 speed manual? You are also the first person that doesn’t like a close ratio box. Lastly if you don’t want the wheels to spin, be easy on the gas. I had the nicer 2007 A3 4cyl (shipped) and had none of those problems.
I will agree with you tho once I got a taste for luxury features I’d have a hard time adjusting to not haveing some of them. Man I love seat warmers on a cold day.
It’s hard to explain. Imagine singing your favorite song, but sped up by 20%. You would struggle to hit the new notes, and the faster tempo would make you have to think about hitting marks you knew by feel before.
So it was for me after a decade and a half of driving nothing but five speeds. Whereas before I would instinctually know the right gear, with the six speed I had to pause and think “Should I get second or third?”
Six speed transmissions, like any other automotive technology, are all about the proper application and intention.
A close-ratio six speed makes lots of sense in a truly sporty car, like a VW GTI/R32, where the expectation and purpose is obvious. But in a FWD four door sedan, especially one that has such a large, NA V6 with a very fat torque curve, it conveys no advantage or purpose, and is understandably somewhat obnoxious. More gears are not better, in every application.
My Scion xB has a five speed, but because it has such a low axle ratio (high numerical) the gear ratios are too close together. Fifth is really more like a fourth was back in the day, yielding 4000rpm at 80 mph. I often skip gears too. It’s stupid. Gear box application should be more thought out. Obviously VW mated the 6 speed with the VR6 to work in the R32 and such, but it doesn’t make so much sense in a sedan.
And yes, when I commuted in LA I was very happy to ditch the manual for an automatic. makes no sense at all.
OK I’m getting the point. All my manual cars are 4 cyl with high rpm and sporty. Even tho the A3 had good torque the extra gears came in handy. If cruising down the highway and I wanted a bit of umph I’d drop it down a gear. And yea if I’m going for economy I’d skip 5th for 6th. At first I did think it was a bit much, but I adapted and learned to use it. When I got the Acura with 5 speed automatic I thought it was a downgrade, but again I adapted and don’t miss the extra gear. Mostly because it’s an automatic and I just put it in D and forget about it
My ’05 Mazda 3 was like that. It annoyed me so much that I nearly checked whether I could get an alternative final drive for it.
Yes, I’d like to have a sixth gear on my Civic if it would bring rpms down at highway speeds, but I don’t need to just jam the gears I have closer together.
You raise some interesting questions about a “compromise car” like this one was for you. I have had one new car that was the result of an exhaustive search and was *exactly* what I wanted (85 GW GTI). I was tired of it in two years.
I bought another on the basis of “I need something now and need the most car for the least money I can find” (2012 Kia Sedona) and 5 years in I still love getting behind the wheel. A crapshoot, I guess.
I will agree that going to a lower trim/lower equipment level can be a downer (I still miss many of the great little touches in the 99 T&C I had before the Sedona) but for people like us who are really into the driving experience, the subjective feel of the car as a car seems to trump all else.
I will also agree with you on the shifting issue. As long as a car has a decent amount of torque, I think 5 gears is optimal. Unless that 6th gear is a second level of OD (which my Miata could desperately use) 4 + OD hits me in a sweet spot. I recently drove my sister’s new Wrangler with its 6 speed and found that with its level of torque and power, there seemed to be too many gears. Also I did not find the shift pattern all that friendly, but perhaps this was from lack of seat time in the vehicle.
Hi JP. You wrote “Unless that 6th gear is a second level of OD (which my Miata could desperately use)… “.
I agree. When I drove a friend’s NC 6 speed, it seemed that the top gear was still short legged, and all they did was squeeze another (and in my opinion unneeded) gear under it.
One would think a manual shift driver’s car like the Miata would be more comfortable at freeway speeds, but clearly my thinking is not in line with reality. The manual Fit is comparatively short legged as well.
Oddly, my 2002 PT Cruiser had a real 5th gear OD. Maybe I had to occasionally downshift on long steep hills, but it cruised silently and comfortably at freeway speeds.
I have to agree with rlplaut; Life is a journey, and you never know whats out there. I never imagined, that after 28 years in the marine business (17 self-employed) that I would have a killer job doing R&D work for portable generators of all things. Yes, they are made in China. Working with them, I realize they simply want the same things we have, and are willing to work for it. BUT…they are like training cats; scream at them loud enough, long enough, and they will eventually get the picture. The wheels of change in China I swear, are square.
With that, you win the internet for today. Tomorrow and Tuesday are lookin’ good, too.
Interesting wheels! On Jettas and Golfs they were called “Santa Monica” or “Monte Carlo”. But on New Beetle Sport and Color Concept models, they were called “Take 5”, and featured body-colored plastic inserts. If you look at the wheels on this Jetta, you can see the 2 Allen screws that would hold the inserts in.
I learn something new on this site every day. I always wondered what those Allen headed screws were for. I just thought they were decorative. Does anyone have any pictures of these wheels with the inserts?
Here you go:
I also have an “A4” VW (not to be confused with the Audi A4) but I have a 2000 Golf rather than Jetta, also with the much more pedestrian/maligned 2.0 litre and a 5 speed (manual). However, I previously also owned 2 other watercooled VWs that the Golf replaced, a 1986 GTI and a 1978 Scriocco. Though many things on the VW A4’s were improvements or at least modernization on the previous models, I think that a lot of it was to make VW models more “mainline” to other makes and not as distinctive as previous models. These models were the first ones to have the lower seating position (well, not compared to the Scriocco, but in the A1-A3 Golf, the seating position was more upright (which I prefer). I think the ergonomics regressed with the reversal of the order of the center stack, which used to have the radio at the top, climate controls in the middle. They even moved the tachometer from the right side to the left side in relation to the speedometer (right side seems to be convention on almost all current cars). The A4 cars came with more standard features, even the base models had power locks (I wish the didn’t now that the circuit boards have failed inside 2 of my 4 doors so that the locks no longer work, and they eliminated the exterior lock cylinder on the passenger side in the process. Power steering was made standard (didn’t need it on the Scirocco, but could have used it with the wide profile tires on the GTi) as well as air conditioning. Even the sunroof is now electric (had a crank opener on my A2 GTi).
So they probably sold much better than the pre-A4 models did, but in the process lost some of the attributes that made them stand out (in better ways, in my opinion) from more mainstream cars. They even gave up the single turn signal indicator (same one for right/left side) on the dash, maybe that makes them more straightforward to operate as a rental car? As for me, I don’t need two lights in place of the prior single light to tell me which direction I just put the turn signal lever towards, but maybe the pressure from reviewers like consumer reports to conform to a standard inspired the change…kind of like the change from pushbutton automatics on the 50/early 60’s Chrysler Automatics to a “conventional” quadrant (maybe I’m wrong, the government may have passed a law mandating the standard…for the dual turn signal lights on the dash?). This might not necessarily be “better” but it is simpler at least.
I had the same stick vs auto discussion with myself when I bought my Jetta wagon. I enjoy rowing a stick in the burbs and country where the traffic isn’t bad. Rowing the 5 speed is the best thing about my beater Focus.
But the Jetta’s mission is road trips, hours on the superslab, followed by heavy traffic in a strange city where I am trying to, simultaneously, watch other traffic, and watch for street signs. Did not want to deal with rowing a stick in that environment. And besides, none of the 6 VeeDub dealers in the area had a manual trans, gas engine Jetta wagon that was not silver and in S trim because, unlike VW, I don’t consider vinyl upholstery an upgrade from cloth.
I’m with you on the vinyl vs cloth upholstery…I last had vinyl seats on my ’78 Scirocco but I don’t think they offered cloth seats until later years, they did look handsome, but in the sunbelt they didn’t feel so good in the summer., My ’86 GTi and current ’00 Golf had/have cloth seats, and I think you could still get cloth seats but only on the base model car (not sure if this was just Golf or even 2016?) but any other model had vinyl. I really don’t want to have to go back to vinyl seats even though they probably wear better than fabric, I still much prefer fabric seats…so I guess if I ever buy a new VW, it will have to be the base model. I think they similarly keep you from getting a manual transmission on a 5 door Golf (2 door is OK) unless it is a GTi. I’m now thinking more of going Automatic, but I’m a bit leary of VW automatics (never having owned one)…so even if I go Automatic, not sure it will be in a new VW, but being able to order fabric seats (even if they only offer one interior color would be OK with me) is a bigger deal. I guess I could buy the up level model car and ask someone to trade their base level fabric seats for my vinyl ones, but not sure how likely that would be to happen. You can’t always get what you want; I guess VW thinks I need Vinyl seats and an Automatic in my next 5 door hatchback. Guess I could go back to 3 door..but my aging Parents I think prefer the extra doors (and I prefer the hatch).
Also have had the front window regulators fail on my ’00, they fixed as part of recall, but I think by now even the warranty on the replacement (think it was 7 years?) has expired as it has been awhile since the work was done on my ’00 Golf. Wish they had a similar recall on the non-functioning power locks, I think another common problem (and unavoidable as power locks were standard on all trim levels I believe). The rest of the car has been great, going on 17 years of ownership.
” I think they similarly keep you from getting a manual transmission on a 5 door Golf (2 door is OK) unless it is a GTi.”
I’ve got bad news for you. VW has already axed the 3 door Golf models in the US, including the GTI.
I’m now thinking more of going Automatic, but I’m a bit leary of VW automatics (never having owned one)…
The high zoot ones use a DSG, but the garden variety gas engine Golf/Jetta/Passat sold in the US use a Japanese built Aisin. Originally, Aisin told VW the trans was good for life with no fluid changes. VW discovered that was a bunch of hooey and now calls for changing the Aisin’s fluid every 50K Looking in Consumer Reports and True Delta, the Aisin trans looks solid.
The upholstery thing was frustrating. I would have gone with the SE to get the alloys, compass, a bit of extra bright trim, but the vinyl was a deal killer.
Looking at the current Golf GTI – I really like the tartan cloth seat inserts which are distinctive, but VW won’t offer that with a sunroof – which is a bummer. If you want the sunroof, have to get it with leather, and it’s only in black – which is a problem in warm sunny climates.
Congratulations are in order for not having the windows fall out. Talking with a guy at the VW dealer last summer while in for an oil change. He has a Mk IV based New Beetle. He traced the falling glass issue to too fragile plastic clips that hold the glass in the regulator, so laid in a supply of the clips. The devious things defied him by finding a new way to fail. VW uses a cable and pulley system for it’s window regulators, and he has had to open up the doors to unsnarl the cable.
The fragile window regulator problem affected several VW models of that era. And there are a lot of other fragile plastic parts and clips on those cars as well, such as the plastic retaining clip on the ends of the cable from the interior door handle to the latch box.
I had an A2 Jetta, and to tell the truth, nothing much they made since the A2 has interested me.
Stylin’ Concepts is now Stylin’ Trucks. I visited the store a few times around 2000/2001 for my 96 Olds Cutlass Supreme 2 dr., and around 2007/2008 when I returned to the area. Haven’t needed to go back since.
Thought the Mk IV Jetta looked good then and still think it looks good now. This company offers a pickup conversion of the Mk IV.
Ugh, Cold Fusion. I was doing Cold Fusion in ’99. Just thinking about it, I think I’ve developed a facial tic.
I’ve always thought VW got the front ends mixed up on this generation Golf and Jetta. The Golf’s headlights and grille were smoother and more sophisticated than the Jetta’s. If I had ever wrecked my fourth gen Jetta, I would have repaired it with a Golf front…I once saw a Golf with a Jetta front, so I assumed the reverse could be done.