It was early 2012 and while my 1996 Nissan Hardbody 4×4 was providing me excellent service still, I had pined after a nicer vehicle. I had been established in a decent professional job for a few years by this time and had thoughts of using an auto loan as a tool to build my credit further in preparation of eventually buying a home.
One contender was the 2001-2004 Toyota Tacoma but those were still very expensive for a used, older truck and was ultimately similar to the Nissan 4×4 I already had. Another route was to look at cars. One car I’ve always enjoyed was Volkswagen’s MkV (read mark five, AKA fifth generation) Jetta. I liked the variety of available engines, transmissions, trim, etc. upscale looks, perceived quality and features for the segment. It was also in my price range, available used and was a reasonable size. I liked the idea of the simplest powertrain for the sake of reliability and lower operating costs. That had me looking for a 2008-2010 Jetta with the proven and updated 2.5 liter inline five cylinder paired with a five speed manual transmission.
I started looking around for a used Jetta in my area with this criterion, but it proved surprisingly harder than I originally thought to find one. I increased my area range to include further locales and bigger markets such as Minneapolis but that only meant it would be more difficult to find the time to go up to test drive it, let alone to find a way to bring two cars back home. Another variable that muddied the waters, the MkVI Jetta had been recently released and was available in lower specifications/de-contented/lower price point to where it was pretty much on par pricewise with the Teutonic quality, higher grade MkV from VW’s bygone days of upmarket aspirations. However, I feared that if I went for the older Jetta I would have kicked myself for not going with the newer one if I could’ve. It was a truly a tough dilemma.
I don’t recall where I first found out about it but the local VW dealership in metro Des Moines had already coughed up a used, very basic MkVI Jetta and it had a manual transmission! Although this particular car used VW’s very old, very rudimentary 8 valve 2.0 liter four cylinder instead of the five cylinder, I still deemed it acceptable because it was a time-tested and proven engine. Plus, being local was a huge benefit. I test drove it, secured very reasonable financing at the dealer and drove it home. I think it had about 11,000 miles on the clock when I bought it and it was pretty much as new.
I enjoyed playing with the car a little, changing wheels to suit my taste and such. After I sold my truck, I added a roof rack to haul bikes. The car served me well and took me on various work trips to other states, Craigslist adventures, biking and camping adventures and more. It was very fuel-efficient and enjoyable/comfortable to drive, relative to the old Nissan 4×4, so it felt like the physical and economic costs of longer distances were far reduced.
One of my most memorable times with this car occurred on a snowy Sunday morning in late April 2013. A good friend of mine was back in town doing some preliminary scouting as she was moving back to town for grad school. After a coffee-fueled bunch at the local café, we took the Jetta aimlessly driving around town looking for “now renting” signs. Equal parts caffeine, a sleepless night before (not together, mind you – I had been up very late celebrating a friend’s birthday) and nervousness, excitement over seeing her again had me feeling somewhat aloof as we drove around.
The snow that day wasn’t deep – just a couple inches of that wet, heavy late-season stuff and enough to blanket things on the ground into obscurity. All these factors all played in as I pulled into the narrow gravel driveway of an old house that I knew my friend was renting. I’m not sure what I was looking to find by pulling in, perhaps I was just trying to turn around. As I started to back out of the drive, I noticed one of the other tenants was waiting to pull in. In haste and/or lack of visual guidance in the unplowed drive, I veered more to the left than I should have and felt my rear wheel go up and roll over something substantial before dropping back down. I popped out to see there was a low stump of a massive tree and I had driven/scraped against some of its roots. The driver’s side rocker panel just ahead of the rear wheel was now smashed in by an inch or two and roughly four inches long. I was disappointed in myself but took it in stride, these things happen.
Investigating the damage, the rockers on these cars are integrated into the body and not a separate piece, so I feared the bill out of pocket for such a repair professionally. I attempted to repair it myself by removing the inner splash guard and taking a hole saw to the wheel well directly adjacent to access the damage. I thought I could leverage a crowbar in there and push it out. This did not work.
Another year went on, I was getting discouraged with the rocker damage and I was also noticing/fearful of how the Jetta S was depreciating heavily (of course this might have been an overall trend on sedans in general). By this time, I had acquired a second vehicle that I could consolidate to if need be and was OK with that.
I listed the car on Craigslist and within a few days, I had an interested buyer. He was excited as it was to be his first manual transmission car, though he did not know how to drive one yet. So on the test drive I recall his wife had to drive it for him. He took delivery of the car upon payment and since there was a lien, it took a few weeks for me to get him the title. I took a pretty decent hit on the car’s value, I feel, given I only owned it for two years and maybe 25,000 miles. So be it…
I don’t feel as bad about the Jetta damage and depreciation, my passenger on that snowy April morning? She’s now my wife.
A childhood friend purchased a same year, same model in Tempest Blue when the mark VI debuted. She loved the looks, and loved the color. She was fluent in manual transmissions, and I say that because it is an important facet of where this is headed. Hers had the sunroof “package” that also came with cruise control and a center armrest. 4,000ish miles in the clutch completely fails, and not gradually. It’s shot. VW dealer has it for 2 days and tells her “you obviously rode the clutch” and denies repair under warranty (shocking at VW * insert eyeroll *). She’s distraught, and knows I’m a car guy. So I tell her to act interested in a “replacement” Jetta and take it for a test drive to make beyond a doubt you indeed know how to drive stick. Which she does. They still balk. That’s when I directly got involved, not with that dealer, but VW of America directly. It took something like three calls back and forth, and a week if I recall correctly, but I got it covered. Since I handled it at the end, when the dealer was begging for a good review of the work, it was my number. I’m fairly certain someone’s head was had, because I was not about any of it and they, the dealer, called back AFTER the survey asking me why. You know why.
Yikes!!! Sorry to hear about all that! What an ordeal but glad it finally worked out. The Jetta S with sunroof was the one I really wanted but they’re not common.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen another S with the sunroof myself. The ironic part with her car was it was perfect after this, and they couldn’t tell me why the clutch fried so fast. She had that car for years after this, no issues. Not long after this debacle, Dad buys a launch edition turbo Bug (the final generation). I was aghast! That car has been reliable since day one, but yet again, VW has the worst dealers ever. Different dealer, different state. I went with Dad to a preplanned appointment to do a tire change of the factory Continental ProContacts. 4 hours later…
Ooof, what an ordeal. I recall only being back at the dealer once with this car, they had some software update for it and other misc maint. My dealership is/was a major VW chain so maybe that helped?
Still, they weren’t speedy with the process from what I recall but the update seemed to help the engine pull harder and have a more linear powerband so I was happy.
The service advisor at my VW dealer was always aloof, just enough to be slightly irritating. I fortunately only had to deal with him for fluid changes and the repeated failure of the ski pass-through latch on the backseat. When I crossed 60K and decided to have a bunch of preventive routine maintenance done (brakes, engine coolant, spark plugs, yada yada) I found an independent shop and was very pleased with the improvement in both service and pricing. Never went back to Mr. Surly.
VW dealer service has sucked since 1980. I’d never consider a new VW for that reason, as it’s not always the customer’s fault the car breaks, yet they have that attitude, in spades!
Me too. Any VaG products are so off my radar despite their merits. Every time I’ve stepped into a showroom or their service departments it’s a shit show. Oil change on Dad’s bug; “Sir, you are too fat to fit into that third row (Tiguan). I’m 145 pounds, but I will give I’m that I’m 6’1”. I may or may not laughed and told him he was an asshole when I got out of that “third row”. Dad paid for the oil only, and he couldn’t figure out why 😂
I am told buying a new car ultimately leads to disappointment, primarily because the car will depreciate in value and also become damaged as time goes by. This would definitely apply to a like-new car, and it certainly applied to the well-preserved car I bought about 9 years ago. I know your pain.
I always liked Jettas, although my upbringing has sowed in me a distaste for four-cylinders and front wheel drive. Additionally, I have an aversion to VW stemming from an ex-girlfriend’s New Beetle. It drove perfectly well, but it had its gremlins. However, it sounds to me like you had a fine car and a fine experience, and in the end that is what matters.
All very true. That first door ding hurts!! Lately, my wife and I have taken to buying cars with rebuilt titles, which helps to alleviate both of those issues….
“I am told buying a new car ultimately leads to disappointment, primarily because the car will depreciate in value and also become damaged as time goes by.”
Unless you buy a Jeep Wrangler, if rumor has it 🙂
The latter part is still true, though. I put my first set of branch scratches in the clearcoat down both sides of my 4Runner when it was less than two years old. Couldn’t be helped. I felt very bad about it for a few days, but I’ve since added many more and didn’t feel bad about those ones at all. The Car Talk guys gave advice on air years ago: key your brand new car the day you drive it home so you don’t have to stress about it anymore.
Not a new car, but I used to really baby the crap out of my old 4Runner, then one day my wife’s dog jumped up on the side of the door and left some nice long scratches in the clear coat. I buffed them out mostly, but it was a good even for me psychologically with that truck. Though it was still very much a garage queen even after that, especially in regard to being driven in salt. I’ve got no such reservations now about my nicely pre-dented/scratched Suburban now, and am the better off for it.
Those 3rd gens are special, I can understand the garage queen sentiment. Today there was a champagne 3rd gen parked at the ski resort, in such good condition it provoked a double-take. It also provoked a cringe: the bottom half was covered in salt from the drive up.
I’m still very serious about rust prevention on the Suburban: it got a full Fluid Film undercoat, cleared out all the drains and the bottoms of the front fenders (major dirt trap, I pulled well over a pound of dirt and decomposed leaves out of there). It’s a super clean Colorado truck and I intend to keep it that way to the extent that I can while using it year round on a daily basis. Took advantage of some incredibly nice weather and spent about 10 minutes with a garden hose yesterday spraying down just the underneath of it, behind bumpers, all the nooks and crannies, into the rocker panel drains, in addition to actually hand washing the truck. Most GMT-800s out here have swiss cheese for rocker panels.
Sam, I faced the same “V versus VI” dilemma. In 2013 I was in the market for a used Jetta for my older daughter. I had assumed it would be a three-year-old CPO 2010, which it ended up being, but we also test drove a 2011. I had read that the 2011 was de-contented, and it looked and drove like it was. We quickly decided it would be the 2010. That said, like you it was hard to find one, either because people kept them or it was not a big seller in 2010, in view of the coming 2011 redesign.
I finally found a very nice 2010 at a dealer about 40 miles from home. When I learned that the prior lessee was a woman in her 60’s (courtesy of an insurance card left in the console, along with a Mama Mia soundtrack CD in the player; which to me indicated she was no lead-foot) I knew we’d found the one, as it drove and rode like brand new.
My daughter drove that car for four years, until she succumbed to the better-car-itis that so often follows the first real job with the first real paycheck. Over that time it was not trouble free bot not problem-plagued either, while delivering about three-quarters of the Audi A4 experience of my wife’s car at about one-half the cost. I actually considered keeping it instead of trading it in, but realized that I would be pushing my luck at that point.
As for the five – cylinder engine, it was ok but a bit rough, being an old design, but it was also trouble free. One thing the dealer told me was that it benefited from a timing chain rather than a timing belt that needed replacement. I assumed that was true at the time but didn’t confirm it.
Yeah, I never did test drive a MkV but makes me wonder what route I would’ve taken if I did… The MkVI was certainly de-contented, especially in this low trim spec.
“One thing the dealer told me was that it benefited from a timing chain rather than a timing belt that needed replacement. I assumed that was true at the time but didn’t confirm it.”
The ultimate irony here of course (and in many other cases of modern chain-driven motors) is that the “lifetime” chains end up stretching and needing replacement at around the time that a designed-for-maintenance belt would, except this is a much pricier proposition with the chain. The chain/tensioner slack is most often associated with deferred oil changes, they’re much more sensitive to oil quality than before, the same can be said for the VVT solenoids that most modern cars have as well.
Yes, the V was light years ahead of the VI in perceived quality. Sit in a current Golf and that’s what the Jetta used to be like before the VI divorced it from the Golf platform and turned it into a much cheaper feeling car.
In 2010, the last year of the MkV, the base Jetta S came standard with heated seats, power seat recline, something like 8 speakers, decent cloth, a torquey engine, and a frankly astounding interior for only $18.5K. Even the roof pillars were covered in a nice cloth. The 2011 was a jaw-dropping disappointment in comparison in every single aspect except a few additional inches of rear legroom. If I recall, the decontenting provided no reduction in MSRP–but it may have made it profitable for VW finally. I don’t know how they made anything selling those three-quarters-of-an-A4 for 18.5.
With the 2.5 it still wasn’t a terrible proposition. It didn’t drive as well as the 2010 (particularly the steering) but it still felt far more solid than a Civic or Corolla. I started liking this generation again when the 1.8 turbo was installed. Automatic or manual, that engine gave the car something exceptional again.
When we evicted our Altima nearly 4 years ago, the local VW dealer was advertising base S Jettas (now with the 1.4turbo) for firesale prices–something like $13K new. We figured what the hell, let’s go see, and test drove one. Brutally cheap interior, but still went down the road in a solid and purposeful way, and the 1.4 lacked a top end but pulled very well down low. Definitely worth seeing if the firesale price was real.
It wasn’t. Some undisclosed combination of oddball incentives and lease-only shenanigans that *might* have been worth pursuing if the dealership’s sales manager wasn’t a complete deceptive scumbag. Took 3 days of evading my direct questions over email before I could get a straight answer on price. Seventeen grand plus if you wanted to buy it. Laughing at someone over email doesn’t have the same effect and that would have been the one and only advantage to learning this tidbit of info at the dealer rather than home.
The barely-used upper trim Camry we ended up with was a better choice anyway.
My brother’s friend bought a new 2008/2009(?) Jetta 2.5S as his first “serious” car out of college. I thought “man what a chump, getting the base model with hubcaps,” but the few rides in that car blew me away. All I could think was “Audi.” 5 position heated seats, ncie quality and touches throughout the interior, and just an awesome solidity to how it went down the road. His was a stick shift to boot. Really, underrated cars in most circles.
I had a rental 2017(?) Jetta, I think the 1.4TSI but it actually may have been a “Sport” with the 1.8TSI. Plenty peppy around town, didn’t mind the automatic, really solid ride as the MKV but a brutally cheaper interior. Insanely good MPG, I was cooking along at an indicated 78-80mph on a winter highway day trip and it was consistently over 40-41mpg. Can’t complain about that. Had a worryingly lumpy idle when started from cold however, that was weird. The sweet spot of this era of VW in my mind is a Passat 1.8TSI. The bigger motor, they don’t weigh THAT much more than a Jetta and have nicer interiors and could be found in the SE+Tech package (heated pleather, adaptive crusie, moonroof, nice alloys) for high teens barely used or sometimes even new.
Yeah, once you climb in and shut the door on one of those MkVs your days of laughing at them are over. Take one for a spin and you *will* entertain the notion of buying one, if only briefly. Those cars left an incredible first impression.
I had mixed feelings on the Passat. Base models with the 5-cylinder were pretty spartan and utilitarian feeling, and the engine didn’t impress in them the way it did a less expensive Jetta/Golf. However, with 1.8 and the midrange interior it was a nice car.
Petrichor, VWoA could benefit so much from firing absolutely every one of their sleazy salesmen, sales managers, service advisors, company HQ people, regional reps and finance sharks in the USA and starting over. They’re their own worst enemy. Doing the sales dance with them in 2016 sent me over to Nissan. Sales would double in ten years when word got around that they treat you right.
I’d love to have a new or recent Jetta or Golf with the turbo engine and a stick for the pleasure of driving it, but I’m not going to subject myself to the mental and financial stress of dealing with the VW people not backing up their product.
My friend had a 2011 Jetta SE with the 2.5 and a 5 speed. I drove it several times and was always shocked at how hidden the power was. A couple years after he bought his Jetta I bought a Focus SE with the manual. Though down on power and torque, I preferred my Focus because I knew where the power was and could easily use it.
During his time owning it, he commonly had to borrow my 15 year old Blazer because it was in the shop for some dumb thing or another.
Yikes! Good to know. Mine was very reliable during my short ownership. What could’ve been…
I test drove a white 2.0S with a manual just like this back in 2012 when I was shopping for a fuel efficient compact with some highway legs to replace my aging/rusting 19mpg MPV. Local everything-import-brand-under-one-roof had a few of these, Ithaca NY is the type of place where a bare bones stick shift VW actually sells. As I recall they had them listed for $14k or $15k “no haggle.” I test drove one back to back with an identically priced new silver Corolla LE (automatic). The Jetta felt much better to drive, with a cheap but not unpleasant interior, excellent German highway manners even on these cheap Mexican made decontented US-spec MKVIs. Where things fell apart was the decent sized hill outside of town, a 55mph zone starts and then the hill begins. The Jetta was a complete dog, the automatic Corolla breezed up by comparison. What you need to remember is that these Jettas, like Chevy Cruzes, are the beefcakes of the compact class, and where they derive that “big car” solidity and ride. 3100ish lb of weight and that 8 valve just couldn’t hack it for my liking, even with the stick (which was geared fairly relaxed).
Oh, and I ended up with a one year old lightly used (11k mile) 2012 Civic LX sedan with a 5spd manual for $15k, yes the dreaded critic-derided 2012 model year. Hilariously bad sound insulation and having the AC on radically changed how you worked the gas/clutch, but aside from that an excellent car, I thought the interior was just fine in terms of quality, notably better than my friend’s (critic acclaimed) 2016 Civic.
From my experience, Honda products of that era have A/C systems that blow, and not in the way one wants…
Actually the output of the system was nothing short of spectacular, Honda had finally fully “Americanized” the Civic in this sense, that and the softer ride. But that apparently powerful compressor definitely let itself known to the R18 motor. My dad’s 2007 Fit by comparison has completely pathetic AC. Anything in the low-mid 80s and it can’t keep up keeping the black cloth interior even cool, let alone cold. Honda AC compressors of the early-mid 2000s era also have a spectacular propensity to shred themselves, sending metallic debris throughout the system and necessitating replacement of most of the components.
Interesting. My ‘98 Accord (with tan interior) couldn’t cool down with A/C on full blast the life I had it. Totaled by a red light runner around 9k, so not exactly what we consider used up. My black interior Celica with 120k was an icebox in comparison if you even hit A/C, let alone recirc…
I’ll also add, as “meh, good car” as my experience with my 2012 Civic was, the resale was very decent. Bought for $15k as a one year old car, sold in 2016 with 53k miles for $11,500 in a private sale. Not too shabby. Of course right now with the COVID+micro-chip supply chain disruption, car prices have gone completely loony. I could probably get almost that same $11k out of the Civic now 5 years later (assuming the same low miles).
We also have a 2012 Civic EX, bought new. I’d hate to see what the 2016 model interior given that ours was a big let down in material feel and quality compared to the 2000 one we had earlier.
It’s perfectly serviceable and reliable but for the decontenting.
I’m still driving my MKIV that I bought 1999.
Me too, though I bought mine in 2000 (and mine is a Golf rather than Jetta). It’s my only car (though I did have a year or so overlap when I first bought the 2000 and hadn’t yet sold my ’86 GTi). It is the only car I ever bought new. I’m a big hatchback fan, though I can appreciate that many prefer sedans.
I wondered about the comment (not yours, one a few posts up) about decontenting on the A4 VWs….funny thing is that I kind of remember the opposite…the quality of interior materials isn’t great (plastics kind of lose their coating and the glovebox latch is a joke….but in terms of features, the A4 seemed plush compared to previous models, but in a way I kind of think of as a ”sell out” compared to more pedestrian but I think better designed A3/A2 models. For instance, they gave up the high-mounted radio and higher seating position in favor of a lower seating position and more of a typical center stack with low mounted radio, plus other small things (put in left/right turn signal indicators on dash instead of single indicator used for both right/left) which I thought were kind of concession to the consumer reports crowd (I don’t need to be reminded which side turn signals I select, just that they are invoked or not). The low seating probably is concession to better fuel mileage especially on the highway, but I prefer the taller ( maybe not SUV tall but taller than most other compact cars) seating of the A1-A3 models. Getting back to the equipment, the A4 came with a full sized spare (now that a lot of cars have no spare, this is quite a contrast) with steel rather than alloy, plus multi-speaker radio, standard power locks, and on my model power windows (which I wish I never got due to problems with them and power locks but couldn’t buy a 4 door in lower trim than GLS that had them), fender markers that flash with turn signals (now they are built into side mirrors but back then almost no cars had side turn signal markers)..and in conjunction with power windows and optional sunroof (which my car has) the door cylinder position that “cracks” the sunroof and the 4 side windows when you hold it when locking car (don’t know why not in remote, other than too few buttons). No, the 2.0 is down on power too much for the higher weight of the car, but in 2000, you could get the 1.8T, diesel, and even (in GTi guise) the VR6, never knew a VW to have that many engine choices in a body style (unlike domestic cars used to). I think the Golf was a bit pricier than other small cars but it came pretty well equipped and was a bit quieter than other small hatchbacks.
Mine’s a manual (as all my VWs have had, haven’t owned an automatic in 40 years) but the writing is on the wall for me, as I age and few others can drive my car, plus some physical infirmities (fortunately temporary but again I see the writing on the wall) have me looking to get my next car as automatic….but I’m in denial, don’t want to get rid of the Golf as it is my last act driving a manual and I’m trying to stretch out my ownership as long as I’m able.
I agree that the dealers aren’t a highpoint, but frankly I have as little to do with them as possible (other when buying the car and a few service visits). Had to return it when window fell into door as this is known problem with power windows on this model, fixed at their expense…my car had a 2 year bumper to bumper warranty (but 10 year limited) which suited me fine, as I intended to take it to the dealer as little as possible. I do much of my own work on the car, and find the dealer doesn’t stock even wear items on the car, it is actually just as quick and a lot less expensive to order them on my own, at the expense of storage space for some parts I buy ahead in anticipation of needing them so I don’t need to wait for delivery. I have had some (rather major) issues owning the car, such as power steering rack and shift mechanism needing pretty expensive replacement (not done by me, but not dealer either) and it has left me stranded once (almost twice, when the shift mechanism broke but managed to put selector shaft into 2nd so I could nurse it home without shifting), when the ignition cylinder went and I didn’t have tools to crack open steering column to get at it in parking lot where it failed). But this is in 21 years of ownership, I know there are cars which don’t have this level of problem in that time, but I like these cars, and though I lament that they put money into features I don’t care about (like power windows) at the expense of better quality functional parts (make required parts more reliable and leaving out the extra features)….but because I like these cars I get to deal with it.
I too did the new Jetta thing once, in my case a new 1995 Jetta GL, more or less equivalent to this, just the third gen version, but also with the 2.slow and a manual transmission.
Even in 1995 this wasn’t a particularly powerful engine but it did the job and the car felt solid, or at least more substantial than the competition at the time. The gearshift linkage literally fell apart in the first thousand miles from what I recall and there were a few other little gremlins before I unloaded it a couple of years later.
We were pretty sure that we’d end up eventually getting one for our daughter since the lease deals seemed to be $199/month for over two decades…but then went in a completely different direction, after the diesel fiasco she decided she had zero interest in anything VW.