Volkswagen will soon be celebrating a major milestone- the fortieth anniversary of the VW Jetta. Being the company’s most popular model in North America, the success or failure of the Jetta is (or, at least, was) the success or failure of VW. As such, it seems a fitting time to look back at the first Jetta as we prepare to welcome the newest redesign of the iconic nameplate.

The Germans seem to think so, anyway- because that’s precisely what they did! So, take a look at the photo gallery, above, then read the full press release, below. Once you’ve taken it all in, we’d love to hear what you think of the cars- past and present!- the comments section at the bottom of the page.



    Herndon, VA — 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.


    Comparing 1980 and 2019 VW Jetta Models


    1980 Jetta

    2019 Jetta


    55.5 inches

    57.4 inches


    63.4 inches

    70.8 inches


    167.8 inches

    185.1 inches


    94.4 inches

    105.5 inches

    Trunk space

    14.1 cu. ft.

    14.1 cu. ft.




    Torque (lb-ft)




    Five-speed manual, three-speed automatic

    Six-speed manual, eight-speed automatic

    EPA-estimated Fuel Economy

    About 21 mpg combined*

    34 mpg combined


    Front disc/rear drum

    4-wheel disc; ABS, ESC


    Rack and pinion, unassisted

    Electric power steering


    13-inch steel wheels with chrome hubcaps; optional 13-, 14- and 15-inch aluminum-alloy wheels

    16- and 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels


    Alpine White, Diamond Silver, Black, Indiana Red, Mexico Beige, Inari Silver

    Pure White, Tornado Red, Black, Deep Black Pearl, White Silver, Platinum Grey, Sage Green, Silk Blue, Habanero Orange

    Cruise Control


    Standard; optional Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC)


    Dual sealed-beam headlights, bulb taillights

    LED headlights & taillights; LED Daytime Running Lights; automatic on/off


    AM/FM cassette stereo

    AM/FM/SAT with touchscreen and standard Volkswagen Car-Net® App-Connect, Bluetooth® and USB; optional 8-speaker BeatsAudio® and navigation

    Air Conditioning


    Standard; optional dual-zone Climatronic® automatic climate control



    5, optional heated and cooled front seats, power driver’s seat, and heated rear seats

    USB ports

    Not yet invented

    1 or 2, dependent on trim




    Cigarette Lighter












    At first glance, the biggest difference between 39 years of automotive development isn’t just size or an extra seating position. While the 2019 Jetta is larger in every exterior dimension, its technology drives the most striking evolution. LEDs were still only for calculators in 1980; today, the Jetta uses LED headlights and taillights along with LED Daytime Running Lights (DRLs) that create a light “signature.” In addition, a 10-color interior LED ambient lighting system is available.

    Driver-assistance features in the first-generation Jetta included such touches as a driver’s side rear view mirror that you could adjust without rolling down the window. The side mirror on the 2019 Jetta is electrically adjustable, and can offer the Blind Spot Warning system that alerts drivers to vehicles they might not see otherwise. A rear view camera is standard as well. Other available driver-assistance technology available on the 2019 Jetta—like Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking (Front Assist), High Beam Control (Light Assist) and Lane Departure Warning (Lane Assist)—weren’t available on any vehicle in 1980. And where the original Jetta did not have cruise control, available Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) on the 2019 Jetta can work in stop-and-go traffic to resume speeds when traffic clears.

    Of course, technology has also made the interior of the Jetta a much more pleasant place to spend time. Music in the original Jetta came from AM/FM radio or a cassette tape player. AM/FM radio has stood the test of time, while cassettes have given way to satellite radio and music streaming. The 2019 Jetta has a touchscreen infotainment system with standard Volkswagen Car-Net® App-Connect technology that offers compatible smartphone integration with the three major platforms—Apple CarPlay™, Android Auto™ and MirrorLink®. The new Jetta is the also the first Volkswagen in the U.S. to offer the available eight-speaker BeatsAudio® system. And despite its increased size, safety and features list, the 2019 Jetta has significantly better EPA-estimated fuel economy than its ancestor.

    Yet some features of the seventh-generation Jetta have remained unchanged. In 1980, Car and Driver’s David E. Davis said “the big trunk, the roomy, comfortable interior, and the remarkable quiet at 75 miles per hour make the Jetta a lovely car for the serious driver.”

    The 2019 Volkswagen Jetta will be available in S, SE, R-Line®, SEL, and SEL Premium trim levels and is expected to arrive at U.S. Volkswagen dealers in the second quarter of 2018.


Source | Images: Volkswagen.