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German Best-Seller: Volkswagen compares its own first and seventh-generation Jettas

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Images courtesy Volkswagen USA.

It isn’t everyday that an automaker will straight-up compare one of its classic cars to a new model, even making that older example available to the media to drive — not surprisingly, car companies don’t want their shiny new car upstaged by the sometimes-better looking and more-engaging-to-drive oldie — but that’s what Volkswagen of America did during the recent media launch events for their all-new 2019 Jetta. Perhaps VWoA knew it had nothing to fear, as today’s drivers have come to expect high levels of infotainment and digital connectivity that are obviously absent in the first-generation model, 37 years its senior. But what if that original Jetta offered its own, equally appealing analog forms of infotainment and driving connectivity?

VWoA recently purchased, and subsequently restored, the 1982 Jetta four-door seen in these Volkswagen-provided photos. This crisply styled sedan displayed more than 180,000 miles on its odometer. It doesn’t hide its Rabbit roots, as the Jetta shared the hatchback’s wheelbase, but added the surprisingly roomy trunk that gave the car its traditional three-box shape. The first-gen Jetta, sold here from 1980 through 1984, was classified as a compact, although its 167.8-inch length was 12.5-inches longer than the Rabbit with which it shared the majority of its components.

While a Bosch CIS fuel-injected engine was optionally available in the 1980 Rabbit — a carbureted 62-hp, 1,457-cc ( four-cylinder was standard — it was the only choice for Jetta buyers. This transversely mounted four displaced 1,588-cc ( and made 76 hp; it could be paired with a five-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission. Original fuel economy ratings were 30 city/42 highway/35 combined for the manual, 25 city/33 highway/28 combined for the automatic; with the recent EPA ratings changes, those are now considered 23/30/26 and 20/24/21, respectively.

Volkswagen made a 52-hp, circa-50 mpg 1.6-liter diesel four-cylinder engine available in the Jetta and Rabbit for 1982… but for reasons now obvious, there’s no such option for 2019.

Considering its fully independent suspension with MacPherson struts in front and coil springs/trailing arms/anti-roll bar in the rear, VW’s newest sedan offered bona fide sporting prowess, and a taut, German feel akin to the pricier compact Audi 4000 that made it very popular, very quickly.

Speaking of prices — when it was introduced in 1980, the two-door Jetta sedan cost $7,650, with the four-door version costing $220 more. Those amounts represent the rough equivalent of today’s $23,170 and $23,835. The Rabbit range of two- and four-door hatchbacks cost between $5,215 and $6,290 (the range-topping Convertible jumped to $9,340). In 1982, this Jetta would have cost $8,595 before options, or about $22,230 today.

This perspective makes Volkswagen’s pricing of the 2019 Jetta seem very aggressive, as the amply equipped base model will cost $19,395. We know it’s impossible to compare different generations, especially considering the decades of distance between them, but considering inflation, the seventh-gen sedan stickers for nearly $3,000 less than this restored creampuff originally did. It also makes about double the horsepower using less displacement, and achieves roughly the same mileage as the first-generation car’s window sticker originally claimed. Of course, the 2019’s light-for-today 3,000-pound weight is still half a ton heavier than the 1982’s, a car that was 17.3 inches shorter and 7.4 inches narrower (yet managed to offer the exact same luggage space!). Of course, that first-gen Jetta has none of the safety, convenience, or infotainment features that have been baked into the 2019 MQB modular platform car.

Check out VW’s first-gen/seventh-gen comparison chart:


There’s no debate — the seventh-generation Jetta is faster, more comfortable, and more efficient than its predecessors. Still, we can’t help but think that, with its glassy greenhouse offering unobstructed sight lines, and all dash controls (including that standard cassette stereo!) a mere fingertip’s reach from the steering wheel — itself offering excellent feedback through a hydraulic rack-and-pinion setup — the first-generation Jetta could offer today’s enthusiast driver just as much ‘infotainment’ and road-feel ‘connectivity’ as he or she could want. Or maybe that’s just us…

Did you drive a first-generation Jetta? And would you go back to the era of crank-up windows and cassette decks, if given the choice?

To see more of VWoA’s restored 1982 Jetta, click on the thumbnail images below.