"My parents purchased a 2002 Jetta GL for me as a first car due to its high safety rating. I would agree that it's a very safe car and I'm not ashamed to be seen driving it. It's heavy, which is nice for me as I do a lot of driving in wet weather and in six years I have yet to hydroplane or skid out. Plus it has plenty of airbags and a solid frame. The brakes are responsive, it accelerates reasonably quickly, and it handles surprisingly well for an entry-level subcompact. Even a decade old it's still a fun car to drive and I love driving a car that's nimble.
But this is not a car to own out of warranty, especially not at the base model. The engine has given me nothing but grief, which is why I'm getting rid of it. I had to rebuild the transmission about three years ago and the engine is beginning to break down so I have to add oil pretty regularly. And now the oil warning light doesn't come on until my car is completely dry, which means that I have to check the oil weekly or I run the risk of driving on a dry engine and causing it to seize.
The mechanic I take my car to has told me that it's common for the motors on Jettas to go after about 175K miles, at which point the engine needs to be rebuilt or replaced. Also, as it's an older car, it has a timing belt instead of a timing chain and if you lose the timing belt, you lose the engine. The timing belt needs to be replaced around 90-100K, so if you're looking at purchasing an older Jetta, be sure to ask whether the timing belt has been replaced.
The fuel economy is nothing special, I find that I get about 15-17 mpg in city and I can bump it to about 20-22 if I'm doing mostly highway driving. Speaking of highway driving, here's another place the car's weight comes in handy. The car stays pretty steady even in heavy winds.
Overall this car is good for a beginner driver or someone who's pretty handy with cars, but if you're looking to keep this car into the 100K mile range and you need a car that you aren't going to have to worry about, I would recommend looking elsewhere."
Pros: "Great mpg, good in hills and mountains, handling"
Cons: "Electrical issues"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 5
"I love my 2002 Jetta TDI Wagon, except... for the faulty door sensors. For the last few months, the alarm system is now sounding off at random, often at 2A in the morning. This could be an issue any of the doors, tailgate, and hood. Reading the various web sites and bulletin boards about this issue. Well, the repair can be quite expensive if performed at a dealership. If you are handy, you might be able to fix it yourself, which takes about 2 hours per door. I may try to disable the door sensors and that may make things tolerable. If not, perhaps a trade in. But not another VW. I hear the newer models all have a range of glitches and much lower quality materials in the interior."
"Bought my 2002 Jetta from Carmax at a good price in 2006. The car had 30,000. It's been mostly reliable but has had many of the same issues that other owners have described; catalytic converter, coil wire, windows falling down ($415.00 to replace 1 regulator) & a finicky alarm system that seems to have a mind of it's own. Overall I'm happy with the car but unsure if I'd buy another one."
"I've had this car for 6 years.
-Good looking car
-good visibility from inside the car
-My car burns oil like no other. If I drive frequently, I need to add oil to the car about 3 times per week....
-I am at 72k miles and nearly every part of the car has broken.
-Not having automatic windows and mirrors is a pain for numerous reasons.
If I had't had so many mechanical issues with this car I would give it a very positive review, but all of the repairs I have paid for this year have cost me more than the total current value of the car.."
Cons: "turbo demands extra attention/premium fuel."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"The 1.8T is extremely dependable. I've had near zero reliability issues. But its turbo, so you have to ensure that you change the oil on schedule and only use premium fuel.
Mine is fully loaded (Sans VR6) and feels way more upscale than its competition, even 9 years later. Watch out for the coilpacks above 100k. Its a bit high reving at highway speed."