"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."
"I bought my Jetta used with 97k miles. I am now approaching 200k miles with only a few minor repairs. The car still runs smooth, drives great, and has plenty of power. My only complaint is that routine maintenance is more expensive than for other cars I have owned."
"It gets 50 on the highway, averages high 40s in the city for MPG. Comfortable, dependable, most of my 2000 still has all the original equipment on it! Had to just give it a new set of "shoes" (suspension) and had the intake manifold cleared of cheap diesel slug. This car is safe and solid. You can not give me enough money to buy, it has far past its original sticker price with having stainless steel exhaust (haven't replaced YET, still using the original clutch on the manual trans...). If you can find one, they are just getting better with age and mileage!"
"I bought a 2002 Jetta GL 2.0 5 Spd, fully loaded two months ago - I was hit by a 2000 Red Toyota Camri on my drivers side door and than hit a utility pole. The officer said I had a 205 chance of living, I walked away from the accident on my own two legs with a few bumps and bruises. My Jetta saved my life! It took the impact to the drivers side door as if she hit me going 5 mph vs. the 40 mph she was going. Than I must have collided into the pole at least at about 20mph and the jetta took it like a champ! I love my Jetta's and I will never buy another brand of car again! VW all the way"
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."