Herndon, VA (April 25th, 2018) — 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.

1980 Jetta 2019 Jetta
Height 55.5 inches 57.4 inches
Width 63.4 inches 70.8 inches
Length 167.8 inches 185.1 inches
Wheelbase 94.4 inches 105.5 inches
Trunk space 14.1 cu. ft. 14.1 cu. ft.
Horsepower 76 147
Torque (lb-ft) 83 185
Transmissions Five-speed manual, three-speed automatic Six-speed manual, eight-speed automatic
EPA-estimated Fuel Economy About 21 mpg combined* 34 mpg combined
Brakes Front disc/rear drum 4-wheel disc; ABS, ESC
Steering Rack and pinion, unassisted Electric power steering
Wheels 13-inch steel wheels with chrome hubcaps; optional 13-, 14- and 15-inch aluminum-alloy wheels 16- and 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels
Colors 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 Unavailable Standard; optional Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC)
Lights Dual sealed-beam headlights, bulb taillights LED headlights & taillights; LED Daytime Running Lights; automatic on/off
Infotainment 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 Optional Standard; optional dual-zone Climatronic® automatic climate control
Seats 4 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
Ashtrays 2 0
Cigarette Lighter 1 0
Armrests 0 2
Cupholders 0 8
Airbags 0 6

*EPA estimates for older models were revised lower than their original figures in subsequent years.

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 evolutions. 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 rearview 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 rearview 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.

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