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2008 VW City Jetta.

ted laturnus The Globe and Mail

Exclusive to Canada, the Volkswagen City Jetta was more or less a City Golf with a 400-litre trunk tacked onto the back.

Lightly revised for the 2008 model year and manufactured in Mexico, it was an up-rated version of the previous, fourth-generation of the Jetta, and was meant to offer buyers an economical transportation alternative until VW's temporarily absent diesel TDI came back onstream. It competed directly against models like the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Mazda3 and Nissan Sentra.

Power was provided by a single overhead camshaft, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine, which was identical to that found in the City Golf. It developed 115 horsepower and 122 lb-ft of torque, and you could choose from either a five-speed manual or a six-speed Tiptronic automatic.

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All things considered, the Tiptronic automatic made this car more driveable around town and, if the mood struck, you could always shift for yourself. There was also a Sport shift setting with this transmission, which maintained engine revs a little longer through the gears, with more direct shift change points. Fuel consumption numbers for the two drivetrains were pretty much identical, although the automatic was a teensy bit thirstier in town, and a titch thriftier on the freeway.

This iteration of the City Jetta was a little loud on the highway. It was, after all, basically a breathed-upon version of the previous generation of this car, and once you got past the 3,000 rpm mark, it tended to get a little buzzy inside. Top speed was an electronically governed 209 km/h and VW claimed a 12-second 0-100 km/h time for the automatic version. Not exactly a powerhouse, but fairly typical of cars in this segment of the market.

On the other hand, despite being an econo-box, the City Jetta felt like a moderately upscale sport sedan and had arguably the best and firmest seats in this corner of the market.

Helping in the drivability department were 15-inch wheels and tires, with MacPherson struts up front, a torsion beam axle in back and decent-sized stabilizer bars fore and aft. This was complemented by four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. In terms of braking prowess and handling, the City Jetta definitely had a leg up on its offshore competitors. The price you paid for this driving fun, however, was slightly inferior fuel economy. Compared to, let's say, a Honda Civic, the City Jetta was thirsty – especially in town.

Although you could order a range of extras, the bare-bones model was just that: bare bones, without much in the way of modcons or extras. However, the Comfort Package came with power windows and mirrors and cruise control, and the Cold Weather Package added heated front seats and heated windshield washer nozzles.

Transport Canada and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have three safety recalls on file for this year of Jetta. However, only two of them apply to the City version. One concerns possibly loose driveshaft cover screws that could rattle while the car is under way, and the other is a minor lighting compliance issue.

NHTSA also lists five recalls for the fourth generation of Jetta, and these include a possibly leaky master cylinder, a sketchy brake lamp and glitches within the lighting system. To these we can add 36 technical service bulletins for the '08 Jetta, but since the City version wasn't sold down south and the non-City model is a completely different automobile, most don't apply here. The 2005 Jetta (which is essentially the City model) has 72 TSBs, according to NHTSA, and these cover a wide range of issues.

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Consumer Reports gives this one good marks, with an above average used car prediction rating. But again, these are for the non-City models. To get a clearer picture, we have to go back a generation and this version doesn't fare quite as well, garnering an "average" rating. Some comments from owners: "Small annoying issues," "Comfortable seats. Easily accessible features" and "This will be my last Volkswagen."

Not much love from market research firm J.D. Power. This generation of the Jetta barely rates an "average" grade for dependability, with average or below grades in virtually every category. Powertrain quality is the exception here – this area of the car is rated above average.

The City Jetta has held its value comparatively well. From a base price of just less than $17,000 in '08, it's holding steady at the low teens level. This is about $2,000 less than the five-cylinder version of the same year.

Tech specs

2008 Volkswagen City Jetta

Original Base Price: $16,900; Black Book: $13,250; Red Book: $11,200

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Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/Torque: 115 hp/122 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed manual/six-speed automatic

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 9.9 city/6.9 highway; regular gas

Drive: Front-wheel

Alternatives: Toyota Corolla, Nissan Versa, Mazda3, Honda Civic, Kia Spectra, Hyundai Elantra

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