Model Rewind: The Jetta, Mk2

We’re a few weeks away from seeing Volkswagen’s most important model for the North American market: the entirely new MQB-based Mk7 Jetta. As new updates on the next model continue to trickle out, let’s take a look at the second generation Jetta: the Mk2.

Last week we mentioned that the very first Jetta didn’t make much of splash in the marketplace. One of the biggest complaints was the size: it was quite small. When the all-new model debuted in 1984, the first thing buyers noticed was the increased size. The MK2 sedan was nearly four inches longer, two inches wider, with a wheelbase stretched over two and a half inches. This might not sound like much, but these increases allowed the Jetta to move up a class from sub-compact to compact car status. While the MK1 sat only 4 people, the MK2 could hold 5. And the trunk size rivaled some full-size cars of the time. This made the euro-sedan much more appealing to families when it went on sale in North America in 1985.

The larger size wasn’t the only improvement: the second-gen car had a number of engineering improvements. Volkswagen minions added refinement to the car through silicon engine mounts, a lower front subframe to reduce road noise, and new rubber bushings all around. These enhancements brought some sophistication to the Jetta, yet it didn’t lose it’s lively German handling. In fact, media reviews of the day praised its poised manners and sharp handling.

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There were a number of engines available. Base Jettas came standard with a 1.8L inline four-cylinder connected to either a 4-speed manual or a 3 speed automatic. Later engines featured electronic fuel injection with Digifant engine management. There were also two different diesel motors.

Just like the MK1 Jettas, the MK2 sedans were a bit more luxurious than their Golf siblings. Most Jettas came standard with velour interiors, full center console, and a rear padded armrest. Options included the already mentioned automatic transmission, alloy wheels, sunroof, radio with 4 speakers, air conditioning, and eventually power windows, locks, and mirrors. Volkswagen even offered 2 door Jettas early in the model run.

The sporty GLI model returned for the second generation. It initially came with the 8-valve 1.8L engine, then later with the high-revving 2.0L 16-valve engine. Both featured a standard 5-speed manual transmission. GLIs also sported wide alloy wheels, sport suspension, enhanced body trim, and more heavily bolstered seats. Later GLIs even came with genuine Recaro buckets.

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In 1990 the Jetta received a light refresh. To make the car look more modern, larger partially painted bumpers were added along with bigger wheels and some rear trunk trim. The larger bumpers make the car look more substantial; the front, in particular, looks beefier. This update differentiates MK2 models: in our forums, you’ll see Jettas referred to as ‘small bumper’ or ‘big bumper’ cars. MK2 Jetta owners have strong opinions on big vs. small bumpers. Your author has a 1989 Jetta GL (built in West Germany) with small bumpers, yet very much prefers the more modern look of the large bumper cars. He may or may not have a set of large bumper covers in his basement to perhaps one day install.

It’s interesting to note that the second generation Jetta was in production for 8 years. This was the longest production run for this model. MK2 Jettas were built in the United States, Germany (back when there was an East and West Germany), and Mexico. This does not include the Chinese market where the MK2 Jetta stayed in production through, get this, 2013 as the Jetta Pioneer. It should also be noted that this long run put the Jetta behind its competition in North America. Volkswagen’s aging product portfolio and the cost of their cars caused their market share to decrease substantially. In the early ’90s Volkswagen was seriously considering pulling out of the North American market. It was the 1993 MK3 Jetta that helped turn the sales tide.

Join us next week when we take look at the next step in the Jetta’s evolution: the MK3.