How much have cars changed since the 1980s? VW's first and latest Jetta models show up some striking differences – and a few uncanny similarities

The Volkswagen Group of America has just restored a 1982 Jetta for its heritage fleet, and decided to compare it with the new 2019 Jetta.

Shortly after its US introduction in 1980, the Jetta became the best-selling German model in America, with more than 3.2 million models sold since. When it first hit American roads, the compact Jetta defined a new segment for Volkswagen. The brand had achieved success with the subcompact Rabbit (the Golf in Europe) in the late 1970s, following the end of Beetle sales in the United States.

Built off the Golf platform and named after the German word for 'jet stream', the Jetta two- and four-door versions were the sixth models in the VW line-up for 1980, along with the Rabbit, Dasher, Scirocco, Vanagon and VW Pickup.

See also...


For its era, the Jetta offered a standard amount of power—76bhp from a 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine. It had a healthy list of standard features, from power-assisted brakes and AM/FM cassette-player, to cut-pile carpet and intermittent wipers.

Video: How does a 1980 VW Jetta compare with the 2019 Jetta?

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. 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.

Video: How does a 1980 VW Jetta compare with the 2019 Jetta?
Video: How does a 1980 VW Jetta compare with the 2019 Jetta?
Video: How does a 1980 VW Jetta compare with the 2019 Jetta?

The 2019 model is packed with equipment of course, including options of Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking (Front Assist), High Beam Control (Light Assist) and Lane Departure Warning (Lane Assist), 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 biggest differences though are in size, weight and power, predictably, with the old car just two-thirds the weight of the new version, but putting out just over half the power. The trunk/boot space is identical, funnily enough, and though the new Jetta has much, much more equipment than the old one, the 1980 version does have more ashtrays and cigarette lighters than the new one...

The figures that follow make for interesting reading:

1980 Jetta versus 2019 Jetta

Top speed

  • 1980: 93 mph
  • 2019: 125mph


  • 1980: 14.2sec
  • 2019: 7.9sec

Kerb weight

  • 1980: 1786lb (810kg)
  • 2019: 2888lb (1310kg)


  • 1980: 167.8in (4262mm)
  • 2019: 185.1in (4701.54mm)


  • 1980: 63.4in (1610.36mm)
  • 2019: 70.8in (1798.32mm)


  • 1980: 55.5in (1410mm)
  • 2019: 57.4in (1458mm)


  • 1980: 94.4in (2398mm)
  • 2019: 105.5in (2680mm)

Trunk space

  • 1980: 14.1cu ft (399 litres)
  • 2019: 14.1cu ft (399 litres)


  • 1980: 76bhp
  • 2019: 147bhp


  • 1980: 83lb-ft
  • 2019: 185lb-ft


  • 1980: Five-speed manual, three-speed automatic
  • Six-speed manual, eight-speed automatic

Fuel economy

  • 1980: 26 mpg combined
  • 2019: 34 mpg combined


  • 1980: Front disc/rear drum
  • 2019: 4-wheel disc; ABS, ESC


  • 1980: Rack and pinion, unassisted
  • 2019: Electric power steering


  • 1980: 13-inch steel wheels with chrome hubcaps; optional 13-, 14- and 15-inch aluminum-alloy wheels
  • 2019: 16- and 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels


  • 1980: Alpine White, Diamond Silver, Black, Indiana Red, Mexico Beige, Inari Silver
  • 2019: Pure White, Tornado Red, Black, Deep Black Pearl, White Silver, Platinum Grey, Sage Green, Silk Blue, Habanero Orange

Cruise control

  • 1980: Unavailable
  • 2019: Standard; optional Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC)


  • 1980: Dual sealed-beam headlights, bulb taillights
  • 2019: LED headlights & taillights; LED Daytime Running Lights; automatic on/off


  • 1980: AM/FM cassette stereo
  • 2019: AM/FM/SAT with touchscreen and standard Volkswagen Car-Net® App-Connect, Bluetooth® and USB; optional 8-speaker BeatsAudio® and navigation

Air conditioning

  • 1980: Optional
  • 2019: Standard; optional dual-zone Climatronic® automatic climate control


  • 1980: 4
  • 2019: 5, optional heated and cooled front seats, power driver’s seat, and heated rear seats

USB ports

  • 1980: Not yet invented
  • 2019: 1 or 2, dependent on trim


  • 1980: 2
  • 2019: 0

Cigarette Lighter

  • 1980: 1
  • 2019: 0


  • 1980: 0
  • 2019: 2


  • 1980: 0
  • 2019: 8


  • 1980: 0
  • 2019: 6

Video: How does a 1980 VW Jetta compare with the 2019 Jetta?
Video: How does a 1980 VW Jetta compare with the 2019 Jetta?
Video: How does a 1980 VW Jetta compare with the 2019 Jetta?

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'.

Gallery: Video: How does a 1980 VW Jetta compare with the 2019 Jetta?