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  • Writer's pictureFrank Oles

2004 VW Jetta

I always wanted a Volkswagen with a VR6 engine. I was becoming increasingly paranoid about daily driving the Integra Type R. Cindy needed something with 4 doors, but still agreed to a manual transmission. I stumbled across this Jetta on AutoTrader and picked it up used from a Dodge dealer that took it on trade for a pickup. Must have been quite a switch.

Part of what attracted me to the car was the clean design of the Mk4 Jetta. As far as sedans go, it was on the smaller side but perfect for our needs. Being from a Southern climate, there was no rust anywhere. It was missing its front undertray though, which I leveraged to get a discount from the dealer.

It also came with a CD changer in the trunk and a premium Monsoon stereo that sounded great. Clutch action was kind of vague, and the shifter felt very remote and clunky - nothing like the Acuras that I was used to. But I was willing to give something different a try. I should have known better.

The VR6 might have been a good engine in the 90s, but under the hoods of VWs and Audis it has soldiered on far too long. This 2.8 V6 could only muster 174 horsepower, which was adequate for this sedan. There was torque down low, but it just did not like to rev beyond 4000 RPM.

The Mk4 Jetta was a clean design that continues to look good to this day. 1.8Ts have their own set of issues. A base 4 banger is probably the best bet for this car. Less complicated makes for a better daily driver.

The VR6 engine is really wedged into the Mk4 chassis. There is no room to work on anything in this engine bay. An increasingly common problem in modern cars, and plenty of headaches down the road. Still, it’s not a bad looking engine. It is shown here without its silly plastic garnish panel.

Notice how smooth those reflections are. The Jetta seemed to shrug off most door dings. The heavy German steel was a bit more robust that Japanese cars I have owned.

One day the car started running rough. The problem was the ignition coil. Rather than pay for an overpriced German replacement (guaranteed to fail again), the budget solution was to swap in a Ford EDIS coil from a domestic V6. This necessitated swapping out the ends of the spark plug wires.

Another pain with this car was the aging cooling system. There were no less that 36 hoses under that hood, multiple radiators, and various plastic fittings and junctions. It was cost prohibitive to replace everything, so it was a matter of dealing with issues as they arose. There was always a faint hint of coolant under that hood, no matter how clean I kept it.

What’s that tappety noise under the hood? Turns out it’s not the valvetrain or the rods – it’s a plastic valve mechanism in the plastic intake manifold. Yep, this car had a variable intake manifold (and could still only muster 174hp!) Plastic on plastic will rattle after time. The fix was an aftermarket set of nylon bushings for that rod. Which meant disassembling the top of the motor to get to it!

The Jetta sharing some pretty choice company! In the end, it was not a bad daily driver. Like my GTI before it, I got tired of fixing it every weekend. I sold it on to a teenager who was a VW fan. Hope it’s still soldiering on.

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