Volkswagen VW City Golf and City Jetta

The City Golf and Jetta came on the scene a year ago, when Volkswagen determined that it needed cars in Canada with which to compete at entry-level prices. VW sub-compacts existed in Europe, but couldn’t be certified to be sold here. And VW in the United States had no particular need for such small cars, although that appears to be changing.

Fortunately, the previous generation of each of the Golf and Jetta were still being produced for overseas markets in Brazil and Mexico, respectively, and it was easy to certify them for here, so that is what happened.

2008 VW City Jetta

The first year’s cars were exactly as they appeared previously almost a decade ago, which of course raised some questions among the VW faithful, so for 2008, the City cars have been face-lifted and improved in some worthwhile ways.

The front and rear ends of both the City Golf and City Jetta have been brought more into line with current VW design, which makes them look more modern, if not as sleek as the new Rabbit and Jetta.

Under that new skin are some interesting bits that will make buyers forget that the only engine available is the old 2.0-litre, single-cam four that first appeared in VWs oh, a couple of decades ago, maybe. It’s reasonably refined and capable, and it generates its torque at fairly low rpm, so its mere 115 hp is not a big handicap.

Making it run with some verve, not only in the city of course, is a choice of five-speed manual, or the same modern six-speed automatic with Tiptronic found in the newer-gen cars. The effect on performance of having two more gears can’t be overstated; while the manual is quicker, the autobox gets a lot out of the engine, keeping the revs from dropping too much on shifts, and being in the right gear when power is needed.

The interiors, too, will make the City duo drivers feel like they spent more. Seats, in the VW tradition, are supportive and comfortable. Ergonomics are excellent, at least for taller drivers, thanks in large part to the now-standard tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, and height-adjustable seat. The instrument panel and steering wheel have been upgraded, too. Fit-and-finish is good for a car in this price range ($15,300 City Golf, $16,900 City Jetta).

The younger demographic VW is chasing will be happy with the multi-speaker audio system, as it includes not only an auxiliary jack, but a USB jack as well, so that jumpdrive-type devices can be plugged in, too, and MP3 players charged in the car.

Safety is not skimped on, either, as four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock are now standard. Optional are electronic stability control ($450), side airbags ($180) and side curtain airbags ($450), all well worth the price, and not always available in this price range.

Also available, as stand-alone options, are air conditioning ($1,350 – you didn’t expect that to be included at these prices, did you?), and the automatic at $1,400. A couple of packages get you all the convenience features. Even a sunroof is available, so it is clear that a City Golf or City Jetta can be loaded up into the area of $20,000 plus. But for that price, you’d have a lot of little car.

But keeping to near the base price, what do you get in the City duo? Most small cars these days will outrun a City thanks to its understressed engine and ride-tuned chassis, so it isn’t a sportster. What it is, though, is big for the price, comfortable, nicely equipped, good looking, and safe, especially if you spend the thousand bucks for the aforementioned safety gear.

For most folks, that makes the VW City cars a good value.