Here’s How The Legendary Mark IV Volkswagen Golf And Jetta Actually Outlived Their Mark V Successors

City Golf Mark Iv Topshot

The Mark IV Volkswagen Golf and Jetta are a pair of beloved automobiles. When they burst onto the scene around the turn of the millennium, they were markedly nicer than any other compacts around. Combined with reasonable pricing and plenty of engine options, it’s no surprise that they sold by the truckload. In fact, Jason Torchinsky called that generation of Jetta “The Platonic Ideal of Small Car Design.” It and its Golf sibling were so good that they stuck around on the new car market forever. Not in the U.S., mind you, but in places like Canada, Mexico, and Brazil. Here’s how the iconic Mark IV Volkswagen Golf and Jetta lived way longer than you might’ve expected.

Oh Canada

2007 City Jetta
Photo credit: Seller

Traditionally, Canadians are quite cheap. Don’t worry, I’m Canadian — I can say that. While Americans buy Accords, we buy Civics. We love No Frills grocery store and its disconcerting plain yellow packaging. Rummage around the average Canadian’s pantry and you’ll find plenty of things that look like this:

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In fact, Canada’s cheapness was a bit of a problem for Volkswagen when the brand introduced the Mark V Rabbit and Jetta. That’s these right here:

2007 Rabbit
Photo credit: Volkswagen

Bigger, plusher, and more upmarket than the occasionally-spartan Mark IV models, they just couldn’t compete with the cheapest compact cars on the market. A base-model three-door 2007 Rabbit started at $19,990 Canadian before freight. Keep in mind, this was in 2007, when Canadians could buy a new Civic DX sedan for $16,980 before freight. However, Volkswagen is a very big automaker, so its Canadian arm decided to use fox-like cunning. Or should I say, Fox-like cunning.

Remember the entry-level Volkswagen Fox? Back in the late 1980s, Volkswagen plucked some variants of the Gol (no f) from the assembly line in Brazil, fitted them with impact bumpers, and turned them loose for the American public to gobble up. Roughly twenty years later, Volkswagen Canada got on the line to Brazil and Mexico and was delighted to hear that the Mark IV Golf and Jetta were still in production. However, a new name was needed. Taking inspiration from the South African Citi Golf, Volkswagen put “City” in front of the Golf and Jetta nameplates, and a new imported entry-level Volkswagen for the Canadian market was born.

2007 City Golf
Photo credit: Seller

The 2007 City Golf (pictured above) and City Jetta were essentially carryover models. Same two-liter eight-valve engine as the regular Mark IV models, same choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic gearbox, same exterior panels, although they did offer a lot of kit for the money. The City Golf started at just $14,900 before freight and featured a tilt and telescoping steering column, body-color bumpers, an actual coolant temperature gauge instead of an idiot light, and eight speakers. Most base-model compact cars in 2022 don’t even come with eight speakers. As for options, the list was short but thoughtful. Heated seats and washer nozzles, power windows and mirrors, cruise control, alloy wheels, and even a sunroof were available. Positively lush stuff for an entry-level economy car in 2007.

2008 City Golf Interior
Photo credit: Seller

The Canadian public quite liked Volkswagen’s pair of cheap and cheerful bargains, so things got even better for 2008. For starters, the available four-speed automatic was ditched in favor of a more modern six-speed unit. In addition, both the City Golf and City Jetta got new head units with USB and 3.5 mm auxiliary inputs, new steering wheels, and revised styling. Yes, it was facelift time, although the facelift on the City Jetta wasn’t exactly new.

The Chinese Connection

Faw Volkswagen Bora Facelift
Photo credit: User3204/Jengtingchen, CC BY-SA 4.0

It’s time to step into what is normally Tycho’s domain. Over in China, Volkswagen’s FAW-Volkswagen joint venture decided to give the Bora (that’s what the Jetta is called over there) a bit of a mid-cycle facelift for 2006. However, instead of keeping things cheap and just changing the bumpers, FAW-Volkswagen ended up changing a whole lot. See, Volkswagen was going for this single-frame grille look at the time, and FAW-Volkswagen was keeping up with trends at Wolfsburg. Thus, the Bora gained a new front bumper, although a new front bumper also meant new headlights with dual round elements, a new hood, and new fenders.

Around the back, the Bora gained new tail lamps with elements on the trunk lid. The old trunk lid simply had a Volkswagen badge, a license plate relief, and the trunk release on it, which means that FAW-Volkswagen stamped an entirely new trunk lid. In keeping with new Volkswagen design cues, the Volkswagen emblem was front-and-center on the new trunk lid which required redesigning the rear bumper with license plate relief. Of course, with the license plate now in the rear bumper, it needed a light, so a harness was extended to fit. In the end, the only panels shared between earlier and later cars were the quarter-panels, doors, side sills, and roof. Talk about a dramatic change.

2009 City Jetta
Canadian Jetta. Photo credit: Seller

This massive update to the Jetta is sometimes called the Mark 4.5 in Volkswagen circles, due to its extensiveness and inspiration drawn from newer models. It’s also what the Canadian City Jetta looked like from 2008 onward. Apart from side markers and badges, facelifted Canadian City Jettas like the one pictured above appear virtually identical to these updated Chinese models.

Vw Bora Hs
Photo credit: By Michael Saechang, CC BY-SA 2.0

FAW-Volkswagen also updated the Golf under the name Bora HS, although I suspect the budget for that project wasn’t incredibly high. Aside from the front end from the facelifted Bora and a new set of tail lights, the Golf was cosmetically-unchanged in China. As far as I can tell, this variant never made it out of China. However, things were a little bit different in Brazil.

Brazilian Facelift

Brazilian Golf 1
Photo credit: Volkswagen Brazil

In 2007, Volkswagen Brazil decided to do to the Mark IV Golf what FAW-Volkswagen did to the Bora. I’m talking about a high-budget facelift with many updated panels. Drawing inspiration from the facelifted Mk4 Polo, Volkswagen Brazil gave the Golf new headlights, a new front bumper, new fenders, a new hood, a new rear bumper, and a new hatch. While the Mark IV Golf is still a handsome car, the updates from Volkswagen Brazil transformed it from conservative to rakish. Needless to say, I’m a big fan. It’s this updated version of the Golf that made its way to Canada in 2008, continuing to find homes and win hearts from Vancouver to Halifax.

Brazilian Golf 2
Photo credit: Volkswagen Brazil

Volkswagen Brazil continued playing with the Mark IV Golf, offering a popular Sportline version, a special Black Edition with darkened headlight housings and other cosmetic tweaks, and even a GTI. While the facelifted Brazilian Mark IV GTI doesn’t feature huge cosmetic differences from the Sportline model, but the legendary 20-valve 1.8T turbocharged four-cylinder engine was on tap.

Brazilian Golf Gti mark iv
Photo credit: Volkswagen Brazil

However, the story doesn’t end there. Volkswagen Mexico also adopted the Chinese facelift of the Bora and found it to be an absolute hit. In fact, the Mexican market loved it so much that Volkswagen Mexico could justify a hot version of its own.

Viva Mexico!

Mexican Jetta Gli mark iv
Photo credit: Volkswagen Mexico

Say hello to the other Mark IV Jetta GLI. Those who frequented certain online car communities know that 1.8T nevar loose, so Volkswagen chucked the beloved 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine into the facelifted Mark IV Jetta to create the last Mark IV GLI. Pushing 180 metric horsepower to the front tires, this zesty sedan also featured a ton of exclusive cosmetic tweaks. The full lip kit looks absolutely ace, black headlamp surrounds align the car with the then-current GTI, and who doesn’t love a tasty set of red brake calipers?

On the inside, this Mark 4.5 GLI featured a flat-bottom leather-wrapped steering wheel, sports seats with grippy suede inserts, and more red stitching than a Hot Topic. Oh, and brushed trim, because we hadn’t quite fallen into the piano black abyss at that point. Even among R32 Golfs and 20th Anniversary GTIs, this might just be the ultimate Mark IV unicorn. It’s very rare, it’s reasonably zesty, and it just looks oh so right.

The MKIV Stuck Around For A While

2008 City Golf
Canadian City Golf. Photo credit: Seller

However, good things don’t always last forever, and that’s certainly true about the Mark IV Golf and Jetta’s production run. At the end of 2008, China tapped out of offering the models. Canada was next to follow after the 2010 model year, which meant that for a brief period of time, Canadians could find a new Mark V Rabbit, a new Mark VI Golf, and a new facelifted Mark IV City Golf (pictured above) all on the same dealer lot. Once the cheap, Americanized 2011 Jetta had made it to dealership showrooms, Volkswagen Canada no longer needed to entice consumers on price by continuing to sell an old model when the new one cost just a few hundred dollars more. Never mind the torsion beam rear suspension and rear drum brakes under the new body.

Golf production in Brazil soldiered on until 2014, not a bad run by any means. Incredibly, Mark IV Volkswagen Jetta production lasted until 2015 in Mexico, which means the Mark IV Jetta outlived the Mark V Jetta, the Mark V Golf, and the Mark VI Golf hatchback. Best of all, the Mark IV Jetta still drove well when its time was finally up. At that point, it was competing in a similar space to the Ford Fiesta while being quite refined and made of rather nice stuff. My best friend’s mum owned a City Jetta and absolutely loved it. It was a perfectly trouble-free car, as to be expected with an ancient-yet-proven engine architecture and plenty of time on sale for Volkswagen to sort out the kinks. I’d own one in a heartbeat.

Lead photo credit: Volkswagen Brazil

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19 Responses

  1. While I agree that the Mark IV is a great small car, it’s no highway bomber. The Mark V, with it’s big tourquey 5-banger and bank-vault body, is the best small car for the American highway, period. But please, get one with a manual.

  2. Thomas, bro…you gotta stop sniffing crayons before coming to work. While the Mk4 may have soldiered on longer than it had any right to the real mvp is the mk2 Jetta which was produced from 1985 until 2010 and was by far and away superior in every way to the Mk4 parts car that followed it.

    I said what I said Mk4 kids.

  3. Beloved? Former MkIV owner here…my ‘03 Golf was actually the car the made me swear off buying another VW ever again. For a car the was supposed to be a reliable college commuter, it wasn’t. The water pump literally exploded at around 36000 miles and took out the radiator with it. Shortly thereafter the oil pan cracked in my garage and left me a puddle of oil to clean up. Front struts only lasted around 50k. Gas mileage wasn’t great either, the best I ever achieved was about 26. I sold ot after college and bought a ‘68 Dodge Dart which was ironically far more reliable.

  4. Here in South Africa you can still buy a new VW Polo Mk V which is labeled a Vivo. This in a segment where the new Polo Mk7 has just been launched.

    And up until about 2009 you could still buy new an almost identical model to the original Golf GTi albeit with a few modern upgrades called the Golf CTi. The Golf CTi’s have become very collectable here now. Almost impossible to find one that hasn’t been abused.

  5. Our family is slowly in the market for a new car. Bare bones model with options for manual, heated seats (Maine…), sunroof (sky addiction), cruise control, and maybe CarPlay, and we are good. Plus we love the THONK of a good VW door slam (that Passat we had was great, until it wasn’t). Sighhhhhhh. We’d love a car like the old school City Golf. Maybe we’re Canadians at heart.

  6. Living in Texas, I see a decent amount of Boras around here. I’m always amazed that they just kept making them and changed the face, but I get it, I loved my Jetta. Well, one of them at least.

    Mark IV Jettas were a crapshoot. I owned a 2001 for 8 years, put 181,000 miles on it, and never had an issue. Drove the doors off it without a problem, and pretty much cried when some idiot crashed into me and totaled it. I would have driven that thing forever. It still looked modern after 8 years, and I loved it so much that to replace it, I bought a 2004 Jetta, same engine, 5 speed, pretty much an identical car. That was the car that actually forced me to learn how to work on cars, since pretty much everything broke on it. Big things, little things, all the things. I’m grateful (now) that I learned as much as I did, but holy shit at the time it was a nightmare.

    I think that may be true of all VWs ,they’re all a mixed bag. My wife had a Mark IV Passat that was garbage, but a Mark VI Jetta that’s excellent. My Sportwagon is fantastic, but my CC had serious engine issues.

  7. The first and only new car I ever bought was a 2004 Jetta TDI Wagon 5 speed. It was my wife’s daily commuter for 13 years, hauled 2 kids home from the hospital and everywhere else, drank biodiesel easily, and did its job reliably at 40+ mpg. Today it sits in my driveway with 230K miles, and ready to go. The inside smells like dog (because that is what it carries now). The first of those babies that once came home buckled into a protective carrier in the back seat is now learning how to drive stick with it. A few years ago I added a roof rack, and it does whatever “truck” duty I assign it — meaning I’ll put a wooden dresser or 12 bags of garden soil up there. The biggest replacement was a fuel injector. Everything else has been basic maintenance. Keeping the Jetta has saved me a ton of $ and it is still a pleasure to drive.

  8. Thomas, love the articles about our Canadian automotive market oddities.

    But, you’ll have to veer away from cars soon and talk about the candies we have here vs. the States with Halloween around the corner. Especially what Smarties are supposed to be.

  9. I’ve owned many, many VW’s over the years. 1 Scirocco, 2 Corrados, a GTI, 2 Jetta’s (1 was the 1.8T) and a 2.0T Passat. I had an old Rabbit diesel in there to at some time too. The Passat cured my love for the VW brand forever…

    The infamous 2.0T motor grenaded on me at 56,000 miles. The car was just over the warranty time limit and VW of America basically said, “sucks to be you…” They knew about the timing chain issue with this motor, sent out TSB’s to all of the dealerships about the issue and refused to do anything to help me (and a bevy of other suckers that bought one of those POS’s). I guess they were too caught up in dieselgate to deal with the 2.0T fiasco. I don’t think there was a more dedicated VW owner on the face of the earth – that incident sure did change my mind. I loved my Vee Dubs… Never again!

  10. My wife drove a 2001 Jetta TDI to 205,000 miles before Wisconsin road salt took its toll on the front fenders, doors and rocker panels. Cost of rust repairs were just too high so we donated it. I swear she cried when it left. Only repairs I can remember were glow plugs, one starter and generator. Still had the original clutch!

    If the choice had been between me or the car…

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