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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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