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VW designs Jetta for US buyer who prefers classiness

The Volkswagen Jetta, a notchback sedan with either two or four doors, adds a lot more class to the familiar hatchback Rabbit. The highly popular Rabbit -- who can deny it? -- is utilitarian in style. Nonetheless, it is a model with numerous variants on the theme by other carmakers, especially in the US. But some VW buyers wanted something more elegant in looks than the basic Rabbit style.

The fuel-injected Jetta meets the need -- and then some.

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What the Jetta is, really, is a Rabbit with a trunk. Everything from the "C" pillar forward is Rabbit. But what a whale of a difference the added sheet metal and 18 inches in length make, even if the wheelbase is the same in both cars. The Jetta weighs less than 100 pounds more than the Rabbit; thus the impact on fuel economy is slight.

Why Jetta? The name is intended to suggest the high-level jet stream over the earth, in keeping with VW' scurrent fad for naming car models after winds (thei Scirocco is another).

While more expensive than the Rabbit (remember the under-$2,000 beetle?), the Jetta looks the price (starts at $7,650) while the Rabbit may not. Actually, the figure is somewhere between the Audi 4000 and the less-costly 4-door Honda Accord -- and this is the market at which the Jetta is aimed. Options can jack up the price, of course. A manual sunroof, for example, lists for $240. Air conditioning is $550.

Clearly, the Jetta, especially with a 5-speed manual transmission, is a nimble-wheeled sports machine that has some of the attributes of a far-higher-priced car.

The suspension, for example, although akin to the Rabbit's nonetheless gives a harsher ride than its forebear.However, and this could be a problem on pothole-pocked roads, the suspension -- at least in may case -- would, on occasion, "strike bottom." Otherwise, the ride warrants a high grade.

Here's a question: Why do the window cranks require 6 1/2 turns from full up to wide open? Also, the glass in the front side windows continues to stick up slightly even when the window is fully open. Thus, for the driver who may like to drive with his left elbow on the window frame, the practice is not exactly comfortable. Driving a Jetta is a good way to break the habit.

The Jetta is the fourth new model for the US market in 1980. Last fall VW brought out the Rabbit convertible, replacing the distinctive beetle ragtop, and the Vanagon which VW bills as a combination van and station wagon.

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The West German automaker also sells a camper version of the Vanagon, which includes two full-size double beds, one of them in the pop-up top. A fully equipped deluxe camper, including sink, stove and refrigerator, plus hookups for water and electricity, is priced under $15,000.

Last fall VW also introduced the highly rate Rabbit-based pickup truck, which has a practical-sized cargo box and handles as well as a car. A brand-new Scirocco also is on VW now has about 2.8 percent of the domestic car market, compared with at least 5 percent in its heyday in the early 1970s. As a matter of fact, the West German automaker is well ahead of American Motors in US sales, and, unlike AMC, its sales are continuing to climb.

VWhs goal according to James McLernon, president of volkswagen of America Inc., is to again get 5 percent of the market.

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