Although the Golf had reached considerable success, in the North American markets, Volkswagen observed that thehatchback body style lacked some of the appeal to those who preferred the traditional three-box configuration. The styling of the 1970 AMC Gremlin was controversial for truncating the Hornet sedan, but Volkswagen stylists reversed the process by essentially grafting a new trunk onto the tail of the Golf to produce a larger Jetta saloon (sedan).[7] The Jetta became the best-selling European car in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.[8][9] The car is also popular in Europe, including the United Kingdom, Germany, and Turkey.[10]

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The Jetta was introduced to the world at the 1979 Frankfurt Auto Show.[11] Production of the first generation began in August 1979[5] at the Wolfsburg plant.[12] In Mexico, the Mark 1 was known as the "Volkswagen Atlantic".


The car was available as a two-door saloon/sedan (replacing the aging rear-engined, rear-wheel drive Volkswagen Beetle 2-door sedan in the United States and Canada) and four-door saloon/sedan body styles, both of which shared a traditional three-box design. Like the Volkswagen Golf Mk1, its angular styling was penned at ItalDesign, by Giorgetto Giugiaro. Styling differences could be found depending on the market. In most of the world, the car was available with composite headlights, while in the USA, it was only available with rectangular sealed beam lamps due to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 108 (FMVSS 10. The suspension setup was identical to the Golf and consisted of a MacPherson strut setup in front and a twist-beam rear suspension in the rear. It shared its 2.4 metre (94.5 in) wheelbase with its hatchback counterpart, although overall length was up by 380 millimetres (15 in). The capacity of the luggage compartment was 377 litres (13.3 ft3), making the Jetta reasonably practical.[13] To distinguish the car from the Golf, interiors were made more upscale in all markets.[14] This included velour seating and color coordinated sill to sill carpeting.


Engine choices varied considerably depending on the local market. Most were based on 827 engines of the era. Choices inpetrol engines ranged from a 1.1 litre four-cylinder engine producing 37 kilowatts (50 PS; 50 bhp), to a 1.8-litre I4 which made 82 kilowatts (111 PS; 110 bhp) and 150 newton metres (111 lbf·ft) of torque. Some cars were equipped with carburetors, while others were fuel-injected using K or KE Jetronic supplied by Robert Bosch GmbH. Diesel engine choices included a 1.6-litre making 37 kilowatts (50 PS; 50 bhp) and a turbocharged version of the same engine which produced 51 kilowatts (69 PS; 68 bhp) and 130 newton metres (96 lbf·ft) of torque.


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In 1984 Volkswagen offered the Jetta GLI in the US, adding many of the drivetrain features and improvements of the 1983–1984 US GTI, including the fuel-injected 90 hp engine, close-ratio 5-speed manual transmission, sport suspension, front and rear anti-sway bars, and ventilated front disc brakes. Externally, the Jetta GLI was distinguished by wide body-side moldings, a black airfoil on the driver's-side windshield wiper, black plastic trim panel between the rear taillights and GLI badging. The interior of the car sported leather 4-spoke steering wheel and shift knob, three additional gauges in the center console, sport seats similar to those in the GTI, and distinctive upholstery and interior trim. The Jetta GLI was offered in 5 colors, black, Atlas grey and red (with black interior) and white and Diamond silver (with blue interior).[citation needed]


Volkswagen briefly considered producing the Jetta in a plant located in Sterling Heights, Michigan in the USA.[15] However, due to declining sales in North America, the decision was postponed and finally abandoned in 1982.[16] The site was subsequently sold to Chrysler in 1983 and is still in operation as of 2009.[17] This generation was also produced in Bosnia under the joint venture Tvornica Automobila Sarajevo (TAS) for the Balkan area.[18]


Safety
Volkswagen was an early adopter of passive restraint systems. The first generation cars could be equipped with an "automatic" shoulder belt mounted to the door. The idea was to always have the belt buckled thereby doing away with the requirement that the driver and passenger remember to buckle up. Instead of a lap belt, the dashboard was designed with an integrated knee bar to prevent submarining underneath the shoulder belt.


In crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Mark 1 received five out of five stars in a 56 km/h (35 mph) frontal crash test for both driver and passenger protection.[19]


Testing and review
The first generation was met with generally positive reviews. Testers found the car handled precisely, although the lack of power steering contributed to heavy steering when parking.[20] The brakes worked well for a car of the day, but some brake fade was evident. The ride was taut but firm in the typical style of German cars, with large bumps being well absorbed by the suspension but smaller undulations coming through. Reviews differed on noise levels, some found the car fairly quiet, while others thought the engine contributed to higher noise levels.[21] Critics found the seating comfortable, but noted that the rear seat lacked sufficient head room. Most major controls and displays such as the speedometer and climate controls were well liked, but some secondary switches were not well placed or intuitive. The aforementioned automatic seat belts in some markets that were attached to the door frame made it impossible to forget to buckle the belt, but it was difficult to enter the car with a package in hand. Writers liked that the luggage space was generous, especially for a car of its size. Additionally, numerous storage areas also gave practicality to the sedan. In one test, the car scored nearly as high as the more expensive Volkswagen Passat/Dasher and the Audi 80/4000.[22]


The Volkswagen Atlantic was introduced in the Mexican market in February 1981. The sole competition for the Atlantic in the Mexican market was the Renault 18. The Mark 1 continued to be manufactured and marketed in South Africa after the introduction of the Mark 2, badged as the "Fox".[23]