2015 Subaru WRX Vs. 2003 VW Jetta: When Less Car Is Actually More

My old Jetta is older, slower, and less refined than my WRX. But not by much—especially for its bargain-basement price.

Justin Hughes

It's ridiculous to compare the current generation of one car to another car three generations older—in this case, my 2015 Subaru WRX and my 2003 Volkswagen Jetta Smyth Ute donor. The WRX is 12 years newer. It has more than 200,000 fewer miles. It has two additional drive wheels and more than 80 extra horsepower. It's bigger, faster, more refined, and has more creature comforts. 

So why compare these two cars with each other? Because both are compact sedans with turbocharged 4-cylinder engines and manual transmissions. Sure, the newer Subaru is more capable in every way. It also cost me $25,000. The Jetta cost just $600.

There are reasons for that. There is nothing wrong with the WRX aside from a few scratches in the paint from everyday use, and it's still under warranty. The Jetta has dents and scratches down its entire right side, a bashed rear bumper, and it came with two smashed mirrors. Like most VWs of that era nowadays, the check engine light was on, requiring some thrilling heroics to make it pass its emissions test. I had to replace the mirrors and numerous burnt-out bulbs as well to get through the safety inspection. It also needed new shifter bushings to enable all of the gears, a new shifter boot, and replacement fans for both the radiator and the interior climate control. 

All told, I probably have around $1,000 into the car at this point—minus the Smyth Ute conversion kit, which I'm not counting because right now the Jetta is still a functional sedan.

But in their current forms, I'd say my Jetta is about 85 percent as good as my WRX, which cost me 25 times more to buy. On that basis, the old Jetta seems to be an amazing value, even with all of its issues. 

Now, granted, with the WRX I'm getting a much newer, lower mileage car that still has most of its life ahead of it. That's what I'm paying for. The Jetta is honestly on borrowed time. Most cars don't even last 240,000 miles. That's why it was so cheap. It's fully depreciated, and not worth much more than scrap value. 

But one man's scrap is another man's kit car. I have no need for two sedans, and I certainly won't be cutting up my WRX to turn into a ute. But the Jetta is well worth giving a second life in ute form. It will be more fun to drive on the street than any small truck this side of a GMC Syclone, and more practical to boot, with its small payload capacity and towing capability. But more than anything, I'm impressed with just how much car the old Jetta is for so little money compared to the already-affordable WRX.