I have a confession to make, Yuppies: I’ve gone over to the dark side. I bought a Volkswagen. I have a good reason for it, though: I live in Ohio, a state notorious for its love affair with car-killing road salt. I needed a winter beater, and my sub-$1,000 budget left little room to find a solid, serviceable Bimmer. Besides, my boss, Pete, was not keen on the idea of relinquishing his 318ti.
The Volkswagen in question is a Mark 2 Jetta, specifically a 1990 Jetta GL Wolfsburg. I always liked the Wolfsburg as a sort of working man’s GLI; this car, a rust-free example from Pennsylvania, needs a little bit of work, but nothing outside my scope of ability. Having spent a few weeks shaking it down and sorting it out, I’ve actually found myself getting quite attached to it.
But one day this past week, I found myself behind the wheel of Pete’s 318ti again, and it didn’t take long to fall in love all over again. It’s a similar car to the Jetta in many ways: both are powered by thrifty four-cylinder engines, both have driver-focused cockpits with forward-thinking ergonomics, and both have cavernous luggage compartments.
Typical of that era, they are both unapologetically German; these are the sort of entertaining yet purposeful machines the country built its automotive reputation on. You either got it or you didn’t; if you did, you felt like you were in a special club. You knew the handshake.
The 318ti, though, epitomizes what’s so special and magical about BMWs: It gives you the feeling that you should never want for anything, and that you would be perfectly content driving this car, and this car only, for the rest of your life.
It’s an intangible sort of magic that’s sadly missing from my little Jetta. If anything, the battle-worn Volkswagen has taught me the difference between sporty cars that are economical (like the 318ti) and economy cars that are sporty (like the Jetta). While the rugged little blue box has given me a newfound appreciation for water-cooled Volkswagens, it’s made me appreciate BMWs that much more.—Cam VanDerHorst