First off, I know the 2002 Jetta has had many recalls, and I have heard of many similar complaints with it from people over the years. I personally don't hold this against VW or see it as proof that all VWs are bad. I also strongly believe the reason I had so much trouble for so long was because of the DEALERSHIP, period. We bought an extended warranty and they didn't want to have to pay for the huge problems that needed to be fixed.
I got the car used, 2 years old, from a VW dealership. We were told it was a company car so-to-speak, like a loaner but only for employees, so had very little mileage on it.
Within the 1st week I had it, the CD player broke and I lost a CD in it. Had to get that replaced.
The cup holders also crapped out eventually and have to be finessed out, but it's not really a big deal.
VW also did a few recalls on the seats, the seat heaters, and some dials, so had those replaced as well early on.
Over the next few years, I had CONSTANT problems with it BURNING OIL, and the TRANSMISSION. Unfortunately I had no car knowledge at the time, so getting problems diagnosed took a long time (again, I am convinced the dealer didn't want to admit to these problems because it meant $$$ loss for them).
After having my car in their shop time and time again, for check engine lights and other weird symptoms (slow to change gears, and huge jerks when it finally happened), I finally had to tell them, I, someone with zero car knowledge, was smart enough to be able to tell there was something very wrong with the transmission, and demanded that be checked. FINALLY they had their "transmission expert" drive in the car with me, so there was no dispute! Finally, right before the warranty expired, they replaced the transmission (in Feb 2006) and the car drove like a dream ever since. But not before wasted time, and major inconveniences for me being without a car (I was under 25, so could not legally use rentals or loaners!).
Soon after this was fixed though, I had a lot of problems with my battery dying. LONG story short, after several trips (including tows) to the dealer with ZERO answers, we took it to another shop and they immediately discovered that when the dealership replaced the tranny, they failed to connect a wire to the battery and so it wasn't charging correctly. So in other words, we lost $$$ getting a problem "fixed" that the dealership caused! (UGH)
After that, the constant oil problem finally took its toll, and we finally had to get the engine replaced (in Aug 2008) at a trusted independent Volkswagen specialty repair shop (who diagnosed & fixed the deal caused battery problem).
Moral of the story: don't buy a 2002 Jetta, and be cautious of who you buy from! Get a second opinion if you have an on-going/serious problem and are under warranty!
Since then the car has worked just fine, and overall I love the car.
It is a nice, zippy car (exactly what I wanted -- my 1st car was a V8 (Taurus SHO) and I had learned to drive on that, so was spoiled with the speed, but didn't want to pay for the gas of a V8).
It's very comfortable, sturdy (unlike the tin box of a Ford Focus I test drove before settling on a Jetta), I don't fear it being broken into or stolen like with my friend's Hondas/Acuras/Mazdas/Toyotas, and I love all the various features: removable back seats (this is fantastic for cleaning since I have dogs that make a lot of mess), fold down back seats, heated seats, safety features, etc etc.
I love how it drives, love how it feels, love how it looks, and honestly it has held up great in every other aspect except these 2 (major) faulty issues (and the oil/engine prob could have been managed if I were on top of my oil changes, or if I kept a close record could have had proof of faulty engine and gotten it replaced by the company -- I know of someone who did this with their 2002 Jetta).