Unfortunately, as cars become more "efficient" (and therefore MUCH more complex), there are few guarantees as to quality.
You need to decide if reliability is #1, or whether it shares your heart with "fun to drive". Also, keep in mind that most people that post on these boards are either trying to make a point (I hate this company, you're not patriotic if... and so on) or are unhappy. If you look at the 2006 and beyond for Jetta, most people are pretty happy, which is rare for foreign vehicles.
I am looking for a car myself right now and am being as careful as I can (similar situation to yours). I have found that Chevy and Ford seem to have the most satisfied customers, although they also seem to have the least demanding. At least insofar as wanting cars instead of trucks.
I am addicted to German car handling and performance. But if you buy one, you have to be aware that they do require more maintenance. The engineered tolerances for them are far more precise than either US or Asian manufacturers.
If "fun to drive" is your #1 criterion, Jetta might work out for you nicely. Otherwise, look at the Scion tC (a few paint problems, not much else), Kia Forte or Mazda 3. They have all gotten very good reviews. One benefit of the Jetta (and the tC) is that after 2005 for the Jetta and 2002 for the Scion / Toyota, they went away from timing belts to timing chains. Major maintenance improvement.
For the record: I own a Passat 4motion (VW) and an Audi A4.
Ummmmm to the comment "I am addicted to German car handling and performance. But if you buy one, you have to be aware that they do require more maintenance. The engineered tolerances for them are far more precise than either US or Asian manufacturers."
VWs are made in Mexico, those Mexicans sure do know "German Car handling and performance", not to mention precise tolerances.
And if "The engineered tolerances for them are far more precise than either US or Asian manufacturers", then why would they need additional maintenance, the opposite should be true. Have you taken a micrometer in the engine and measured them vs US or Asian manufacturers? I doubt it.
Buying based on self derived ideology will not only likely be off-base, but lead to further delusions. Such as a certain country with millions of people, doesn't suffer from the same personal shortcomings that all humans have i.e. Germans build only precision products, US & Asian manufacturers do not have tight tolerances, China only builds junk products etc. It is up to the company at hand to decide final product quality vs value. It's up to you as a consumer to do your home work and see if a product is junk or not based on facts, not marketing hype. Would you trust the electric company to tell you the best way to save electricity & money?