The lines that we like on the Golf GTI somehow fall short with the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen. The taillight assembly looks like it was tacked on to the design at the last minute and the grille looks more like the work of an overzealous orthodontist than what we picture when we think of VW. The car's best look is in profile, where the designers make a case for a wagon actually being sporty. Just park it sideways in your driveway.
All three stars on this one go for the space available in the hatch area, which is approximately 66.9 cubic feet with the seats folded forward, compared to just 16 cubic feet in the sedan. The rest of the interior is similar to most Volkswagen products, with slightly above average quality and a pleasant two-tone color scheme. The seats are comfortable and sufficiently bolstered, though covered in a soft material that I wouldn't put that much faith into holding up.
We can't wait to see the performance numbers for the wagon with the new 2.0-Liter TDI four banger, which looks to put out 235 lb/ft of torque. This is my nice way of saying that while the 170-horsepower 2.5-Liter I5 provides enough power to keep up with your neighbors, you'll need a little more to outpace them.
Despite the added heft of the wagon, its four-wheel disc brakes provide easy and predictable stopping power. This came in handy when driving through Wrigleyville, with its high concentration of bars, and playing my favorite game: dodge the drunk. I didn't run over anyone who didn't deserve it.
It is a testament to the designers that the SportWagen maintains the sportier-than-thou handling that Volkswagens are known for without sacrificing ride quality. Though the suspension is tuned stiffer than your dad's Country Squire, you'll still be able to apply EZ Cheese to your pretzels without making a mess as you cross the country on the way to your family reunion.
Speaking of the Country Squire, this Jetta could drive circles around it with an independent suspension up front consisting of McPherson struts and a rear multi-link rear setup. It is genuinely fun to toss the SportWagen about and doesn't suffer from a case of the leans in heavy cornering. The steering response is wonderful, providing a level of feedback much higher than you'd expect from a car in this class.
The five-speed manual transmission, like much else on this vehicle, provides predictable and precise performance. Even with sloppy shifting and some experimenting with the throttle I never felt the threat of slippage. Fourth gear felt a touch tall given that fifth gear is setup for highway driving, but that's a minor complaint given how much we enjoy the novelty of having a fun manual transmission in a wagon for sale in the US.
The standard eight-speaker stereo provides great sound throughout the open cabin. Chicago is a nightmare for people who listen to non-satellite radio but the Diversity Antenna, which switches between two physical antennae, never let me down. All that's separating this system from that extra star is the fact that the base audio system in this model features an input for an iPod but no discernible way of using it. Pod teases.
This particular model isn't heavy on toys but there are a few nice additions, including three power outlets, fully automatic windows for all passengers, integrated turn signal mirrors and dual reflector headlights that feature tiny VW logos.
Yesterday I hinted that the base price was going to be somewhere near $20,000. Though I don't have an "as tested" price for this model, it looks like the base price could be as low as $19,900 and as high as $24,500. I still believe this is a reasonable amount to pay for the product (especially at the lower end), but the real value may come with the TDI model.
Though not a knockout in either performance or looks, I was sad to see the SportWagen go. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for that extra pillar and being able to enjoy a wagon designed to the higher standards of our snooty European brothers and sisters without a slush box is a rare treat. Paired with a clean turbodiesel capable of an EPA estimated 41 mpg highway (though we expect a higher real world experience), the SportWagen could be a real contender.