BY MARK MAYNARD
Volkswagen’s diesel-powered Jetta SportWagen is simple, functional and honest. But with a little more back seat space, it could be so much more to so many more users.
Clean-diesel technology has evolved from what was once a fringe passenger-car fuel to what is now a mainstream choice in the United States. And Volkswagen has been the leader in bringing the new generation of clean-diesel power to the people.
The German carmaker pushes its oil burners because it has easy access to them from its global line of diesel-powered cars and trucks. For 2010, Turbo Direct Injection (TDI) is offered on the subcompact Golf, Touareg sport-utility vehicle and compact Jetta sedan and wagon.
The Jetta SportWagen TDI test car was rich with features for an as-tested price of $27,950. A $1,300 federal income tax credit had been available, but is no more. But what attracts most to the diesel wagon is its 42 mpg on the highway, which is tempting for those with a long daily commute. Its 30 mpg city is a good 5 to 7 mpg better than a smaller economy car. And according to Automotive Marketing Consultants Inc., which VW uses as a third-party certifier, its testers got 38 mpg for city driving and 44 mpg for highway.
This little wagon works for young families with small children or those who need the cargo capacity, which is huge and more accommodating than second-row passenger space. The center position is virtually unusable for even small adults because of a hard seatback and foot-room compromised by the exhaust/transmission tunnel. And the window seats really need some recline for modest-sized teenagers to be comfortable.
For those who can fit their lifestyles into this wagon, it quietly overdelivers. It does not try to disguise its mission with swoopy styling. The wide and deep rear glass provides open sightlines and the square cargo area is long and efficient. The second row folds but not flat. A section of the cargo floor can be folded upward and secured to create a backstop to corral grocery bags and other items. A roller cover is standard equipment.
For “clean” credentials, the EPA ranks the Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI as one of its “Smart Way” choices. It scores 7 out of a top-ranked 10 in the agency’s Air Pollution category and 8 out of 10 for the Greenhouse Gas score. The gasoline-powered Jetta wagon is rated 9.5/7.
The Honda Civic LX sedan (about $20,000) with five-speed automatic transmission is rated 26 mpg city and 34 highway. The Civic is also an EPA Smart Way choice and also ranks 7/8 in air pollution and greenhouse gas scores.
A closer Jetta-wagon competitor may be the Hyundai Elantra Touring (a wagon, which is also about $20,000). It has a 138-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder and four-speed automatic, which returns fuel economy of 30 mpg highway and 23 city. (Also a Smart Way choice, the Touring ranks 7/7 on pollution and greenhouse gas scores.)
But the Jetta just “feels” so much more “premium” than the Hyundai in how it drives, its styling and the interior finish and materials.
For 2010, the sedan and wagon have the new front-end design treatment, which emphasizes the “VW family” appearance. The narrow, double-bar grille and lower fascia are supposed to present a wider, lower and sleeker stance. Inside, there were some subtle design changes. A Bluetooth phone connection is standard, but the wagon still requires hands-on key punching to make a call, while the sedan’s system allows hands-free out calling. The wagon’s system can be upgraded at the dealership to the voice-actuated model.
The current Jetta sedan will be replaced in the fall by a re-engineered model that is slightly longer and wider with more back-seat room, a longer wheelbase but a slightly larger turning circle. However, a wagon is not part of the plan, according to one company source.
From the inside out, I forgot that I was in a body style that supposedly has fallen out of favor in the United States. The SportWagen handles like a competent sedan. And in my week of driving, I saw at least six other late model Jetta wagons. One was the same color and wheel pattern.
The guy driving and I did a double take and nodded, as if to say: “Hey, good choice.”
2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI
Body style: compact, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger wagon
Engine: 140-horsepower, DOHC, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel with common rail direct injection; 236 foot-pounds of torque at 1,750 to 2,500 rpm
Transmission: six-speed DSG Tiptronic automated manual
Acceleration, 0-60 mph: 9.5 seconds; top speed, 130 mph
EPA fuel economy estimates: 30 mpg city, 42 highway; ultra-low-sulfur diesel required
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gallons
Turning circle: 35.8 feet
Cargo space: 32.8 cubic feet behind second row, 66.9 back seat folded
Length/width/wheelbase: 179.4/70.1/101.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,285 pounds
Standard equipment includes: remote locking, air conditioning, V-Tex leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, 60/40 split folding back seat, rear seat armrest with pass through, power (heated) outside mirrors, cruise control, tilt-telescopic steering column, touch screen radio with six CD changer, Bluetooth phone connection, power windows, trip computer, heated washer nozzles, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift lever, 115-volt power outlet, 16-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires
Safety features include: six air bags, including front to rear air curtains, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, anti-slip regulation and electronic differential lock, engine braking assist and electronic stability program
SportWagen TDI: $25,060, including $750 freight charge; price as tested, $27,950
Options on test wagon: DVD satellite navigation system, $1,790; six-speed DSG transmission, $1,100
Where assembled: Puebla, Mexico
Warranties: Five-years/60,000-miles limited powertrain coverage; three-years/36,000-miles new vehicle coverage with roadside assistance and free scheduled maintenance
Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at Mark.Maynard@uniontrib.com.
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