SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyer's Guide
"Volkswagen" translates from German as "people's car," and the name holds true. Volkswagen first gained its following with the original Beetle in the 1950s. The simple, inexpensive, and well-made Beetle was a car for the European people of that post-World War II time, and became popular in the U.S. as a protest against the then- current extra-large American cars. The world has changed considerably since the day of the Beetle, and VW has changed with it. But it still makes cars for regular people, and buying a Volkswagen can still be a protest against large vehicles.
The compact Jetta is VW's best seller. A wagon was added to the Jetta lineup partway through the 2001 model year. Compact wagons are popular in Europe, where space is at a premium and fuel costs are high, and they have a following here, too. If you like small cars but need more space, especially for cargo, than is offered by a sedan, a small wagon makes sense. Plus, the wagon's tailgate allows large items to be easily loaded or unloaded - a huge sedan trunk is pretty useless when you can't fit what you want inside inside because of a small opening. And, a small wagon makes as good a protest against large SUVs today as a Beetle did against the tailfinned behemoths of its day....
But wagons are boring, right? Not the Jetta Wagon. Think of it as a GTI with two extra doors and more cargo space, and no compromise for fun. The base GL 2.0-liter engine combines good economy and reasonable power, and the 1.8t and VR6 provide sports car fun with plenty of room for their size.
For 2002, the turbocharged 1.8t gets a significant power boost, giving it parity with the 2.8-liter narrow-angle VR6 V6. Expect interesting developments to the VR6 in the future, but it's in no way underpowered now. I've been driving a new, top-of-the-line Jetta GLX Wagon for the past week, and it's been thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining. And useful, too, with plenty of room for real people and a flip-and-fold rear seat for moving large objects easily. Who said you can't take it with you?
APPEARANCE: No surprise here, the Jetta Wagon looks like a Jetta wagon. It's handsome but not eye-catching, which is probably good considering its fun potential. In place of the sedan's three-box shape is a two-box design, gently rounded at the edges and corners, with all of the contemporary Volkswagen styling cues. It has the popular European monochrome finish, the VW sloping, rounded- trapezoid body-colored grille that fairs into the central bulge of the otherwise flat hood, bright multi-element headlights and large rectangular wraparound taillights, and flared wheel arches of the sedan, to which is added a wagon roofline with black roof rails. The sport suspension adds 17-inch alloy wheels and low-profile tires that enhance the car's look as well as handling.
COMFORT: People's luxury car. In GLX trim, the Jetta Wagon is as well-equipped as some much more expensive European sports sedans or wagons. The GLX comes with just about every option in the Jetta catalog included - leather seating surfaces, power windows, mirrors, and front seats, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, a tilt-and-slide sunroof, automatic climate control, and an 8-speaker Monsoon AM/FM/cassette audio system. And the front seats are heated, with five heat levels (0 to toasty in seconds!) But its basic comfort comes from good design and execution, not just features. Even the base model GL is comfortable, functional, and quiet. The Jetta wagon is definitely a driver's car, but has all of the practicality expected in a wagon. The rear seat has more room than expected, and flips and folds 60/40 for extra cargo space when needed. Extra storage is found in a large locking glovebox, door pockets, and hidden compartments beneath the rear cargo area - where also is found a real, full-sized spare tire.
SAFETY: The 2002 Volkswagen Jetta Wagon has dual front and front side airbags, plus standard side curtain airbags. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard.
ROADABILITY: Miles of smiles with this happy puppy, and in comfort, too. Even with the optional sport suspension the Jetta Wagon is no bone-shaker. Slightly stiffer springs and shocks, and P225/45 HR17 tires on alloy rims help cornering response with little detriment to ride quality. It leans in the corners, but sticks well. It's a car for the real world, supple enough for an all day drive and plenty of fun on any kind of road.
PERFORMANCE: The torquemeister VR6 found in the Jetta GLX is smooth and powerful. It's rated at 174 horsepower at 5800 rpm, with maximum torque of 181 lb-ft at 3200 rpm, which means excellent mid-range punch right where it's most useful. Power is expected to be increased later in the model year, but it's hardly deficient now. My test car had the standard five-speed manual gearbox, which added to driving pleasure on the open road. Newly optional for 2002 is a five-speed automatic with Tiptronic(r) manual shift mode. Expect only a slight loss in acceleration and a definite reduction in driver stress in traffic, and it's still easy to shift manually. In any trim, the Jetta Wagon is more of a hot hatchback with extra room than a boring transportation appliance.
CONCLUSIONS: Fun and function combine in the Volkswagen Jetta Wagon. And in premium GLX trim, add luxury at a middle- class price.
SPECIFICATIONS 2002 Volkswagen Jetta GLX Wagon Base Price $ 25,500 Price As Tested $ 26,100 Engine Type 12 valve, narrow-angle V6, single overhead cam per bank. Engine Size liters / x cu. in. Horsepower 174 @ 5800 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 181 @ 3200 rpm Transmission 5-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 99.0 in. / 173.6 in. Curb Weight 3,280 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 18.9 Fuel Capacity 14.5 gal. Fuel Requirement premium unleaded gasoline recommended for best performance Tires P225/45 HR17 Michelin MXM4 (with optional sport suspension) Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / semi-independent torsion beam axle Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 19 / 28 / 20 0 to 60 mph 8.6 sec (mfg) Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.32 OPTIONS AND CHARGES Sport suspension with 17-inch wheels $600