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2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI Review

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2010 Volkswagen Jetta Sportswagen TDI

SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyers Guide

Hybrid Schmibrid, Who Needs Them When The Volkswagen TDI Is Available?


2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI

First, a definition: Cult car: a non-mainstream vehicle supported by a small but rabidly fanatic group of owners who would never even think of buying anything except the new version when theirs finally gives up the ghost.

Here in the USA, small wagons are cult cars. And diesels are, so far, cult cars. So, put the two together and while the result will have a receptive audience, it likely won't be the huge audience that the accountants at most automakers demand before a car can be sold.

Which matters not at all to Volkswagen. Being European, VW sells plenty of small wagons, both gasoline and diesel, on that side of the Atlantic. And has brought diesel versions of its Golf/Rabbit hatchback, Jetta sedan, and Jetta wagon over here -- to the acclaim of those who understand, and indifference of those who don't. Niche marketing seems to be a Volkswagen specialty…

Those who understand, know. Those who don't, well, perhaps they should -- Americans love wagons, as long as they aren't called wagons. What is an SUV or crossover but a tall wagon? Concurrently, green is in, meaning people are concerned about environmental impact from exhaust emissions and fuel use. Hybrids address that.

But diesel can do as well or better in most use.

Which means that the 2010 Volkswagen Jetta TDI SportWagen is a viable alternative to a compact hybrid crossover. Or sedan.

Fuel economy? The Jetta TDI wagon's EPA listing is 30 mpg city, 42 highway. And that is exceedingly conservative, less than real-world experience. During my recent time with a TDI wagon, I saw between 28 and 35 around town, and between 40 and 47 on the highway. Call it 37 overall. The best of the hybrids, the current Toyota Prius, is good for 51/48, with an all-around 50 during my time with one. The Honda Insight? 40/43, 42 in my experience. Those are the only hybrids available that beat the VW TDI's mileage, and not by much if at all on the highway. All hybrid sedans I've driven return low to mid-30s for mileage; generally larger and heavier hybrid crossovers less.

Emissions? Modern clean diesels, as exemplified by VW's, are as clean as gasoline-powered cars thanks to aftertreatment technology analogous to the catalytic converters found in gasoline-powered vehicles. And because of the better fuel economy, carbon dioxide emissions are lower.

But where the TDI, even the SportWagen, has the hybrids truly beat is the "fun to drive" factor. A Jetta (or, for that matter Golf) TDI is a Volkswagen, and VW does not make boring transportation appliances. Yes, a Jetta wagon is heavier than the sedan, or the Golf hatchback, so acceleration is a bit slower. And while the suspension is more comfort-oriented, it's still very capable when the road gets interesting. The 2010 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagen is just as versatile and nearly as spacious as a small, tall, crossover, and far more fuel-efficient. There's likely no comparison in the driving experience -- few crossovers have any sport intent, and those that do can pass anything but a gas station.

So… if you're thinking about a small crossover, or a hybrid, or both, think outside of the American box. Think VW Jetta TDI SportWagen. Your logical side will understand. Your emotional side will smile. There are good reasons that the diesel Jetta wagon has a strong following.

APPEARANCE: Like the Jetta sedan and Golf hatchbacks, the Jetta wagon has gotten a facelift for 2010. The chrome goatee has been shaved, and a new grille and headlights give a leaner, more toned look. The sides are simple, with a character line three-quarters of the way up that adds a little stiffness to the body panels and minimal fender flares. The side windows are surrounded by chrome trim, which is one-piece behind the C-pillar in the manner of high-priced luxury cars. The wagon is, obviously, a two-box wagon, with an aerodynamically-sloped roof, longer and lower than the Golf hatchback. All of that length increase is in the rear, all the better for cargo space.

COMFORT: Inside, the Jetta's styling is as simple and understated as outside. No gimmicks, no needless complexity, and made of high-quality materials assembles to tight tolerances. Windshield glare is near-nonexistent. The instruments are easily read, and all controls are simple and intuitive. The climate control system works quickly and efficiently, and three-level front seat heat is standard in the TDI. As is typical of Volkswagen, the steering wheel is manually adjustable for both tilt and reach and the driver's seat cushion is height-adjustable, so everyone can find the perfect driving position. The leather-rimmed wheel has controls for the information display between the tach and speedometer and a Bluetooth® phone, and auxiliary audio system controls. The front seats are a step up from most compacts (or midsize cars and crossovers) in design, comfort, and support. Front seatback angle is power-adjustable, gone is the clumsy old knob. Upholstery is "V-Tex", a synthetic that looks and feels more like leather than some leather. There's now a American-type center console with covered storage under the armrest and cupholders. The rear seat holds two adults comfortably, with a third, smaller, person in the center for short times -- like nearly every other small vehicle today. The view from the rear is great -- especially with the optional full-length Power Panorama Sunroof. A 60/40 split and flip-and-fold cushions make it as versatile as any compact crossover, if a bit lower in roof height.

SAFETY: The forty different features of Volkswagen's "Prevent and Preserve Safety System" work together to protect the Jetta TDI Sportwagen's occupants. Included are, among other things, a full complement of airbags, with available rear-seat side airbags, optimized front seat headrests and seatbelt pre-tensioners with load limiters. Active safety, the ability to avoid an incident, is enhanced by responsive handling and four-wheel disc brakes with antilock, brake assist, electronic brake-pressure distribution, and the ESP stability enhancement system.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Fittingly for its versatility-oriented mission in life, the Jetta TDI SportWagen's fully-independent MacPherson strut/multilink suspension is tuned moderately, for good ride comfort. Don't think that that means it can't handle, though. While there is more body roll than a GTI, the TDI wagon trumps nearly all similarly-sized crossovers when it comes to driving pleasure. Steering, brakes, and suspension are meant for active driving, not merely vehicle operation.

PERFORMANCE: In the context of people-and-cargo mover, "performance" encompasses distance between fuel stops as much as it does acceleration or high-speed cruising ability. As mentioned previously, it's hard to beat on that, with real-world mileage between high 20s around town when cold and high 40s on the highway, at realistic highway speeds, when warmed up. Volkswagen Group's 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel uses common-rail direct piezoelectric fuel injection, dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, and exhaust treatment from particulate filtration, diesel oxidation, NOx storage, and hydrogen sulfide slip catalysts make it clean enough to make it 50-state legal. And make 140 horsepower (at 4000 rpm), with, more importantly, 236 lb-ft of torque between 1750 and 2500 rpm. That's more torque than the GTI's 2.0-liter gasoline turbo. The wagon's extra weight does reduce acceleration, by about a second to 60 compared with the Jetta TDI sedan, but keeping up with traffic is no problem, nor is merging into fast highway traffic on a short onramp. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, with the six-speed twin-clutch automated manual DSG the automatic option. It works at least as well as a torque converter automatic in automatic mode, and shifts well manually -- not that the TDI's torque requires much shifting. It also prevents the engine from getting acquainted with the rev limiter, something that is very easy to do with the stick as it's the most rev-happy diesel I've ever driven. Something about that cousin winning LeMans in an Audi R10…

CONCLUSIONS: Volkswagen Jetta turbodiesel wagon:space, plus better fuel economy than most hybrids, and a better driving experience. Winner!

2010 Volkswagen Jetta TDI SportWagen

Base Price			$ 25,715
Price As Tested			$ 27,765
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 16-valve turbocharged
				 direct fuel-injected compression
				 ignition (diesel)
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 120 cu. in.
Horsepower			140 @ 4000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			236 @ 1750-2500 rpm
Transmission			6-speed dual-clutch automated manual
Wheelbase / Length		101.5 in. / 179.4 in.
Curb Weight			n/a lbs. (est 3400)
Pounds Per Horsepower		24.2
Fuel Capacity			n/a gal.
Fuel Requirement		ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel
Tires				P225/45R17 91H Conti ProContact
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, ABS
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		30 / 42 / 37
0 to 60 mph				9.5  sec

Power Panorama Sunroof			$ 1,300
Destination charge			$ 750