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Volkswagen Jetta Wagon GLX (2002)

SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig


MODEL: Volkswagen Jetta Wagon GLX
ENGINE: 2.8-liter V6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 174 hp @ 5800 rpm/181 lbs-ft @ 3200 rpm
TRANSMISSION: Four-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 96.0 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 173.6 x 68.3 x 58.5 in.

At the end of the 2001 model year, Volkswagen announced that the Jetta Wagon was available. It is the first Jetta Wagon in the United States. Jetta is the top-selling European nameplate in the United States, and VW decided to increase the variety of Jettas available with the wagon.

Our tester was the top-of-the-line GLX version, with a 174-horsepower 2.8-liter V6 engine (this is the narrow, 15-degree V), four-speed automatic transmission ($875), and leather interior. It was also a performer, tending to want to scream away from stop signs and red lights and stopping just as quickly. My wife had a sore back the week we had the Jetta and she was constantly grabbing the dash or the door pulls for extra support as I drove with a bit more gusto than her back wanted.

Of course she had to drive it to work a couple of days and when she was behind the wheel she didn't complain about the speed or handling.

This is truly a sport wagon, as the performance indicated. Volkswagen claims 0-60 mph times of 9.4 seconds with the automatic (8.3 seconds with a five-speed manual), so here is a vehicle that can take off and run with the best of them.

Standard engine in the Jetta Wagon GLS is a 2.0-liter inline four rated at 115 horsepower and 122 lbs-ft of torque. Zero-to-60 times with this engine are 11 seconds with the manual gearbox, 12.2 with the automatic. Unless you're a leadfoot, this should be enough power.

The stopping ability (as critical as the ability to go) is enhanced by power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes with ABS on 17-inch alloy wheels. In addition, our tester had a sport suspension (a $600 option).

Handling is equivalent to the performance. Up front, the independent suspension is comprised of MacPherson struts, coil springs, telescopic gas pressurized shock absorbers and a 23 mm stabilizer bar for rigidity. The independent torsion beam rear suspension also uses coil springs and telescopic gas pressurized shock absorbers, but uses a slightly thinner 18 mm stabilizer bar.

But the Jetta Wagon is more than just performance. We were able to stack three sets of golf bags in the rear and had room for our three-quarters of the foursome. All passengers rode in comfort. We also used it to transport boxes of pet magazines to a cat show, and the Jetta lost none of its performing ability with a hundred pounds or so of extra cargo in the rear.

Incidentally, that storage area behind the rear bench seat amounts to 34 cubic feet. This is far more than most normal people would need (not counting families, of course). It can be expanded by folding down the rear seat, but then the rear passengers wouldn't be comfortable.

And it looks good. There's no question that Volkswagen design has a family look to it that is attractive and practical. You know when the car coming at you is a Volkswagen. Sometimes it's difficult to tell if it's a Passat, Golf or Jetta, but the family resemblance is strong. It's a clean design that is aerodynamic and practical. Like Mercedes and BMW, VW has a strong design theme through its line.

Front passengers sat in individual bucket seats that were powered and heated. We had a few cold mornings in the beginning of autumn and the heated seats were a welcome addition. I think I'd vote for heated seats on any car I get. I know my wife would insist on them, especially with a back that tends to get achy.

Instrumentation is fairly standard with a speedometer, tachometer, fuel level and water temperature gauges. I didn't particularly like the blue-to-purple background lighting of the instruments at night, although it was easy on the eyes. I admit I'm conservative, but I prefer white numbers on black dials with red or white pointers.

But the color of the instruments is a minor complaint. There's no question that an owner/driver can learn to like whatever color the instrument panel lights are. Since everything else about the Jetta Wagon is exemplary, I think I could overlook the lights.