While the companion sedan gets a new body, and a new mission to compete on price and space with Japanese sedans, Volkswagen's 2011 Jetta SportWagen comes back for the new model year essentially the same vehicle as last year.
Available with either a five-cylinder engine, either powered by gas or turbocharged as a diesel, the SportWagen's clear winner is the diesel. It accounts for far more than half of all wagon orders--and it's a gem, generating plenty of torque, little vibration and harshness, and even with 140 horsepower, the TDI's torque makes it an engaging driver that's only a tick or two slower than the turbo. Fuel economy is rated up to 41 mpg on the highway, rivaling most hybrid sedans in the same class. It's our pick over the adequate but unimpressive standard five-cylinder gasoline engine and over the long term the economics of its higher sticker price should pay off thanks to lower ownership costs.
The Jetta's handling is one of the top reasons we recommend the German wagon over crossovers. The electric power steering is weighted well, and the ride is damped with a deft Deutsche touch. Braking is superb and the dual-clutch transmission on the diesel models may lack paddles for shifting, but it's a perfect companion for sporty driving. The manual transmission is a touch notchy, but direct in feel.
The SportWagen's compact, tidy styling is matched by a tightly constructed, high-quality cabin that's a vast improvement over the cheapened interior you'll find in the new Jetta sedan. But this wagon's all about cargo space, and its wide-mouth hatchback and fold-flat rear seats are a convincing counter-argument against a crossover purchase. It's versatile, roomy, and wears the family hauler tag as a badge of honor.
In past years, the Jetta SportWagen has been an IIHS Top Safety Pick, but with that agency and the federal NHTSA changing their criteria, the Jetta wagon has yet to be re-rated.
Among the minor changes for the 2011 model year are a newly available navigation system, which includes a higher-power audio system, a CD changer, iPod integration and an SD card slot for your music-filled memory card.
For more information on the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen, including specifications, photos and related news, visit our 2010 Volkswagen Jetta review.