2011 Jetta Diesel SportWagen Revised: New Face, Great Space

July 7, 2010

Jetta TDI SportWagen:  Facelifted

While the big news from VW this summer is the upcoming bigger yet more affordable Jetta sedan, a facelifted version of the not that old Jetta SportWagen rolled into showrooms late last year.

From the front, this wagon has the latest Golf's grille.  The shiny shield-like beak is gone; a crisper horizontal opening with lollipop logo in the center replaces it.  Inside, the latest Golf's dashboard now resides between the "A" pillars.  Gone is the dash-top diffuser vent.

Otherwise, the SportWagen rolls into 2011 with all of its fifth-door virtues:  big rear lid, more space and enhanced rear headroom.  Its cargo floor lifts and folds.  This increases depth; "boxes" your freight.  You can also stack the floor between the rear stowage well and the back seat.  Other items that enhance its toting abilities include a flat-folding rear seat, a rear-seat pass through and upright side-door windows.  Loading or unloading items is easy.  This would be even better if the doors opened wider.

Unlike some wagons, this one's back seat isn't a slab-like bench.  It's contours offer reasonable support.  That also means converting it into a long-load platform is a military drill: remove three headrests, flip up lower cushions and drop the seat backs into a nicely finished under seat space.  This works, provided the front seats aren't slid too far back.  Should this be an unacceptable compromise, no problem; you can extract the aft seat bottom without tools.  Then, drop the backrest down without removing the headrests.

Up front, a tall driver, who isn't too wide, finds a supportive bucket.  Its long bottom cushion offers good thigh support.  With a multitude of seat and steering wheel adjustments, nearly anyone should find an ideal driving position.  Unlike many cars, VW endows the right front seat with the same height and lumber support adjustments with power back rake.

Other creature comforts include high-grade interior trim with soft-touch surfaces.  The leather-wrapped steering wheel is a delight.  And the orb atop the six-speed manual transmission's shifter is delicious too.  The height-adjustable center armrest slides fore and aft.  Behind it, face-level HVAC vents reside.  Backseat passengers get first class treatment.  Luxury-grade interior appointments set the Jetta apart from must affordable cars.

Another thing that sets the Jetta apart is its available turbo diesel mill.  This permits the Jetta to use less fossil fuel.  I managed 40 mpg.  EPA numbers:  30 mpg city; 41 highway. The trip computer indicated 50 mpg on one highway trek; its long-term use registered 47.  So if you hear stories that this turbo-diesel car can do better than its EPA numbers, believe them.  You further maximize this MPV of MPGs using its standard six speed manual transmission in order to keep the car in gear as you slow down.  The fuel injectors are shut off during deceleration.

Because this power train produces plenty of torque at a low rpm, it kicks you forward with more punch than expected from 140 hp.  This is particularly satisfying when you step on the throttle after you've cleared an apex.

My nearly year-old tester's engine produced more diesel noise than previous TDIs I've driven.  The clutch engagement felt improved over previous TDIs, yet clutch action felt sticky.

Steering feel, handling and ride quality all rate good.  But 16-inch Hankook tires didn't have leach-like grip.  My 2009 SportWagen shod with 17-inch Michelin Pilots was a road warrior.  Also, this one's suspension tuning didn't feel nearly as sporty.

With oil gushing in the Gulf and reports that fossil fuel demand leads oil companies to extract crude from difficult and more dangerous locations, curbing our use of petroleum makes sense for reasons other than the money you'll save at the pump.  The VW TDI can squeeze more miles out of gallon of fuel; diesel is energy dense and compression-ignition power plants that burn it are thermally more efficient.  Plus, VW's diesel technology is relatively green.

Thus, VW's TDI SportWagen, which lists for $25,000 is one mode of motoring mobility that makes sense for those who'd like to drive a greener car and even those who don't.

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