Volkswagen's had a major hit with its redesigned Jetta sedan, which grew bigger and a little less refined for the 2011 model year. But while the four-door was repositioned to compete better with domestic and Korean compacts, the Jetta SportWagen remains a European-built wagon with less interior space, but a distinctly nicer interior than its sedan counterpart.
The SportWagen returns for the 2012 model year unchanged mechanically. The stylish Jetta wagon may have a less distinct shape than it's had in the past but it's still a contemporary-looking vehicle, with a nicely tapered body and sparse, sober details. The interior's the win: not only is it considerably richer than in the Jetta sedan, it's a cut above most everything else in the class, even some classes above it.
Of the two drivetrains offered in the front-drive SportWagen, the turbodiesel four is by far our favorite. Shoppers must feel the same, since TDI wagons have accounted for almost 80 percent of sales this model year. The turbodiesel is a gem, with plenty of torque, just a bit of vibration and noise. With just 140 horsepower but lots of low-end torque, the TDI's an engaging vehicle to drive, and it's just a tick or two slower than the standard five-cylinder. The TDI gets up to 42 mpg highway--while the grumbly, uninvolving five-pot falls behind in fuel economy and in responsiveness. TDIs also offer a dual-clutch automatic, while gas-powered SportWagens have a manual or a conventional automatic transmission.
In 2015, Volkswagen admitted diesel engines in this model illegally cheated federal tests and polluted beyond allowable limits. As part of unprecedented settlements with federal and state governments, Volkswagen agreed to buyback from owners diesel-equipped models of this vehicle. To determine eligibility for all affected Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi models, Volkswagen set up VWDieselInfo.com for owners. (Owners of affected vehicles can enter their VIN numbers to see if their cars are eligible for buyback.)
The Jetta's handling is one of the primary reasons we recommend it over crossovers. Its electric power steering weights up well. The ride is damped with a deft touch. Brake feel is superb, and the DSG dual-clutch transmission is a near-perfect companion for sporty driving, though it lacks paddle controls. The manual transmission, if you're looking to shift often, is a touch notchy, but direct in feel.
The SportWagen's tightly constructed, high-quality cabin is a big upgrade over the cheaper one in the new Jetta sedan, but it's smaller. Cargo space is fine, and the wide-mouth hatchback and fold-flat rear seats make it versatile and roomy, but the rear seat has three inches less leg room than the sedan, which also has a trunk that's quite large. Both versions have very supportive, firm front bucket seats.
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.
Offered in just a few models, the SportWagen comes with standard power features; cruise control; and climate control. A navigation system is available, and 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 2012 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen, including specifications, photos and related news, visit our Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen overview.
- 2012 Kia Soul
- 2012 Subaru Impreza
- 2012 Mazda MAZDA3
The compact station wagon is almost an extinct species in North America--most carmakers have focused on compact crossovers like the Escape, CR-V and RAV4 instead. To find a reasonable substitute for the very specific Jetta SportWagen, you might test-drive the Subaru Impreza, offered as a spacious hatchback, and with a frisson of quirky goodness in the form of standard all-wheel drive and a flat-four engine. The Kia Soul fits a tall-wagon form with cool details and this year, better gas mileage. The Mazda3 goes in search of 40 mpg EPA ratings with lighter curb weight and more efficient drivetrains, while it keeps its tossable handling.