Full 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen Review
What's New for 2011
For the 2011 Jetta Sportwagen, Volkswagen has slightly improved the 2.5-liter base engine's fuel economy.
If it seems as if the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen looks more like a Golf than the new 2011 Jetta, your eyes aren't deceiving you. That's because Volkswagen's two Jetta body styles only share basic components now; this year's sedan has been fully redesigned to be larger and value-driven. In the process, though, the sedan has become more mainstream but less sophisticated and upscale. In our opinion, that leaves the Sportwagen, which pretty much carries over unchanged from last year, as the all-around better Jetta.
With its upscale cabin and sophisticated ride, the Sportwagen looks and feels like a German luxury car. And, of course, being a wagon, the Sportwagen can carry plenty of stuff. With about 67 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity, this Jetta is roomier than popular compact crossovers like the Chevy Equinox, Kia Sportage and VW's own Tiguan. Since it sits lower to the ground and isn't as heavy as the typical crossover, it's also more responsive to drive and more fuel-efficient than those crossovers.
That fact is especially true given that the Sportwagen's base 2.5-liter five-cylinder has been given a fuel economy boost for 2011 and now manages a respectable 27 mpg combined EPA estimate. Those in search of a true fuel sipper, though, can still check out the VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI, which is powered by a clean-burning turbodiesel engine. With its 34-mpg combined estimate, it's one of the most fuel-efficient cars you can buy.
There are few small wagons around these days, so the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen doesn't really have any apples-to-apples competitors. The closest is the 2011 Volvo V50, which is more expensive but offers better acceleration and handling. One could also compare the Sportwagen to hatchbacks like the 2011 Mazda 3, small crossovers like the 2011 Honda CR-V or even hybrid hatchbacks like the 2011 Toyota Prius. Against any of these vehicles, the Sportwagen -- with its upscale design, useful wagon body style and the TDI's stellar fuel economy -- is a great alternative.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen is a five-passenger wagon available in S, SE and TDI trim levels. The Jetta sedan is reviewed separately.
The S trim comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, daytime running lights, roof rails, heated mirrors and windshield-washer nozzles, keyless entry, full power accessories, cruise control, air-conditioning, heated six-way adjustable front seats (power backrest, manual otherwise) and manually adjustable front-seat lumbar support. Also standard on this trim are a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, velour upholstery and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The SE adds 16-inch alloy wheels (optional on S), leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, a rear center armrest and a 10-speaker sound system with a touchscreen interface and a six-CD changer. The TDI is equipped similarly to the SE.
Optional on all trims are rear side airbags, a panoramic sunroof and Bluetooth. The SE and TDI can be equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, as well as a navigation system with 20GB of digital music storage and an iPod/USB audio interface (available separately).
Powertrains and Performance
The VW Jetta Sportwagen S and SE are powered by a 2.5-liter five-cylinder that produces 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the S, while a six-speed automatic is optional on the S and standard on the SE. EPA-estimated fuel economy has improved for 2011, returning 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined with the automatic. The manual achieves 23/33/26.
The Sportwagen TDI is powered by a 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder good for 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automated manual transmission known as DSG is optional. The latter features a Sport mode that quickens shifts and performance. Fuel economy with the automatic transmission is 29 city, 39 highway and 33 combined mpg; the manual transmission gets an even more impressive 30 city, 42 highway and 34 combined mpg. In Edmunds performance testing, a Sportwagen TDI with DSG went from zero to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds.
Standard safety equipment includes antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Rear side airbags are optional. In Edmunds brake testing, a Sportwagen TDI with 16-inch wheels came to a stop from 60 mph in 129 feet -- a mediocre distance.
The Jetta Sportwagen has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash-testing procedures. Its 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to the new 2011 tests) were a top five stars for the driver in head-on collisions, four stars for the front passenger and five stars for both the front and rear in side impacts. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's crash testing, the Sportwagen received the top score of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Jetta Sportwagen's cabin is a strong selling point, with high-grade, soft-touch materials and metallic trim that betters that of the new Jetta sedan. The vinyl "leatherette" upholstery found in the SE and TDI is finely stitched and does a good impression of real cowhide, with the added bonus of being easier to clean. Stereo and climate controls are straightforward and easy to use, with the touchscreen interface standard on the SE and TDI being a nice high-tech touch that's well-suited to the available iPod interface. That interface with the optional navigation system is one of the best on the market.
The Jetta's tall roof line lends a sense of spaciousness to the front seats, which boast a wide range of adjustment in order to accommodate drivers of various sizes. Rear legroom isn't as generous as that of the now-bigger sedan, but nevertheless, there's an adequate amount of legroom in back compared to what's available from most small crossovers. There's more than adequate cargo space; with its seats up, the Jetta Sportwagen boasts 32.8 cubic feet of space and 66.9 with the seats down.
For most shoppers in this segment, a comfy ride matters more than razor-sharp moves. By this measure, the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen is a fine companion in day-to-day driving. It swallows bumps and provides a relatively quiet cabin from which to endure the daily grind. If you do decide to drive aggressively, the Jetta's steering is nicely weighted and accurate, though significant body roll puts a damper on the level of fun.
With the TDI models, expect a little more vibration, a tad more noise and less high-end kick when trying to charge up that highway on-ramp from a stop. However, the diesel's prodigious low-end torque makes it feel downright muscular around town, as it pulls away from traffic lights with authority.