2012 Toyota Prius V Three vs. 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI Comparison Test

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (2)
  • Comparison
  • Long-Term

2011 Volkswagen Jetta Wagon

(2.0L 4-cyl. Turbo Diesel 6-speed Automated Manual)
  • 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI  vs. 2012 Toyota Prius V Three Picture

    2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI vs. 2012 Toyota Prius V Three Picture

    The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI and the 2012 Toyota Prius V Three are two family-friendly vehicles with serious mileage potential. | July 20, 2011

46 Photos

  • Comparison Test
  • 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen Specs and Performance
  • 2012 Toyota Prius V Specs and Performance

We all love a rivalry. Ali and Frazier, Borg and McEnroe, Peter Griffin and Homer Simpson. And now, thanks to unstable fuel prices and carbon footprint feuds, we have diesel versus hybrids.

To help settle at least part of this fight, we brought together the all-new 2012 Toyota Prius V and the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI. One is a thoroughly modern diesel, the other is this decade's high-tech panacea, the gasoline-electric hybrid power plant.

Both look great on paper, but which drivetrain delivers the goods in the real world for real people?

First, a Few Caveats
This wasn't the perfect fuel-sipping wagon test. For one, Toyota has yet to price the 2012 Prius V wagon. Our as-tested estimate is exactly that — an estimate based on 2011 Prius hatchback pricing patterns and a tacit confirmation from Toyota personnel.

Problem number two: There aren't official EPA numbers for the Prius V yet either. Toyota has supplied its own estimates, so we used those for now.

Further, we didn't get quite as much time or mileage in them as we would have liked. You really need to stretch the legs on these cars to get the most accurate mileage readings. That's possibly why both the Prius and the Jetta delivered observed averages that fell 2 mpg shy of the EPA "combined" mpg estimates.

If you want some reference, there's always the standard Prius versus Jetta sedan comparison test we did two years ago. That Jetta won based on performance and value, so what makes this round any different?

Wagons Ho
Toyota is eager to capture even more of the family-friendly crossover market than it already enjoys, so it decided to combine the haughty feel-goodness of the Prius and the practicality of a CUV or wagon to create the 2012 Prius V. Toyota says the 2012 Prius V provides more cargo space than 80 percent of all small SUVs, not to mention 40 percent more cargo volume than the standard Prius. Not a bad selling point.

Meanwhile, Volkswagen has seen a surge in the sales of its diesel-powered vehicles, especially the compact Jetta SportWagen. Already a known quantity when it comes to design, style and practicality, the SportWagen TDI is also the only non-luxury diesel-powered wagon currently available.

Despite a lower profile that would seem to indicate otherwise, the Jetta SportWagen's interior capacity and seating accommodations are nearly identical to those of the plus-sized Prius V. With all seats occupied, the Prius V's luggage compartment is larger by just 0.4 cubic feet over the Jetta. With the second row folded flat, the Prius' advantage is only 1.5 cubic feet.

Fuel Economy
As we said earlier, official EPA fuel economy data has yet to be released for the Prius V, but Toyota estimates it will deliver 44 city/40 highway and 42 combined mpg. Our results nearly validated the "combined" figure with our own 40 mpg observed average over 919 miles.

The Jetta SportWagen TDI is officially rated by the EPA at 29 city/39 highway and 33 combined mpg. As expected, the gasoline-electric hybrid Prius V is more efficient around town, and the turbodiesel Jetta wagon is (nearly) as efficient on the highway, earning just 1 mpg less than the Prius V's 40 mpg. Even after absent-mindedly combining our notoriously thirsty track-testing day with normal driving, the Jetta still managed to earn an average of 31 mpg over 536 miles of mixed driving.

Fuel economy aside, there's no denying the chasm that lies between the Prius V and Jetta SportWagen's widely divergent powertrains — and the driving impressions each provides.

In the Jetta SportWagen TDI, torque is the overriding sensation. Torque (and gearing) is what makes a car feel "light" or "peppy" as it leaves a stop. The VW's 2.0-liter turbodiesel makes a maximum 236 pound-feet of twisting force from 1,750 rpm, or about 50 percent more "shove" than the Prius V's maximum of 153 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm. Consequently, the Prius V feels slow nearly all the time, while the Jetta SportWagen never feels underpowered, even on hills.

Two Very Different Transmissions
Another contributor to the very different personalities of these two wagons comes from the two different transmissions. Volkswagen's ultra-slick six-speed DSG automated double-clutch manual transmission (with Sport and Manual modes) does an amazing job of keeping the engine engaged with the driver's intentions and requests. Quick and nearly seamless upshifts are as good or better than a traditional automatic transmission, and the elimination of the torque converter lends a real sense of response and connectedness.

When it comes to the Toyota, there's no getting around the odd sensations produced by its continuously variable transmission (CVT). The Prius is always trying to balance economy with performance, and it's often stuck in the middle. This is in part because the transmission is constantly blending power from two different sources, which results in a "rubber-band"-like power delivery.

On the highway, the Prius V often produces a constant-rpm drone that's off-putting and relatively loud. In fact, it's louder than the Jetta's turbodiesel under wide-open-throttle conditions by 2 decibels. At rest when the Prius literally shuts off, and at a 70-mph cruise, the Prius is, indeed, quieter.

In a Straight Line
Neither of these fuel sippers could be considered quick. Our test-driver's best results illustrated that in a race to 60 mph, the Jetta SportWagen TDI is quicker by 1.5 seconds with a time of 8.8 seconds. Neither one is what we'd ever call anything other than an economy car, but the Jetta SportWagen clearly comes out ahead.

During 60-0-mph panic stops, the Prius V had a slight advantage, with a 129-foot stop to the Jetta's 132-foot best performance. Further, the Jetta SportWagen's brakes weren't as resistant to heat, so distances grew to a greater extent with repeated stops.

In terms of typical braking sensations, the Jetta's hydraulic-based system responds to pedal pressure and travel in traditional analog fashion. In another demonstration of the blending of two systems, the Prius V's brake-by-wire system often feels vague and non-linear as the computer attempts to utilize both mechanical disc brakes and electricity-generating "regenerative" brakes in the most efficient manner.

Through the Turns
To its credit, Toyota has made noticeable progress with each generation of its hybrids in terms of their drivelines, steering and braking. In fact, this largest-to-date Prius V rides better and steers with a much more natural feeling than any previous version, but that's a pretty low bar to jump over.

Where we once criticized the Prius for a ride that felt simultaneously too soft and too tippy, with steering that offered little feedback or feel, the 2012 Prius V feels relatively buttoned down. Still, it's nowhere near as refined or confident as the Jetta SportWagen when it comes to overall handling.

Perhaps because of its larger footprint and more predictable responses, this Prius V fractionally outpaced the last Prius hatchback we tested in the slalom (with a 59.5-mph average) despite both Prii having non-defeat electronic stability control (ESC) systems.

The Jetta SportWagen TDI (also with non-defeat ESC) ran through the same 600-foot course with immeasurably more poise and assurance at a significantly higher average speed (4.2 mph faster at 63.7 mph), earning it a "Good" track rating from the test-driver. In terms of maximum available grip, both cars were ESC-limited to an artificially imposed fast walking pace, both orbiting our skid pad with between 0.74 and 0.76g of lateral acceleration.

Value and Break-Even
Because we don't have official pricing for the Prius V wagon as of this writing, company representatives would only assure us trim-level pricing patterns will follow those of the Prius hatchback. With that, Toyota did not convulse when we proposed $27,500 for our 2012 Prius V Three test car.

It has been our experience that when comparing gasoline-electric hybrids to either fuel-efficient gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicles, we have observed roughly a 5-to-8-year break-even point. This time, however, the time frame has narrowed — due in part to fuel costs and in part to vehicle prices.

Inputting estimated fuel economy values into Edmunds.com's Gas Mileage Savings Calculator, we discovered that despite what appears to be a rather large 9-mpg difference and a relatively small $635 price variance, it would still take about 2 years to recoup the higher initial cost of the Prius V (assuming 1,250 miles driven per month at a cost of $3.75/gallon for fuel). However, add more miles driven and/or increase the price of fuel, and the calculator will produce results that increasingly favor the Prius V.

The Winner
We understand the rationale behind the Prius V wagon. It's a natural progression from the smaller hatchback, and quite frankly we wonder what took Toyota so long to bring it to market.

That said, the Jetta SportWagen TDI is simply more rewarding to drive in nearly every situation. Modern turbodiesel engines do not rattle, smoke or smell, nor are they inherently underpowered or slow. You don't have to go to truck stops to fuel them anymore either. Today, turbodiesels offer an undeniable alternative to hybrid-powered vehicles that, while providing a slight advantage in terms of fuel efficiency, also are rife with intrinsic concessions in terms of driving dynamics.

We know it sounds like we've beat this drum before, but the Jetta drives, looks and simply behaves more like a "regular" wagon. Call us crazy, but when we press the accelerator, turn the steering wheel or even want to manually select a gear, the Jetta SportWagen actually goes, turns and shifts like we expect. It's something you can't see in the numbers, but you feel every time you're behind the wheel. So as this rivalry goes, score another round for the diesel.

The manufacturers provided Edmunds these vehicles for the purposes of evaluation.

Vehicle
Model year2011
MakeVolkswagen
ModelJetta SportWagen
Year Make Model2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI (2.0L 4cyl Turbodiesel 6AM)
Vehicle TypeFWD 4dr 5-passenger wagon
Base MSRP$26,865
Options on test vehicleNone
As-tested MSRP$26,865
Assembly locationPuebla, Mexico
North American parts content (%)7
Drivetrain
ConfigurationTransverse, front-engine, front-wheel drive
Engine typeTurbocharged, direct-injected inline-4, diesel
Displacement (cc/cu-in)1,968/120.1
Block/head materialCast-iron/aluminum
ValvetrainDOHC, four valves per cylinder
Compression ratio (x:1)16.5
Redline, indicated (rpm)5,000
Fuel cutoff/rev limiter (rpm)4,500 auto upshift
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)140 @ 4,000
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)236 @ 1,750
Fuel typeLow-sulfur diesel
Transmission typeSix-speed auto double-clutch manual with console shifter with Sport/Manual modes
Transmission ratios (x:1)1st = 3.46; 2nd = 2.05; 3rd = 1.30; 4th = 0.90; 5th = 0.91; 6th = 0.76
Final-drive ratio (x:1)4.12 (gears 1, 3, 5); 3.04 (gears 2, 4)
Differential(s)Electronic differential lock
Chassis
Suspension, frontIndependent MacPherson struts, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, stabilizer bar
Suspension, rearIndependent multilink, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, stabilizer bar
Steering typeElectric-assist speed-proportional, rack-and-pinion power steering
Steering ratio (x:1)16.4
Tire make and modelBridgestone Turnaza EL 400 02
Tire typeAll-season (35 psi cold front; 35 psi cold rear)
Tire size205/55R16 (91H)
Wheel size16-by-6.5
Wheel materialCast aluminum
Brakes, front12.3-inch one-piece ventilated cast-iron discs with single-piston sliding calipers
Brakes, rear10.1-inch one-piece solid cast-iron discs with single-piston sliding calipers
Track Test Results
Acceleration, 0-30 mph (sec.)3.2
0-45 mph (sec.)5.5
0-60 mph (sec.)8.8
0-75 mph (sec.)13.3
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)16.6 @ 83.5
0-60 with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)8.5
0-30 mph, trac ON (sec.)3.9
0-45 mph, trac ON (sec.)6.6
0-60 mph, trac ON (sec.)10.0
0-75 mph, trac ON (sec.)14.5
1/4-mile, trac ON (sec. @ mph)17.3 @ 82.7
0-60, trac ON with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)9.6
Braking, 30-0 mph (ft.)33
60-0 mph (ft.)132
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)63.7
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph) ESC ON63.7
Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g)0.76
Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g) ESC ON0.74
Sound level @ idle (dB)52.0
@ Full throttle (dB)71.4
@ 70 mph cruise (dB)68.8
Engine speed @ 70 mph (rpm)2,300
Test Driver Ratings & Comments
Acceleration commentsLong pause between whacking the throttle to the mat and actual progress. Overlapping pedals remove this delay and shave a full second from time at speed. Despite a 5K redline, the transmission auto-upshifts (very smoothly) at 4,500 rpm even in Manual mode.
Braking commentsPedal remained medium-firm throughout test; however, there was a fairly significant increase in stopping distances from first (best) and subsequent stops. Straight and confident stops with modest dive regardless.
Handling commentsSkid pad: The non-defeat ESC hates the skid pad with near constant brake checking well before a tire howl. It sure seems as if there's more capability here than the system will allow. Threshold set well below what I'd call understeer. Steering feels slightly springy, but does transmit some useful information. Slalom: Unlike on the skid pad, the non-defeat ESC is ironically lenient in the slalom. When it does intervene, the minor brake dabs only trim heading -- not a complete nanny-slap. Traction-control on/off makes no difference here (identical times). The Jetta Sportwagen is a little slow to transition/shift weight side-to-side; however, it is easy to predict and compensate for with an earlier-than-normal turn-in. Precise, friction-free steering helps in this regard.
Testing Conditions
Test date6/14/2011
Test locationCalifornia Speedway
Elevation (ft.)1,121
Temperature (F)79.2
Relative humidity (%)40.4
Barometric pressure (in. Hg)28.8
Wind (mph, direction)4.2 head/crosswind
Odometer (mi.)1,211
Fuel used for testUltralow-sulfur diesel
As-tested tire pressures, f/r (psi)35/35
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)29 city/39 highway/33 combined
Edmunds observed (mpg)29 worst/32 best/31 average over 536 miles
Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.)14.5
Driving range (mi.)493
Audio and Advanced Technology
Stereo descriptionAM/FM/XM-Sirius touchscreen radio with in-dash 6-disc CD changer, MP3 & WMA format readable, SD card slot, aux jack, 10 speakers
iPod/digital media compatibilityOptional iPod via proprietary cable
Satellite radioStandard XM/Sirius
Hard-drive music storage capacity (Gb)Not available
Rear seat video and entertainmentNot available
Bluetooth phone connectivityStandard
Navigation systemOptional
Telematics (OnStar, etc.)Not available
Smart entry/StartNot available
Parking aidsNot available
Blind-spot detectionNot available
Adaptive cruise controlNot available
Lane-departure monitoringNot available
Collision warning/avoidanceNot available
Night VisionNot available
Driver coaching displayStandard
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)3,283
Curb weight, as tested (lbs.)3,356
Weight distribution, as tested, f/r (%)60/40
Length (in.)179.4
Width (in.)70.1
Height (in.)59.2
Wheelbase (in.)101.5
Track, front (in.)60.7
Track, rear (in.)59.6
Turning circle (ft.)35.8
Legroom, front (in.)41.1
Legroom, rear (in.)35.5
Headroom, front (in.)38.4
Headroom, rear (in.)38.1
Shoulder room, front (in.)54.8
Shoulder room, rear (in.)53.1
Seating capacity5
Max cargo volume behind 1st row (cu-ft)66.9
behind 2nd row (cu-ft)32.8
GVWR (lbs.)4,432
Payload, mfr. max claim (lbs.)983
Tow capacity, mfr. claim (lbs.)Not rated
Ground clearance (in.)5.4
Warranty
Bumper-to-bumper3 years/36,000 miles
Powertrain5 years/60,000 miles
Corrosion12 years/Unlimited miles
Roadside assistance3 years/36,000 miles
Free scheduled maintenance3 years/36,000 miles
Vehicle
Model year2012
MakeToyota
ModelPrius V
Year Make Model2012 Toyota Prius V Three (1.8L 4cyl gas/electric hybrid CVT)
Vehicle TypeFWD 4dr 5-passenger Wagon
Base MSRP$27,500 (est.)
Options on test vehicleNone
As-tested MSRP$27,500 (est.)
Assembly locationTsutsumi, Japan (Toyota City)
North American parts content (%)0
Drivetrain
ConfigurationTransverse, front-engine combined with electric motor(s), front-wheel drive
Engine typeNaturally aspirated, port-injected, Atkinson-cycle, inline-4, gasoline with auto-stop/start
Displacement (cc/cu-in)1,798/110
Block/head materialAluminum/aluminum
ValvetrainDOHC, four valves per cylinder, variable intake-valve timing
Compression ratio (x:1)13.0
Redline, indicated (rpm)N/A
Fuel cutoff/rev limiter (rpm)N/A
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)98 @ 5,200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)105 @ 4,000 rpm
Fuel type87-octane recommended
Hybrid typeSeries-parallel
Electric motor rating (kW)60
Combined horsepower (hp @ rpm)134 @ 5,200
Combined torque (lb-ft @ rpm)153 @ 4,000
System voltage650
Battery typeNickel-metal hydride
Battery voltage201.6
Battery capacity, rated (kW-hr)1.3
Transmission typePlanetary gearset-regulated continuously variable transmission with console shifter and default/power/eco/EV modes
Transmission ratios (x:1)N/A
Final-drive ratio (x:1)3.703
Chassis
Suspension, frontIndependent MacPherson struts, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, stabilizer bar
Suspension, rearSemi-independent twist beam-axle, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, integrated stabilizer bar
Steering typeElectric-assist, speed-proportional, rack-and-pinion power steering
Steering ratio (x:1)19.1
Tire make and modelYokohama BluEarth S34
Tire typeAll-season, low rolling resistance (35 psi cold front; 33 psi cold rear)
Tire sizeP205/60R16 (91V)
Wheel size16-by-6.5-inch
Wheel materialCast aluminum with hubcaps
Brakes, front10.8-inch ventilated disc with single-piston sliding caliper + regen
Brakes, rear11.5-inch solid disc with single-piston sliding caliper + regen
Track Test Results
Acceleration, 0-30 mph (sec.)3.4
0-45 mph (sec.)6.3
0-60 mph (sec.)10.3
0-75 mph (sec.)16.0
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)17.5 @ 78.4
0-60 with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)10.0
0-30 mph, trac ON (sec.)3.6
0-45 mph, trac ON (sec.)6.4
0-60 mph, trac ON (sec.)10.5
0-75 mph, trac ON (sec.)16.3
1/4-mile, trac ON (sec. @ mph)17.6 @ 78.2
0-60, trac ON with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)10.1
Braking, 30-0 mph (ft.)32
60-0 mph (ft.)129
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)N/A
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph) ESC ON59.5
Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g)N/A
Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g) ESC ON0.74
Sound level @ idle (dB)37.9
@ Full throttle (dB)73.4
@ 70 mph cruise (dB)65.6
Engine speed @ 70 mph (rpm)N/A
Test Driver Ratings & Comments
Acceleration commentsIn the case of the Prius V, Trac On indicates engine was stopped when throttle pedal was depressed to start the run; and Trac Off indicates engine running prior to releasing brake pedal to start the run. That said, there was a 0.01-second difference (essentially no measurable difference) between default/Eco/Power/EV modes at wide-open throttle. Best run was with engine running before releasing brake, otherwise it matters not. This Prius V is just as painfully slow and noisy in that same droning-Prius sort of way as the original.
Braking commentsNot as much dive as expected. The weight must be low to the ground. Nothing out of the ordinary: no fade, no pedal softness, no wander or wiggle -- just an average performance.
Handling commentsSkid pad: Non-defeat ESC means driving right up to the programmed, electronic threshold as evidenced by the blinking light on the instrument panel. ESC allows just a hint of howl and understeer before trimming throttle and dabbing brakes. Steering feel is completely artificial, although it does have more weight than previous Prii. Slalom: Steering change in Prius V (versus Prius) is very evident in the slalom, with some useful friction-free effort build-up just off-center. It's also reasonably easy to place next to each cone with precision. The chassis feels far more composed/sophisticated despite the Prius V's added size and weight. ESC rewards smoothness and a steady pace rather than quick inputs and throttle manipulation, and electronics remain the ruler of what is allowed. Who really knows if the Prius V under- or oversteers? Neither one is available.
Testing Conditions
Test date6/14/2011
Test locationCalifornia Speedway
Elevation (ft.)1,121
Temperature (F)73.1
Relative humidity (%)51.9
Barometric pressure (in. Hg)28.8
Wind (mph, direction)2.1 head/crosswind
Odometer (mi.)1,607
Fuel used for test87-octane gasoline
As-tested tire pressures, f/r (psi)35/33
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)44 city/40 highway/42 combined (Toyota estimates)
Edmunds observed (mpg)38 worst/41 best/40 average (over 919 miles)
Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.)11.9
Driving range (mi.)476
Audio and Advanced Technology
Stereo description6.1-inch touchscreen audio system with integrated back-up camera, AM/FM CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability, SiriusXM, HD radio with iTunes tagging, six speakers.
iPod/digital media compatibilityAuxiliary and USB inputs
Satellite radioSirius/XM standard (3 months free trial)
Hard-drive music storage capacity (Gb)Being researched
Rear seat video and entertainmentNot available
Bluetooth phone connectivityStandard, includes audio streaming
Navigation systemStandard, hard-drive-based with traffic from paired, compatible phone, 6.1-inch touchscreen display
Telematics (OnStar, etc.)Optional on Five trim level (Advanced Technology package)
Smart entry/StartStandard, keyless ignition and driver door access
Parking aidsStandard back-up camera
Blind-spot detectionNot available
Adaptive cruise controlOptional on Five trim level (Advanced Technology package)
Lane-departure monitoringNot available
Collision warning/avoidanceOptional on Five trim level (Advanced Technology package)
Night VisionNot available
Driver coaching displayStandard
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)3,274
Curb weight, as tested (lbs.)3,304
Weight distribution, as tested, f/r (%)59/41
Length (in.)181.7
Width (in.)69.9
Height (in.)62.0
Wheelbase (in.)109.4
Track, front (in.)60.6
Track, rear (in.)60.8
Turning circle (ft.)36.1
Legroom, front (in.)41.3
Legroom, rear (in.)35.9
Headroom, front (in.)39.6
Headroom, rear (in.)38.6
Shoulder room, front (in.)55.9
Shoulder room, rear (in.)55.2
Seating capacity5
Step-in height, measured (in.)14.6
Max cargo volume behind 1st row (cu-ft)67.3
behind 2nd row (cu-ft)34.3
Cargo loading height, measured (in.)27.8
GVWR (lbs.)4,330
Payload, mfr. max claim (lbs.)1,056
Tow capacity, mfr. claim (lbs.)Not rated
Ground clearance (in.)5.7
Warranty
Bumper-to-bumper3 years/36,000 miles
Powertrain5 years/60,000 miles
Corrosion5 years/Unlimited mileage
Roadside assistance2 years/25,000 miles
Free scheduled maintenance2 years/25,000 miles
Hybrid/battery8 years/100,000 miles (except in California emissions states: 15 years/150,000 miles), hybrid battery only: 10 years/150,000 mile for all 50 states
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Edmunds Insurance Estimator

The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen in VA is:

$129 per month*
* Explanation
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