What's New for 2012
There are no significant changes for 2012.
Compared to old-school sport-utility vehicles -- and even more modern car-based small SUVs -- the compact 2012 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen offers much of their practicality without the significant disadvantages. The result is a vehicle with significantly greater fuel efficiency and a nimble and fun-to-drive character that those physically larger vehicles can't match.
If it seems as though the Jetta Sportwagen looks more like a Golf than the Jetta sedan, your eyes aren't deceiving you. That's because Volkswagen's two Jetta body styles only share basic components now; the sedan was recently redesigned to be more mainstream but less sophisticated and upscale. In our opinion, that leaves the Sportwagen, which pretty much carries over unchanged from last year, the all-around better Jetta. The fact that it offers more total cargo room than small SUVs like the Chevy Equinox and even Volkswagen's Tiguan is another point in its favor.
The real difference between the Sportwagen and a crossover is the driving experience. With a lower center of gravity, a European-tuned suspension and a choice of lively engines under the hood, the Jetta Sportwagen is hands-down the more enjoyable vehicle to drive. The fact that the clean-diesel TDI model manages to return hybrid-like EPA fuel economy estimates of up to 42 mpg on the highway doesn't hurt either.
If the idea of a small, sporty wagon sounds appealing, you frankly don't have many choices nowadays. That makes the 2012 VW Jetta Sportwagen all the more desirable, although it also makes it more of an alternative to those aforementioned crossovers and a number of compact sedans and hatchbacks like the Ford Focus and Mazda 3. To whatever you compare the Sportwagen, though, we're confident it'll stack up well.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen is a five-passenger wagon offered in S, SE and TDI trim levels. The Jetta sedan and related Golf hatchback are reviewed separately.
The entry-level S model comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, roof rails, keyless entry, heated mirrors, heated windshield-washer nozzles, full power accessories, cruise control, air-conditioning, cloth upholstery, heated front seats with a power-adjustable backrest, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, an adjustable front armrest, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, a trip computer, Bluetooth and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack.
The SE and TDI add 16-inch alloy wheels (optional on S), "leatherette" premium vinyl upholstery, upgraded gauges, a leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel and a 10-speaker audio system with a touchscreen interface, satellite radio, HD radio, a six-CD changer, an iPod interface and steering-wheel controls. A panoramic sunroof and 17-inch alloy wheels are packaged together as an option on both the SE and TDI. A navigation system and keyless ignition/entry can be added to that package for the TDI.
Powertrains and Performance
The front-wheel-drive VW Jetta Sportwagen S and SE are powered by a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine that produces 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. A six-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 is 24 mpg city/33 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined with the manual transmission and 24/31/26 with the automatic.
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 available as an option. The latter features a Sport mode that quickens shifts and performance. Fuel economy is an impressive 30/42/34 mpg with the manual transmission and 29/39/33 with the automatic. In Edmunds performance testing, a Sportwagen TDI with the DSG automatic went from zero to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds.
The 2012 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen comes with a long list of safety features that includes antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front seat side-impact airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. In Edmunds brake testing, a Sportwagen TDI with 16-inch wheels came to a stop from 60 mph in 129 feet.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, the Sportwagen received the top score of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
In a rare case of the original being better than the "new and improved" version, the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen offers an interior that's noticeably nicer than the more recently redesigned Jetta sedan. Materials are top quality, with soft-touch plastics and handsome metal trim. Even the premium vinyl "leatherette" upholstery in the SE and TDI models looks and feels a lot better in person than its description might imply.
The cabin also earns high marks for user-friendliness. Engaging audio and climate controls is a straightforward matter, as is operating the optional navigation system. The navigation system does lack some functionality compared to other systems, though, due to its smallish screen.
As far as occupant comfort goes, the Sportwagen's interior offers a good amount of room up front. The backseat is a bit tighter, but not objectionably so. There's also a surprising amount of cargo-carrying capability here, with 32.8 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats and 66.9 cubic feet with the seatbacks folded down.
While the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen is no sports car, it's certainly a lot more fun and responsive to drive than similarly practical small SUVs. The steering feels precise and handling is respectable, though the suspension allows enough body roll to put a bit of a damper on enthusiastic driving.
In terms of everyday motoring, the Jetta Sportwagen offers a comfortable ride and a relatively quiet interior. TDI models are light-years ahead of the diesel-powered passenger cars of decades past, though this powertrain does generate a bit more vibration and noise than the gasoline engine. But in our opinion, the TDI is the way to go thanks to its combination of snappier acceleration and outstanding fuel economy.