Full 2009 Volkswagen Jetta Review
What's New for 2009
The Sportwagen body style and diesel-fueled TDI engine debut for the 2009 VW Jetta. Unlike the previous-generation Jetta's TDI, this more powerful diesel engine is 50-state certified in terms of emissions. Other changes throughout the Jetta lineup include stability control, heated seats and heated washer nozzles added as standard equipment. The optional navigation system has also been substantially upgraded to include a touchscreen interface and a 30GB hard drive.
For decades now, the Volkswagen Jetta has existed in its own special niche. It may seem like an oxymoron, but this compact VW has made a name for itself by being an upscale economy car. Although roughly the same size as econoboxes from the United States and Japan, the Jetta has long exuded a sense of solidity and refinement in line with illustrious fellow Germans sporting fancier badges.
The latest-generation Volkswagen Jetta, which debuted four years ago, carries on this tradition. It's a little deficient in the "cool factor" that earlier Jettas had, but from an all-purpose standpoint, there's little to complain about. For 2009, the wagon body style -- cutely dubbed the Sportwagen -- returns to the Jetta lineup. Compared to the old boxy Jetta wagon, the new Sportwagen features a more tapered roof line, but retains an impressive amount of utility. In fact, this Jetta actually boasts significantly more cargo space than VW's new Tiguan compact SUV -- 18 more cubic feet with the seats up, 10 more with them folded.
Also notable this year is the new 2009 Jetta TDI. The popular diesel-fueled TDI trim level has been MIA the past few years due to new government emissions regulations, but implementation of "clean diesel" technology has allowed VW to bring back the TDI. The new model is 50-state-certified and returns an impressive 34 mpg combined on the EPA testing cycle. A significant boost in power makes this fuel-efficient model even more attractive, although the rising price of diesel doesn't help the TDI's value equation.
The 2009 Volkswagen Jetta may dwell in its own niche, but it competes indirectly against a wide variety of models. Lower trims may be cross-shopped with economy cars like the Mazda 3 or Saturn Astra, while higher trims can be compared with midsize sedans like the Honda Accord or Nissan Altima. The Sportwagen is worthy of strong consideration if you're contemplating a compact crossover, while the TDI makes for an interesting alternative to hybrids. On its own merits, any Jetta is a serviceable substitute for those who want a premium German sedan but don't have the bankroll needed to bring one home.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Volkswagen Jetta is available in sedan and Sportwagen body styles. The sedan is available in S, SE, SEL, Wolfsburg Edition and TDI trim levels. The Sportwagen is available in S, SE, SEL and TDI trims.
The Jetta S comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, heated mirrors and washer nozzles, air-conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry, a tilt/telescoping steering column, eight-way-adjustable front seats with power recline, heated front seats, velour upholstery, a 60/40-split rear seat and an eight-speaker stereo with single-CD player and auxiliary audio jack. The Jetta SE adds 16-inch alloy wheels (optional on S), a rear seat armrest, a sunroof (sedan only, optional on S and TDI), leatherette vinyl upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob (sedan only) and a 10-speaker stereo with a six-CD changer and satellite radio.
On top of this, the Jetta SEL sedan adds 17-inch wheels, a multifunction steering wheel and a trip computer. Jetta Sportwagen SELs also have a sprightly turbocharged engine, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 12-way power driver seat with memory functions, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, Homelink and upgraded speakers.
The Jetta TDI sedan is equipped similar to the SEL sedan, but comes with 16-inch alloy wheels and doesn't have a sunroof. A special edition known as the TDI Loyal adds premium speakers. The Sportwagen TDI sedan is equipped similar to the SE Sportwagen, but it adds a trip computer.
The Jetta Wolfsburg Edition is basically an SE sedan with the aforementioned turbocharged engine, 17-inch wheels, no exterior chrome window trim and Wolfsburg badges.
Optional on all Jettas is an iPod interface and rear side airbags. A touchscreen navigation system is optional on all but the Jetta S, with a 30GB hard drive, digital music storage, SB memory card slot, USB port and DVD playback. A panoramic sunroof is a stand-alone option on the Sportwagen.
Powertrains and Performance
There are three engines available for the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta. All S and SE trim levels, as well as the SEL sedan, are powered by a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine rated at 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. The standard transmission is a five-speed manual, while a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic automanual capability is optional. In performance testing, a Jetta SE with the manual went from zero to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds. EPA fuel economy regardless of transmission is 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. In California and California-emissions states, this engine earns a squeaky-clean PZEV tailpipe emissions rating.
The 2009 Wolfsburg Edition sedan and SEL Sportwagen get the same turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine found in VW's high-performance GLI sedan and GTI hatchback. It produces a zesty 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is standard, while VW's slick dual-clutch DSG automatic transmission is optional. These two models should sprint from zero to 60 mph in the 7-second range, while fuel economy is roughly the same as with the base 2.5-liter mill. The manual yields 20 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined, while opting for the DSG improves fuel economy by 2 mpg city and 1 mpg combined.
The Jetta TDI features a 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine that utilizes VW's new clean diesel technology, making this car compliant with all 50 states' emissions requirements. This diesel produces 140 hp and a healthy 236 lb-ft of torque. The TDI shares the same six-speed manual and DSG transmission choices as the Wolfsburg. Fuel economy for the TDI with a manual is estimated to be 30 mpg city/41 mpg highway and 34 mpg combined, while the DSG lowers mileage by 1 mpg in each context.
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 on all Jettas. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Jetta sedan and Sportwagen four out of five stars for frontal collision protection, and a perfect five stars for side protection. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, the Jetta sedan received the highest rating of "Good" for frontal offset and side crash protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Jetta's cabin is a strong selling point, with abundant high-grade, soft-touch materials and metallic trim. The vinyl "leatherette" upholstery found in most Jettas 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, and we're also fans of the cool blue lights used for the instruments and radio display. This year's new and improved navigation system now features an intuitive touchscreen interface and a 30GB hard drive that not only increases processing time but also devotes 20GB to digital music storage.
The Jetta's tall roof line lends a sense of spaciousness to the front seats, which boast a wide range of motion in order to accommodate drivers of various sizes. Headroom is a little tight in the rear, however. Nonetheless, there's an adequate amount of legroom in back, particularly compared to past Jettas, although even an economy sedan like the Toyota Corolla offers more. The sedan's trunk capacity is very impressive at 16 cubic feet, while the Sportwagen is naturally even larger -- cargo volume for the latter is 32.8 cubic feet with the 60/40 rear seat up and 66.9 cubic feet with it down.
For most shoppers in this segment, a comfy ride matters more than simulating a track day on Main Street. By this measure, the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta 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 body roll is significant in enthusiastic cornering. Should you want additional excitement, the sport-tuned Jetta GLI model may be more your speed.
With the TDI models, expect a little more vibration, a tad more noise and noticeably 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.
Read our Volkswagen Jetta TDI Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test