Middling acceleration and handling performance, limited interior storage.
Wagons and diesel engines have been battling outdated misconceptions for decades here in the U.S. However, those negative undercurrents seem to be subsiding, thanks to spikes in oil prices and the recent shift away from large SUVs. The 2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI looks to capitalize on the new normal, offering all of the benefits associated with a wagon as well as a diesel's frugal nature.
As is the case with most wagons, the VW Jetta SportWagen benefits from a boxy interior that can accommodate plenty of cargo and transport up to five passengers. Its carlike proportions and driving dynamics make it easier to pilot than a crossover SUV, while its economical diesel engine returns an EPA-estimated 34 mpg in combined driving compared to the gasoline-powered SportWagen's 25 mpg.
The average driver should be able to recoup the $2,475 price difference between the two within seven years. This may seem a bit long to some, but driving more than 15,000 miles annually will bring this figure down. Despite its benefits, the 2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI undoubtedly has an uphill battle ahead of it, as crossover SUVs still have a stranglehold on the market when it comes to family haulers.
For shoppers who need to transport more than five people at a time, a vehicle like Ford's Flex certainly has an edge over the VW. For those with their sights set on wagons, the Jetta's most direct competitor is the more expensive Audi A3 TDI — which is based on our SportWagen test vehicle and can be had with all-wheel drive. Other alternatives like the Subaru Outback and the Toyota Venza are also worthy of consideration.
Powering the 2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel engine that produces 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. Power is routed through a six-speed DSG automatic transmission on its way to the front wheels. Manual shift control is operated via the gear selector.
Despite its SportWagen name, performance takes a backseat to fuel economy. In testing, the Jetta required 8.9 seconds to reach 60 mph from a standstill (8.6 seconds with rollout). Braking from that speed ate up a rather lengthy but consistent 129 feet. Runs through the slalom resulted in an equally unimpressive 64.9 mph, while the skid pad returned a 0.80g rating.
On the open road, handling was responsive enough for a bit of fun, but in no way was it sporty. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 30 mpg city/42 mpg highway and 34 mpg in combined driving; we achieved an average of 30.1 mpg. These test results are in line with our long-term 2009 Jetta TDI sedan, although our four-door felt noticeably livelier than the wagon.
Off the line, the wagon exhibited a rather lethargic crawl that gave way to a burst of power once the turbo spooled up — something we never felt in our long-term sedan. Slowing to a stop, we also noticed uneven deceleration as the transmission downshifted into lower gears. When the road becomes curvy, the wagon tracks through turns adequately, aided by steering that is both accurate and well-weighted.
Our Jetta SportWagen test car delivered a level of refinement and comfort that places it high among competing vehicles. Wind noise at highway speeds is quelled to near silence, though some road noise on coarser surfaces tended to resonate throughout the cabin. The wagon's ride quality was compliant enough to soak up bumps and ruts in the pavement, but still provided a confidence-inspiring feel for the road.
The front seats provided ample space for larger folk and the multitude of adjustments ensured a comfortable fit. If we were to find any fault with those seats, it would be the lack of lumbar support. Rear seats were also comfortable, with adequate room for average-size adults. The center position is much narrower and lacks the legroom of the outboard seats because of the extending center console, but it should do just fine in a pinch for child passengers.
On the whole, the 2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI admirably fills the role of a utilitarian family hauler. Overall visibility is exceptional, thanks to its expansive greenhouse and narrow roof pillars. The wide rear hatch window gives a clear view of the surroundings when reversing, lessening the need for a back-up camera or parking sensors. The simple gauges are legible in any lighting condition, with additional information available in the multifunction screen between the speedometer and tach. Controls are all within easy reach of the driver and intuitively placed for easy operation.
Of course, the main draw for those shopping for a wagon is its ability to shuttle precious cargo to and fro. The cargo space behind the rear seats measures a generous 32.8 cubic feet. Those rear seats fold down, but not flat, opening up a yawning 66.9 cubes. More importantly, though, is the cargo area's shape, which is fairly squarish — allowing for the transport of bulkier items. Hatchbacks and some rakish crossovers are at a disadvantage in this regard, since their sloping roof lines limit vertical capacity. The lift-over height is low for easier loading, and a nifty folding divider keeps parcels securely in place.
For those with precious cargo that requires a child safety seat, the 2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen easily accepts either a front- or rear-facing seat with little or no impact on front-passenger comfort. Rear-seat passengers will find storage a bit limited, though, with only a small center armrest bin to supplement the modest door and seatback pockets. Front-seaters fare better with a decent center armrest bin and a few small cubbies.
Design/Fit and Finish
The SportWagen's exterior styling utilizes plenty of rounded, organic shapes for a sleek yet understated appearance. Overall, the shape is a bit uninspiring, but the tasteful use of chrome trim pieces manages to spice things up a bit. The interior design continues the understated theme, with dark-colored surfaces accented by metallic trim. In general, the interior looks rather serious and businesslike — just a half-step down from its upscale Audi cousins.
Interior materials get high marks, especially when compared to the competition. Hard plastics can be found in the door panels and center console, but these pieces are just as well-textured as the rest of the surfaces. Build quality is top-notch, without so much as a hint of a squeak or rattle. Seats are also praiseworthy, as they're upholstered in a very convincing faux leather material that never felt stifling, even after hours behind the wheel.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI represents a capable and economical alternative to crossover SUVs. An added plus is a refined interior that looks and feels upscale, as well as an amenable ride quality.