Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen - More Everything

Some cars are the "next" one in the test cycle, but others, you look forward to. The Jetta Sportwagen is one of the first kind.

This is a car ideally suited to my needs and my tastes. Compact, but with room for five people, it has more than 66 cubic feet of carrying capacity in back with the second row seats folded. It's lively and fun to drive--especially when you get it with the six-speed manual transmission. And, for commuting, the TDI Diesel version, which I tested, brags of 42 miles per gallon on the highway.

My tester arrived in Tempest Blue--a color I might actually order if I were buying one. The design is smooth and pleasant, without any sharp edges or trendy angles or styling quirks. Volkswagen has stayed away from extremes, with more of a Brooks Brothers look than the runway fashion trend of the day. This design is actually a few years old, and has a softer presentation than the tailored look of the newest Jetta and Passat.

As Jettas have been for years now, this car is built in Puebla, Mexico, but it has a German engine and transmission. The Puebla plant, birthplace of millions of Beetles, has lots of experience, and the quality of assembly and materials is just fine, thanks.

The car's interior is what you'd expect with a VW--rather conservative--but that's really a virtue in a car that you plan to spend time in. There's nothing to distract you from your tasks. The gauges are clear and uncluttered. I did find the climate dials to be small and hard to decipher in their low position on the center console, but after I studied the settings (while parked) I got the hang of it. The brushed metal trim is nice.

My car was happy to pair with my iPhone, but I got more than I expected, when Bluetooth attached itself to some downloaded music. I kept getting the same song playing a few seconds after the car started, while the phone was connecting. After a push--or two--on the Satellite Radio button I was hearing what I wanted again.

The Jetta Sportwagen comes with either a 2.5-liter in-line five-cylinder engine or the super-mileage 2.0-liter TDI Diesel. The veteran 2.5-liter offers 170 horsepower and 177 lb.-ft. of torque, and is a perfectly good engine for driving around a 3,300-pound sedan or wagon. But the TDI Diesel, although it has "just" 140 horsepower, as Diesels do offers much more torque--236 lb.-ft. in this application. That means that the car feels stronger than you might expect. Combining the small engine size with the efficiency of Diesel means that I was able to get 40.3 miles per gallon during my week of commuting and errand running.

Diesels are rare in the U.S., still, but are common in Europe. The advent of low sulfur fuel has taken almost all of the negative aroma factor out of the fuel. It was priced at the same level as mid-grade gasoline during my test week--just about $4.00 even, but with that kind of economy, it's a real deal. And, with its 14.5-gallon tank, you can get about 600 miles without stopping to refill. Go ahead and take that trip from San Francisco to San Diego. Speaking of fueling, there are plenty of places to buy Diesel fuel, but not every station carries it, so it's good to start looking when you hit the quarter tank mark.

My tester came with the panoramic sunroof, and it's a fine device for letting in light and air. However, you can buy this car without it, saving $1,800 (you do have to sacrifice the lovely 17-inch alloy wheels in the bargain, however).

The base Sportwagen is the S, which starts at $21,390, with the 2.5-liter gas engine and manual six-speed transmission. This is by no means stripped down. You still get leather on the steering wheel, air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth, heated seats, and more. You can step up to the SE and add the comfy leatherette seating, a stronger audio system, alloy wheels, chrome trim and leather on the shift knob.

The TDI then arrives. Get it with or without a sunroof and at the top, or with sunroof and navigation. Even at the pinnacle of Sportwagens you're still a little under $30,000. My tester, without navigation, was $28,390.

Some cars are more fun to drive than others. Some are more economical. Some are more practical. The Jetta Sportwagen is really more everything -- except expensive.

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