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2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen

An Entry Level Wagon That Impresses

    In the American Hierarchy of Transportation the station wagon ranks just above the moped in desirability, and the entry level station wagon: just above a riding lawnmower. Nevertheless, Volkswagen continues to be one of the few automakers brave enough to offer the unloved body style in its Jetta lineup. We recently spent a week in one and came away believing what we always have: wagons offer the people and cargo capacity to meet most people’s needs and drive better than any crossover/SUV.
     Our base model featured the normally unloved 2.5-liter I5, which fared far better this time around thanks to a bump in power over previous versions we’ve driven. For 2008 the standard engine makes 170 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque; enough to pull the 3,230-pound wagon around with borderline haste, especially when winding ‘er out with the standard 5-speed. Like other VW/Audi manuals, this transmission shifts smoothly with clearly defined gates and positive clutch engagement. It is a joy to shift and you save more than a grand by forgoing the auto. The engine still isn’t the model of smoothness and the song it sings on the way to redline will never win a Grammy, but we’re convinced it’s better than it used to be. Still, the awesome 2.0-liter turbo four should at least be on the options list. For 2009 you must upgrade to the top-of-the-line SEL model to get the extra oomph. At least fuel economy is a respectable 21-mpg city and 29-mpg highway, and better than comparable SUVs. VW says 60 mph is an 8.4 second exercise. Taking entry ramps at speed produces a lot of protesting from the tires, but the wagon itself settles in pretty nicely thanks to accurate steering and that confidence inspiring German suspension tuning.
     Station wagons rarely come across as cool and this model is no exception. Our black tester features a traditional wagon shape, but some chrome trim here and there keeps things from looking like an economy car. Our model was wearing the upgraded 16” aluminum wheels (been a long time since I’ve written that!) that are a pretty good value for $450. Otherwise our car was a base S model that impressed us with its great build quality and excellent materials. The rear hatch opens wide to swallow 32.8 cubic feet of stuff or almost 67 cubic feet with the second row folded flat. A Saturn VUE can handle only 29.2 cubic feet and 56.4 cubic feet respectively.
     The interior design is straightforward and borderline dated but with spot-on ergonomics and features like a height adjustable driver’s seat and 3-spoke tilt/telescoping steering wheel we find little to complain about. The stereo’s display is pretty laughable by modern standards, but that’s just nitpicking, especially because it plays MP3 files just fine and offers an auxiliary input standard. The front seats, even in their base cloth trim, are better than any seat found in a mainstream American vehicle.
     Priced at $19,449 the newest addition to the Jetta lineup strikes us as a solid value. When you consider bonuses like free scheduled maintenance for three years and the option of a new 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel that offers 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque in a 50-state legal package, things look even better. Not to mention the impressive, although yet to be determined, fuel economy it’ll surely offer. We say the SportWagen is something Americans should be considering. At the very least it should garner more respect than a lawnmower.

The Good:
Drives like a car with the space of an SUV, priced right, great build quality.
The Bad:
Small radio display, 5-cylinder offers less power and fuel economy than 4-cylinder, A/C a bit on the weak side.
The Verdict:
Consider one of these if you’re looking for space but don’t want to pay a penalty at the pump.
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