2013 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen Review

Putting hybrid crossovers in their place

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2013 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen Review
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If you’re looking for a spacious and versatile vehicle that’s also fuel efficient, there’s no way to avoid the VW Jetta SportWagen. Add in the element of driving feel and you can pretty much cross any hybrid off your list. Instead, make a b-line straight to this understated yet well above average wagon.

FAST FACTS

1. A 2.0L turbo diesel engine makes 140 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque.

2. Fuel economy is 30 mpg city, 42 mpg highway and 34 mpg combined.

3. The Jetta SportWagen TDI starts at $25,795.

4. A $20,595 gas model is also available with a 2.5L 4-cylinder rated at 170 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque with a 23/33/26 (city/highway/combined) mpg rating.

With its tried and true diesel powerplant the Jetta SportWagen will certainly appeal to those who both love to feel the kick of a torque-y, turbocharged diesel engine, and those who hate stopping for fuel.

Furthermore, a few clever pieces of tech turn this wagon from a humdrum appliance to an engaging drive, fit for most any task or adventure you have in mind.

WAGON WORKS WONDERS

Wagons still appeal to a select few. This particular one has a stunning amount of cargo space, which will even trump what some small crossovers have in the trunk. The Volkswagen’s 32.8 cubic feet of room is comparable with the Toyota Prius v’s 34.3 cubic feet and is quite a bit better than the 24.5 cubic feet found in the Ford C-Max Hybrid – two key competitors in the versatile, alternate fuel vehicle marketplace. The Jetta also sports 60/40 folding rear seats, which extend the cargo space to 66.9 cubic feet, which is just short of the Prius v’s 67.3.

During testing, we loaded the SportWagen up with luggage for two, and there was still plenty of space left over for more.
 

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The back-seats are also spacious, as well as comfortable, offering plenty of legroom and head room. Adding to the car’s spacious aura is the huge panoramic sunroof which extends over the heads of rear-seat passengers.

Visibility from the driver’s seat is great thanks to VW’s gracious use of glass around the vehicle. Additionally, the front end is short and slopes away from the windshield giving a good sense of dimension when driving the Jetta wagon in tighter situations.

VW’s infotainment system has its ups and downs. The combination of both touch-screen controls and redundant tactile buttons is a good choice since when driving the buttons help get things done quickly, while the touchscreen allows for finer controls. However, the navigation software was a bit counterintuitive and was often confused. Often the GPS screen put the vehicle on the wrong road or highway. It’s funny to watch the car slide over to its correct position on the screen, but frustrating as a driver who needs accurate information when lost.

A SPORTSCAR, RELATIVE TO HYBRIDS

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Where the Volkswagen really shines above its alternative fuel rivals is the way it drives. Unlike the Prius v, there’s no vague feeling of the road and suspension. The SportWagen has a fine sense of the road, and superior steering feel.

JettaSportWagenDSGshifterAdditionally, while hybrid cars boast great fuel numbers thanks to their soul-less CVT transmission, the Jetta SportWagen utilizes a quick-shifting and downright sporty DSG unit. This dual-clutch box switches between six cogs quickly and seamlessly, and is even available with a manual mode and sport mode, which holds gears longer and drops a gear for braking. Volkswagen pairs rev-matching downshifts with the 2.0L diesel engine which makes a modest 140 hp, but an astonishing 240 lbs-ft of torque, which you feel every time you set off.

The low horsepower isn’t really noticeable thanks to all that torque, and the wagon manages to drive briskly on the highway and in the city. The diesel engine isn’t without its quirks though, and can still be a little loud and clackey.

Braking is another area where the Volkswagen shines compared to its hybrid competition, and doesn’t feature the bizarre feel that both the C-Max and Prius v have due to their regenerative binders.

Overall the Jetta SportWagen achieved 37 mpg through a few weeks of testing, which is higher than the EPA rated 33 mpg combined for the automatic equipped-model. This diesel wagon is also available with a manual transmission, which earns 30 mpg city, 42 mpg highway and 34 combined. The range of the diesel engine was fantastic, and it easily managed to go more than 450 miles on a single tank.

True, those numbers aren’t as high as what you might find in either of the wagon-esque hybrid rivals, but in real world driving they’re not far off either.

STYLING AND VALUE

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Style wise, the wagon isn’t a supermodel. True, many folks don’t think much of wagon styling and the SportWagen is blander than most, but it also doesn’t look quirky and out of place like other alternate fuel cars.

The Jetta SportWagen starts at $20,595, but diesel models hold a $5,200 premium, coming in at $25,795. Add in the navigation and sunroof and the car ends up $29,495. Based on content, this represents a better value than the Toyota Prius v which starts at $26,650, but not the Ford C-Max Hybrid which starts at just $25,200. Both hybrids boast better EPA rated fuel economy numbers, but in our testing, we found them to be closer to 39 mpg in real-world driving. Still, that’s a bit better than the diesel Jetta wagon’s numbers, although the two hybrids make many compromises in terms of driving feel.

THE VERDICT

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The Jetta SportWagen TDI is a combination of a few underappreciated, niche market segments. Combining a diesel powerplant with a wagon bodystyle is sure to isolate more than a few buyers, but it shouldn’t scare anyone away. In fact, it should do the opposite.

Thanks to impressive fuel-mileage, and great cargo and passenger space the SportWagen should hit the bullseye for families who don’t need a van or crossover, and a lot who think they do. When looking for an affordable runabout for you, your entourage and your all your stuff, a diesel wagon probably isn’t at the top of your shopping list, but this one should be.

LOVE IT
  • Torquey responsive engine
  • Hybrid-esque fuel economy
  • A complete package
LEAVE IT
  • Bland styling
  • Counterintuitive navigation
  • Noisy engine

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