Volkwagen’s Jetta SportWagen jettisons the notion that a station wagon is bland and boring. While many wagons/hatchbacks have faded from the spotlight faster than a spray-on suntan, the base model SportWagen S demonstrates that nimble practicality is not an oxymoron.
1. The Jetta SportWagen boasts 33 cubic feet of cargo room in the trunk, with a total of 67 cu.-ft. with the rear seats folded flat.
2. Like the sedan, it gets a 2.5L 5-cylinder with 170-hp.
3. Fuel economy is rated at 22/30-mpg (city/hwy) for the manual and 23/30 for the automatic.
When four adults departed for one of Michigan’s county parks, all the fixings for a monster-sized picnic joined the ride. While just about every sedan trunk can accommodate overstuffed bags from a grocery store buying binge, finding additional space for a gas grille, scads of sporting equipment, and four canvas folding chairs is usually a difficult, if not an impossible task.
The SportWagen accommodates various bulky boxes, bags and odd-sized goods without putting a squeeze on passengers. That happens when a vehicle has close to 33 cubic feet of space behind a 60/40 split folding rear seat with pass-through. And the open area balloons to nearly 67 cubic-feet with the rear seat folded. The SportWagen’s cargo space with the rear seat upright tops the Chevrolet HHR (25.2 cu.-ft.) and the Hyundai Elantra Touring (24.3 cu.-ft.) and is on par with larger crossovers and SUVs.
Pushing the performance factor is a 2.5-liter inline 5-cylinder with 170-hp and 177 ft-lbs of torque. The SportWagen S gasoline engine mates to a standard five-speed manual transmission. On curve-adorned highways, multi-lane expressways as well as during short climbs up subtle inclines, acceleration power doesn’t waiver. When the demand is there, the power is there.
FUSSY TRANSMISSION, SPORTY SUSPENSION
Left leg activity and right arm tosses need to be absolutely in sync as this 5-speed manual demands precision. Get sloppy with the shifting tosses, and the gearbox growls. This is not a transmission where ‘almost fully’ depressing the hydraulic clutch cuts it, nor does this transmission accept lazy up-shifts. This is a sport-minded transmission, so letting the rpm levels climb in the lower gears puts an exclamation mark on freeway and open-road excursions.
The tested SportWagen S didn’t sour during changing road conditions, so rain-slicked and washboard-rough dirt roads failed to put the vehicle’s suspension into roller-coaster mode. Independent front McPherson struts with stabilizer bar and a fully independent four-link rear suspension with coil springs, stabilizer bar, and telescopic shock absorbers have the front-wheel drive SportWagen absorbing—not floating over—uneven surfaces.
There is definitely no tug-of-war in terms of steering this sporty wagon with standard 16-inch wheels. But the SportWagen S test car showed a split personality with the parking brake. A continual down/up, down/up dance was required on several occasions. Although the gauge cluster icon always went dark whenever the driver moved the lever downward, the parking brake too often evoked a grab-and-hold disposition.
INTERIOR NEEDS SPICE
The Jetta SportWagen S packs in a number of practical amenities—like heated front seats, a remote keyless locking system and power windows with pinch protection. But the test vehicle’s titan black interior is simply blah. Cabin color would compliment the passion inspired by this sport-minded cruiser. Even though VW has long showcased gauges with attractive accent hues, a black sea interior leaves a lasting impression of a dark and dank driving cubicle.
The gauges are easy to read and controls are easy to reach. Even the odometer-reset button is easy to find, and its simplistic functionality is easier to use versus the one-inch long slender twist-and-turn odometer resets adorning some vehicles. The seats are supportive, and the side bolsters keep the driver and front passenger positioned for the occasional side-to-side sway during aggressive lane changes. Rearward visibility is somewhat compromised by bulkhead-like rear seat headrests, but side and forward sight lines are quite good.
The SportWagen S does an admirable job of combining the attributes associated with sporty cars and the practicality inherent with crossovers. With its estimated fuel economy of 22/30-mpg (city/highway) for the 5-cylinder/5-speed manual and 23/30-mpg for the automatic, the wagon isn’t out-of-line with compact soft-roaders either.
While the exterior styling won’t stop onlookers in their tracks, the 2010 model year brings a new front end to replace the vertical grille with a horizontal portrait. The SportWagen is a total package that doesn’t sacrifice any element of a fun-to-drive vehicle.