The stereo has satellite radio and an in-dash six-disc changer that can read MP3 CDs. Although the stereo display shows the current track name from satellite radio stations or MP3 CDs, the interface is only mediocre. With an MP3 CD, you can't browse a list of folders, merely push a button to go through them one at a time. iPod integration is available, but its interface is very poor, merely letting you choose from your first five playlists or scrolling through one track at a time, with no track display.
On the plus side, the audio system sounds very good. The audio controls are right on the front of the face plate, with separate knobs for treble, mid, and bass, something you don't see very often. There are 10 speakers around the cabin, with tweeters in each A pillar, a mid and woofer in each front door, and two more speakers in each rear door. These speakers offer good clarity, but distort at high volume. And without a digital signal processor, you tend to mostly hear the speakers in the door next to you.
The stereo is the only real cabin tech option on the Jetta SportWagen. Bluetooth cell phone integration isn't offered, and we don't believe there is a navigation option, as this car seems based on the Jetta SE, which doesn't have optional navigation.
Under the hood
Volkswagen engineers took the Goldilocks approach with the engine, finding that four cylinders weren't enough, six were too much, but five were just right. The displacement on this engine is 2.5-liters, a nice round number for five cylinders. It puts out 170 horsepower and 177 foot-pounds of torque, hitting the front wheels through its six-speed automatic transmission. While reasonably fast, as shown in our acceleration testing, we would hardly call this an exciting power train. Volkswagen will also sell the SportWagen with a turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder engine, and a 2-liter four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine.
With the 2.5-liter engine, the SportWagen's EPA numbers are the same as with the sedan, at 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. Although emissions ratings haven't been published for the SportWagen, they should also be the same as for the sedan. For California and the other states that follow the California Air Resources Board regulations, the Jetta earns a very impressive Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle rating, meaning it only produces 1 pound of hydrocarbons during more than 150,000 miles of driving and has zero evaporative emissions.
Handling is very similar to that of the Jetta sedan. The steering feels responsive, but there is body roll in hard cornering and understeer, typical for this class of car. Despite the SportWagen label, this car works best for commuting and hauling. It's sprung more for comfort than sport.
As with the Jetta sedan, it gets a host of road-holding electronics, including antilock brakes, traction control, and a stability program. It also uses electric power steering. Volkswagen is also good about fitting Jettas with a complete airbag package, with fronts for the front passengers, and side curtain airbags all around.
When shown at last year's Washington, D.C., auto show, Volkswagen said the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen would come in the same trim levels as the Jetta sedan, S, SE, and SEL, with prices starting at $19,000. Other sources suggest a model like the one we reviewed will go for almost $25,000. Volkswagen hasn't released definitive information about the Jetta SportWagen as of this review.
The Jetta SportWagen barely rates as a tech car because of its poor to nonexistent cabin electronics. While the audio quality stands out, the stereo interface is mediocre at best. The performance is decent, as the power train gives the car adequate power. But it really stands out for its excellent emissions rating. The handling isn't numb, either. And we give it extra props for a good design, as the small wagon is a body style that deserves popularity.