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The small wagon, one of the most practical body styles, is back with the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen. The small wagon mostly gave way to the more sporty hatchbacks in the 1990s, but Volkswagen seems confident in the body style, launching the wagon version of its Jetta sedan. There isn't much difference between the Jetta sedan and the Jetta SportWagen when it comes to the drivetrain or cabin electronics, which is really too bad. We were hoping for Volkswagen's next-generation navigation system, which we saw in the Passat CC at the 2008 Detroit auto show. And the name SportWagen is a little misleading, as the car doesn't offer what we would consider an exciting driving experience.
Test the tech: Putting the sport in SportWagen
As our Jetta SportWagen didn't have much in the way of cabin electronics, we ran some acceleration tests, timing runs made from 0 to 60 mph. We hooked up a performance computer and planned to do three runs, one using the six-speed automatic transmission's standard Drive mode, one using its Sport mode, and one using the Tiptronic mode, shifting manually.
For our first run, we put the car in Drive and waited for the computer to calibrate. Once it was ready we slammed the accelerator and the car took off. We modulated the throttle a little at the start, to avoid wheel spin, something the Jetta SportWagen's 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine produced earlier in some enthusiastic starts. We watched the tachometer run over the 6,000rpm mark before it dropped with each shift. The car felt quick up to 40 mph, but that final 20 mph, up to 60 mph, seemed to take a long time. After we had crossed the 60 mph mark and slowed back down, we checked the computer, and it told us the car took 8.1 seconds to get to 60 mph.
We got ready for our second attempt by pulling the shifter down to the Sport position and again calibrated the computer. Once it was ready, we matched our previous technique, keeping the wheels from spinning early in the start, then just mashing the pedal. The car handled well with this launch, without notable torque steer, but again seemed swift to about 40 mph. Getting up to 60 mph felt like a struggle, but when we checked our time for this run we came in at 7.73 seconds, which isn't bad.
Finally, we set up for our Tiptronic run. We put the car in manual mode by sliding the shifter to the right of the Drive position, then waited for the go signal. With this shifter, we would need to push up for each upshift. As we took off, we modulated the accelerator and watched the tachometer needle swing past 6,000rpm. We pushed the shifter up for second gear, continuing to accelerate, when something odd happened. The car jumped into third gear before we were ready to shift. We tried the run again, thinking we might have accidentally tapped the shifter up, but got the same result. In manual mode, the car didn't let us push its rpms higher than it would normally do in Sport or Drive mode. Because of this intervention, we discounted the results of this run.
In the cabin
The small wagon styling of the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen is very functional, offering seating for five, with a little rear seat squeeze, and the cargo area. Or, fold the rear seats down and you've got enough room for the worldly possessions of a college student. The capacity seems greater than your typical hatchback, while the Jetta maintains its small car feel. Volkswagen employs nice styling on the SportWagen, with gracefully curving exterior lines.
Inside, the SportWagen seems based on the Jetta SE trim--it comes standard with an upgraded stereo system, along with comfortable leatherette heated seats, a telescoping and height adjustable steering wheel, and automatic power windows. What we didn't have were automatic headlights, an electrochromic rearview mirror, or any audio controls on the steering wheel.