In the past, we looked at Volkswagens that arrived in our garage with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Although fun to drive, especially when equipped with the DSG automated manual transmission, the cars have been cursed with substandard cabin tech. But the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen 2.0T goes a long way toward fixing this oversight, as the one we tested included a whole new navigation system.
On the road
The subtly curved body of the Jetta SportWagen 2.0T suggests a compact little space capsule, its design striking a thoroughly modern note. We, and everyone else who saw the car, couldn't help but admire the 18-inch Karthoum wheels. In the cabin, a massive panoramic sunroof seems almost too big for the car. It's a nice option for people who like the light.
These optional wheels are real attention-getters, but add $1,300 to the price.
But what pleased us most was the optional navigation system, similar to what we had seen in the. The system's maps show traffic, letting us avoid the snarls during our test driving. Lacking VW's special iPod cable, we made due with the USB port, playing MP3s off a USB drive.
The six-speed manual shifted smoothly, but we would rather have had the optional DSG, a twin-clutch transmission that uses a computer to change gears. The car's turbo-charged 2-liter four-cylinder proved ready power to put twist to the tires at any opportunity, and our more enthusiastic starts lit traction control warnings all over the instrument panel while the front tires struggled to spin free of the asphalt. But even with these stresses, torque steer wasn't overbearing.
Covering front and rear seats in the Jetta, the panoramic sunroof option lets in the light.
More impressively, our every request for power through the gas pedal was met with a palpable push in any of the six gears. Cruising the freeway, the Jetta SportWagen 2.0T made it easy to pass slower traffic, while the audio system delivered a clean sound with distinct highs. Given audio sources that include satellite radio, an SD card slot, onboard hard-drive storage, USB port, and iPod interface, we figured the Jetta SportWagen 2.0T would make a comfortable road-tripper. However, the lack of any available Bluetooth phone system is a disappointment.
After time spent getting to know the Jetta SportWagen 2.0T's cruising characteristics, we had to check out the sport part of its name. The little 2-liter engine gave plenty of power to dive into a corner, not minding having its revs run around the tach dial. As inertial forces started to work on the car, some body roll became evident, but the Jetta didn't feel tippy in any way. Working along turn after turn, the front wheels pulled the car through, while the rear of the car remained tame enough that we felt a little pivot as the car cornered.
In the cabin
An option on the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen 2.0T, a new navigation head unit fits into a double-DIN slot in the dashboard, using a touch-screen LCD to show maps and audio information. Function buttons line the sides of the screen, with audio controls on the left and navigation controls on the right. Audio buttons on the steering wheel supplement the head unit controls. And common to Audis and Volkswagens, a very useful instrument panel display between speedometer and tach shows trip, audio, and navigation information.
The red display in the instrument cluster can show trip, navigation, and audio information.
This new navigation system is a little quirky. The maps, stored on a hard drive, look good, and it lets you choose from four different types of map, including 2D, 3D, topographic, and traffic. It is a little odd to separate the 2D and traffic maps, which offer the same basic perspective, although some people may not want to look at traffic information. The topographic map is simplified, using colors to indicate terrain height instead of contour lines.
Being hard-drive based, the system works quickly--much better than the system it replaces. Entering destinations is easy, with the system's onscreen keyboard, but browsing the map with input mode is difficult. The cursor doesn't move the way we would expect.
While under route guidance, the system shows basic graphics to outline upcoming turns, and also offers text-to-speech, reading out the names of streets. But we could never find any consistency in when it reads out street names. It also doesn't actively avoid traffic jams, leaving you to hit a button labeled Traffic Jam Ahead if you notice one on the map.
As the navigation system has a hard drive, Volkswagen makes almost 20 gigabytes available on it for music storage. But this system doesn't work like most others, as it won't rip a CD to the drive. Instead, you need to transfer MP3 files from an SD card to the drive. For music sources such as the hard drive, USB drives, MP3 CDs, and SD cards, you browse music by folder and file, but we assume the iPod interface will let you look at album, artist, and genre.
The source display shows CD, SD card, hard drive, and iPod/USB as options for music playback.
A premium audio system comes standard in the Jetta SportWagen 2.0T, using 10 speakers to fill the cabin with a very clean and well-balanced sound. We found very crisp audio in all frequencies, with particular clarity in the highs. Bass is adequate, but not very strong with this system, making it work best for acoustic music.
Although there is a button on the steering wheel with a phone icon, Bluetooth phone integration is not available in the Jetta SportWagen 2.0T, a big oversight on Volkswagen's part. That button is likely a legacy from the European version of the car, where Bluetooth is more common. As it is, the phone icon button does nothing, although another button on the steering wheel, marked with a star, mutes the stereo.
Under the hood
A turbocharged, intercooled, 2-liter, four-cylinder engine gives the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen 2.0T plenty of punch. In fact, although Volkswagen also offers the car with a larger 2.5-liter engine, it places the 2.0T model as the top-trim level because of the engine's greater power. Its turbocharged 2-liter engine produces 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque--30 horsepower better than the 2.5-liter engine.
And turbocharger magic means that greater horsepower comes at no cost to fuel economy, as the 2.0T trim gets 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, matching the economy of the 2.5-liter engine. During our time with the car, we stayed at the bottom of that range because of our enthusiastic driving, which tends to engage the turbocharger more often.
The six-speed manual transmission feels solid, but we would have preferred the DSG.
Performance-wise, VW claims 7.2 seconds to 60 mph for the manual version of the Jetta SportWagen 2.0T, a full 1.2 seconds faster than the 2.5-liter engine car. The six-speed manual felt solid, and we got a lot of use out of second and third gears during our testing on twisty roads. But VW says that, with the DSG automated manual, the 0-to-60-mph time goes down to 6.9 seconds and it gains 1 mpg in city driving.
VW has been ahead of the curve with direct-fuel injection, a technology that gets used in this turbocharged 2-liter engine. Called FSI by VW, direct injection squirts gas directly into the cylinder, leading to a more complete fuel burn than with systems that inject fuel into the intake port.
Along with traction control, an electronic stability program comes standard in the Jetta SportWagen 2.0T. We saw plenty of traction control activity during fast starts with this car, but otherwise the system was unobtrusive.
The 2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen 2.0T, which only comes in the SEL trim, has a base price of $26,065. Our car also came with the panoramic sunroof for $1,300, navigation system for $1,990, iPod adapter for $199, and the 18-inch Karthoum wheels for $1,300, bringing the total to $30,854. You could easily leave off the upgraded wheels and sunroof, shaving $2,600 off the price, and still have a good tech car.
In rating the Jetta SportWagen 2.0T, we felt its performance was excellent, the turbocharger and direct injection combining to give it good efficiency and power. Although our car came equipped with the manual transmission, it earns an extra point in this category for the availability of the DSG, a transmission we know and love. Its cabin tech score is greatly improved over previous Volkswagen's we've tested because of the updated navigation and music systems. It's still not as good as some competitors, especially with the lack of a phone system, but it's a significant step in the right direction. Finally, it earns points both for aesthetics and practicality in design.