More than 50 years ago, Volkswagen introduced its Type II, aka the Microbus or Transporter. Originally billed as the Station Wagon in the United States, it was a roomy box of a vehicle loosely based on the Type I (Beetle) platform with one key difference: it could haul around a lot more people and stuff.
Since the introduction of that iconic vehicle, station wagons have remained an integral part of VW's range all the way up to now. Beginning in 1966, the design morphed from the original breadbox aesthetic into what we would more easily recognize as a station wagon, beginning with the Type III Squareback and continuing through to the modern Passat.
The original Jetta wagon, a more compact alternative to the midsize Passat, had its first run from 2001 to 2005. After a three-year hiatus, it's back in Mk V form as the new-for-'09 Jetta Sportwagen.
Three engine variants will be offered: the base 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder, a 2.0-liter turbo engine and-eventually-a 2.0-liter turbodiesel. At launch, the only powerplant available for testing was the 2.5L, which is a good piece of engineering-not particularly spectacular in any respect, but solid. While it'll never be billed as a top-end screamer, the 2.5L offers generous torque in the lower and middle ranges of the tachometer and totally adequate acceleration.
My first tester was a barebones, stripped down five-speed. But the drive didn't suck. Quite the contrary, I preferred driving the manual. The Jetta's shifter assembly is excellent, even on a lower-performance model, and much improved over previous generations. Driving the manual reminded me of how much I liked our 2.0T Jetta long-termer and made me eager to drive a Sportwagen with a 2.0 liter turbo motor at the other end of the reins.
Probably the most impressive thing about the car is the initial feeling of quality when sitting in it. It's true of Volkswagens in general, but particularly evident on a sparse model like the 2.5L five-speed. The high-quality plastics and the way everything fits just so are the main selling points. I have a hard time believing competing entry level offerings from the United States or Asia are constructed to this level.
Of course, you're not stuck on a bottom rung if you decide to buy a Jetta Sportwagen. It may be outfitted with an array of options, including a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission with Sport Mode, an eight-speaker Premium VII stereo, touchscreen nav, or a very cool panoramic glass sunroof that adds to the feeling of spaciousness within the cabin.
And the list of standard items is quite long, including the 'Eurotuned' suspension that offers a good compromise between comfort and poise during spirited driving; an auxiliary jack that allows an MP3 device to play through the stereo; roof rails to interface with an array of available accessory racks; six airbags and child-seat tiedowns for maximum occupant safety; three power outlets located throughout the interior; 60/40-split folding rear seats that provide up to 66.9 cubic feet of rear storage volume when folded down, and a fold-flat front passenger seat for that extra bit of space.
It will take a special type of buyer to get into one of these, but that's exactly what VW is banking on. This car was built specifically for that particular customer, as well as those looking to move from a compact SUV or crossover vehicle into something equally utilitarian, but much more nimble.
As for this magazine, we've already ordered one. You can bet we'll go into a lot more detail when we take delivery of our longterm Sportwagen TDI tester later this year.
2009 VW Jetta Sportwagen
Transverse front engine, front wheel drive
2.5-liter inline five, dohc, 20-valve
Five-speed manual; optional six-speed automatic
Length/Width/Height (in.) 179.4/70.1/59.2
Wheelbase: 105 inches
Curb Weight: 3228 lb
Peak Power: 170 hp @ 5700 rpm
Peak Torque: 177 lb-ft @ 4250 rpm
0-60 mph: 8.4 sec.
Top Speed: 127 mph (electronically limited)