VW Jetta SportWagen TDI

Submitted by Brad Tombaugh on 8 May 2011 - 7:59am

Last week I bought my new 2011 Jetta SportWagen TDI, the day before we took a 3,200 mile trip from Denver through Missouri to North Dakota, and back again. The TDI was the perfect car for the road trip, roomy and comfortable, and up to 43MPG on the highway. Based on fill-ups, my best mileage was 39.67MPG, with 486 miles on one fill-up and still a 1/4 tank left. My overall mileage has been about 37MPG, combined city/highway for the first 3,500 miles.

There are quite a few things that I really like about the new Jetta:

  • The fuel economy is fantastic. Even in the first 3,500 miles, I'm getting at least 30 MPG driving to and from work, and over 43 MPG on the highway, if I keep the speed down a little...
  • The TDI makes plenty of power, especially for an engine that gets such great fuel economy. Although its only 140 HP, the diesel makes 236 ft-lbs. of torque, which is really more important. Plenty of power to accelerate onto the highway, or for passing. I'm anxious to get up into the mountains to see how it does at higher altitude.
  • Even though the fuel tank holds only 14.5 gallons, with the great fuel economy that's enough fuel for a range of about 500 miles on the highway, so you don't have to stop to fill up so often.
  • After much internal debate, I finally decided on the DSG automatic rather than the manual transmission. While my previous Jetta has a manual transmission, and I can certainly enjoy driving a stick-shift, I thought that for the long term the automatic might be more comfortable. Since the DSG doesn't use a conventional fluid torque converter, its more efficient than traditional automatics, and in fact is often rated with higher fuel economy than the manual. I also thought that since the diesel has a lower redline and narrower (and lower RPM) power band than a gasoline engine, that with the manual you would need to be shifting constantly to stay in the appropriate gear. I decided that it would be better to let the transmission do that for me! Driving the DSG still feels a little quirky at times, although its generally very smooth and shifts very quickly. At startup it feels a little slow to engage sometimes, which can lead you to open the throttle a bit more. Once the transmission and turbo get engaged, it makes for quite a quick start, often quicker than intended. It can actually be challenging to drive this car slowly! ;-) With a bit more practice and patience, though, I'm getting the hang of making smooth starts. The other thing that is taking some adjustment is that the DSG downshifts for you when braking to help you slow down. It seems like the harder you brake, the quicker it downshifts, so braking smoothly can be challenging if you're not paying enough attention. Again with some more practice I'm sure that I'll have the proper finesse soon!
  • For a compact car, there is plenty of space inside. The Jetta seems almost as spacious as our Passat, and was very comfortable to ride in even for a long trip. The seats are very comfortable, and easily adjustable to keep comfy even on a long drive. The electric heat was handy to have, as it was only 27 degrees in North Dakota on the morning when we left.
  • The car came standard with Bluetooth integration for my cellphone. While this isn't something that I may have ordered if it were an option, I'm really liking the way that it works. Once paired with my phone, it automatically links every time I start the car. If I get a phone call while I'm driving, I can press the phone button on the steering wheel with my thumb, and it mutes the stereo, answers the call, plays it through the speakers, and has a microphone built into the overhead console. It really works quite well.
  • I love the soft leather-wrapped 3-spoke steering wheel, with built-in controls for the stereo, phone, and trip computer. I tend to hold onto the lower portion of the steering wheel when driving on the highway, and many 4-spoke wheels like the one in our Passat don't have enough spacing between the top and bottom spokes to fit my hands into comfortably. The 3-spoke wheel works perfectly.
  • The car I picked out has the panoramic sunroof and 17" wheel package. I love having the sunroof for ventilation, and it makes the car feel much more open and roomier, even in the back seat, since the glass comes back over the rear seats as well.
  • The TDI comes with the Multi-Function Display trip computer, which shows the instantaneous and average fuel consumption, both for the current trip and cumulatively. The trip counters reset after two hours, so it always shows your current activity. It also tracks duration, distance, and average speed for both the current trip and cumulatively. The MFD will also show the phone status, and the current selection on the radio. A new addition, compared with our 2008 Passat, is a simple, large digital speed display. Very nice...
  • The touchscreen AM/FM/Satellite Radio/6-CD Changer is also great. Again, although satellite radio is not something that I would have ordered, we did enjoy it on the trip. It was nice to be able to pick a channel by category, and not have to constantly hunt for local radio stations while traveling. I am having the factory Media Device Interface for the iPod installed by the dealer this week, so in the future I'll be able to control my iPod through the radio as well.

So what's missing? I think that about the only thing that would make this car better, perhaps perfect, would be if it were offered with all-wheel drive. Volkswagen has their 4-Motion all-wheel drive systems, like the Audi Quattro, which is only offered on a few of the high-end trim levels of the Passat and CC. There are European versions of the Jetta/Golf that are offered with both TDI and 4-Motion, but not in the US. Even the Audi A3, which is offered with the TDI, or with Quattro, isn't available with both TDI and Quattro. I would most likely have gone with the more expensive A3 if Quattro would have been offered.

I've heard that with the recent tragedy in Japan, that production of many Japanese auto brands may be severely limited for the near future. While Subaru has a US-based factory in West Lafayette, IN, it has closed a number of its plants in northern Japan, the area that sustained the worst damage from the earthquake/tsunami. I think that if VW were to offer a 4-Motion-equiped version of the Jetta SportWagen in the US that it would likely pick up a fair share of Subaru's market. I would guess that many Subaru buyers make their selection because of the all-wheel drive.

(Photographs from Volkswagen and by Richard M. Baron from Road and Track)