2013 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen Wagon - FROM $20,395
With its versatility, cargo capacity and available diesel engine, the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen is in a class of its own and makes a great alternative to SUVs and crossovers.
What's New for 2013
Other than a minor shuffling of features among trim levels, the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen carries over unchanged.
We moaned a bit when the Jetta sedan was redesigned a couple years ago. In Volkswagen's quest for increased market share, it revised the new Jetta sedan to have wider appeal. The good thing about that was a reduced price, though we weren't so thrilled about the car's lower-quality interior and less sophisticated suspension. Fortunately the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen is still closely related to the older Jetta, so it has avoided the pernicious influence of the bean counters.
The Jetta Sportwagen retains the last-generation Jetta's best qualities, including a more upscale interior with better materials and little things like height-adjustable armrests and rear-seat air vents. And with its impressively sized cargo area -- larger than those found in some small crossover SUVs like the Chevy Equinox or even Volkswagen's Tiguan -- the Jetta Sportwagen makes a legitimate alternative to high-riding, car-based crossovers.
Not that there's anything wrong with crossovers, of course. But the real difference with the Sportwagen is the driving experience. The Sportwagen handles more securely, has a refined ride quality and is reasonably quick thanks to a choice of either a 2.5-liter gasoline or turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel engine. Our choice is the TDI diesel, as its hybrid-like EPA fuel economy of up to 42 mpg on the highway makes it a great choice for drivers with long commutes or those who take frequent road trips.
Small, sporty wagons are a rarity these days. You'll pay thousands more just to get a larger premium wagon from Acura, Audi or BMW. The Subaru Outback might be worth a look; it's comparably priced, roomier, more rugged and has all-wheel drive, but its fuel economy isn't nearly as good as the TDI's. For that you'd have to look to the Toyota Prius V or Ford C-Max Hybrid to get the same kind of fuel economy as the Sportwagen TDI. Even then, the Prius isn't as enjoyable to drive and the C-Max comes up short on cargo space.
With plenty of room, the TDI's impressive fuel economy and the last vestiges of the old Jetta's charms, the Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen really is in a class by itself.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen is a five-passenger wagon offered in S, SE and TDI trim levels. The Jetta sedan and related Golf hatchback are reviewed separately.
The entry-level S model comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, roof rails, keyless entry, heated mirrors, heated windshield-washer nozzles, full power accessories, cruise control, air-conditioning, cloth upholstery, heated front seats with a power-adjustable backrest, a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, an adjustable front armrest, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat with center pass-through, a trip computer, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming, and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack.
The SE and TDI add 16-inch alloy wheels (optional on the S), convincing "leatherette" vinyl upholstery, upgraded gauges and a 10-speaker audio system with a touchscreen interface, satellite radio, HD radio and an iPod interface. Both the SE and TDI offer an optional panoramic sunroof and 17-inch alloy wheel package, while the TDI can also add a navigation system and keyless ignition/entry to that package.
Powertrains and Performance
The front-wheel-drive VW Jetta Sportwagen S and SE are powered by a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine that produces 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on the S, while a six-speed automatic is optional on the S and standard on the SE. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 24 mpg city/33 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined with the manual transmission and 24/31/26 with the automatic.
The Sportwagen TDI is powered by a turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel good for 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automated manual transmission known as DSG is available as an option. The latter features a Sport mode that quickens shifts and performance. Fuel economy is an impressive 30 mpg city/42 mpg highway and 34 mpg combined with the manual transmission and 29/39/33 with the automatic. In Edmunds performance testing, a Sportwagen TDI with the DSG automated manual went from zero to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds.
The 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front seat side-impact airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. In Edmunds brake testing, a Sportwagen TDI with 16-inch wheels came to a stop from 60 mph in 129 feet, about 5 feet longer than average for this class of vehicle.
In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, the Sportwagen received the top score of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Unlike the Jetta sedan, the Sportwagen still offers top-quality interior materials, soft-touch surfaces and the little details like an adjustable center console with rear air vents that make the car feel a cut above the typical small wagon. Even the premium-vinyl "leatherette" upholstery in SE and TDI models looks and feels better than its name implies.
But aside from a more premium feel, the Sportwagen hits its stride with voluminous passenger and cargo room, especially for front seat passengers. Rear-seat passengers have a tighter squeeze, but not objectionably so. The trade-off results in nearly 33 cubic feet of space with the rear seats up and a useful 67 cubes with the rear seats folded.
The cabin also gets high marks for user-friendliness. Operating audio and climate controls is a straightforward matter, and we especially like the clean, uncluttered optional touchscreen audio interface. The optional navigation system is also pretty easy, but does lack some functionality due to its smallish screen.
You won't mistake the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen for a sport sedan. Although the steering feels precise and predictable, the Sportwagen's suspension exhibits too much body roll to allow any truly spirited corner-to-corner driving. But that's OK; you don't buy the Sportwagen to go fast. All things being equal, we'll take the wagon's lower center of gravity and improved handling over a taller crossover any day.
For everyday driving, the Jetta Sportwagen offers a comfortable ride and a relatively quiet interior. The 2.5-liter engine isn't the smoothest nor richest-sounding in its class, but it's got enough power to deal with the heavier loads a Sportwagen might typically take on. One caveat: We've noticed an annoying, delayed throttle response when this engine is paired with the six-speed automatic.
TDI diesel models offer impressive fuel economy and range -- 500 miles on a single tank isn't uncommon -- but the diesel powertrain does generate a little more noise and vibration than the 2.5-liter engine. We still think the TDI is the best choice thanks to snappier acceleration, useful torque (for passing on the highway or easily ascending a mountain pass) and outstanding fuel economy.