• Jul 31, 2008

2009 VW SportWagen SE – Click above for high-res image gallery

A while back, my wife and I decided we would become parents. As soon as I saw the little wand TURN blue, I knew we'd need a bigger car. That was almost three years ago. We still need a bigger car. The problem with knowing a little bit about cars is the dizzying plethora of choices and the rumored promises of what's on the horizon. We didn't want the soccer-mom stigma of a minivan, or an SUV that drove like a truck and got 12 mpg. We wanted a car with room for two parents and one, possibly two, baby seats, and all the gear that comes with a growing family. I insisted the car have handling as near a sports car as possible, burn as little gas as possible and cost less than $25k. Oh, and is it too much to ask for style?

My mom said, "You want it all, don't you? Just buy something." Which, of course, only incited me to a new level of stubbornness and a vow to find the perfect car. After more than TWO years shopping, our family car Holy Grail just might be German.



All photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.

Volkswagen's 2009 Jetta SportWagen has style. In my opinion, a two-box wagon design is hard to screw up. Rooflines can flow all the way to the rear bumper, fender creases can begin at the front and end at the very back with no interruption. And when the designers start with a car as handsome as the Jetta sedan, their jobs are even easier. The SportWagen shares most of the sedan's look all the way back to the rear doors. At the rear, though, the sedan's two-piece, multi-element taillights are switched for a one-piece, monochrome red unit to accommodate the rear liftgate. While the switch likely improves VW's profit margin, it's a downgrade for the car's overall look that should have aftermarket shops salivating.



The S model gets 16-inch steel wheels and the SE model comes with standard 16-inch alloys, but our tester was upsized to Continental-wearing 17s. The car's Monroney shows the upgrade only cost $450, but we couldn't replicate that on VW's Web site. We'd be willing to pay a good bit more for a set of those Hufeisen 18-inch wheels off the GTI. But as far as we can tell, they aren't a SportWagen option.



For a whole week we thought we were sitting on leather seats. In fact, we were prepared to commend VW for making premium seating standard in a mid-range model but wished the leather quality equaled the GTI's. We had been fooled! The SportWagen SE's "leatherette" seating is that good. Buyers of the S model get "velour" seats, which we got to sample a few months ago and found the gray cloth against the matching gray interior boring at best. It gave the S wagon a bargain-basement econocar feel instead of our SE tester's entry-level luxury. Just add $2,300 to the S's $18,999 base price to get the SE model. That gets the fake leather, a better sound system with satrad, a rear-seat armrest and some exterior upgrades. If you insist on nothing but real cowhide, VW requires you pony up $4,600 for the turbocharged SEL, which has a base price of $25,990. The 6-speed Tiptronic adds $1,100 to each of those.



My wife and I didn't miss VW's infamously disappointing iPod dock ($200), though the optional navigation system (a $2,000 option) would have come in handy. In fact, the only option we wished our tester had was the $1,300 panorama sunroof. It's a 4.5-foot-long, double-pane hole in the top that spans both front and back passengers. At the push of a button, a translucent fabric sun shield automatically extends to keep out the rays.



The SportWagen also met our cargo-carrying needs with ease. When hauling around a toddler, a car's rear seats are rarely folded. But even with the Jetta's seats deployed and ready for use, the car boasts 32.8 grocery-hauling cubic feet. The rear floor lifts to reveal two concealed storage spaces for small valuables, and a cargo cover hides larger items. Another compartment on the left opens for even more out-of-sight storage.

For carrying extra long items, the rear seats retain the sedan's center pass-through. But to accommodate both length and width, dropping the back seats is fairly easy though not quick. First, flip the bottom seat cushions forward. Then remove the headrests. Then fold the seat backs flat. We've seen simpler processes, but the end result is a totally flat floor that will take almost 67 cubic feet of cargo.



Black roof rails atop the car seemed superfluous considering all the interior space available, but they proved useful at the big-box home improvement store when four 4x8 pieces of lattice were too wide to fit through the rear hatch. Strollers, luggage, groceries and many other things not intended for construction weren't a challenge for the car's interior.



For those who still don't think station wagons can be cool, keep in mind this is a SportWagen. Yeah, we know "sport" is an automotive clich, and you shouldn't be expecting even A3-levels of performance from this car's 170-hp engine. There is sufficient power to get you around town, and the transmission's sport mode will keep the revs up in the engine's power band. But there's more to performance than horsepower. Put the SportWagen in some twists and turns and the all-independent suspension makes you proud to be the owner. Unlike some of those less-deserving cars sporting "Sport" badges, the s-word doesn't appear anywhere on the car, not even preceding the word "wagen." To your friends and family, you're driving a Jetta sedan with a hatch.

That somewhat stiffer suspension comes at the cost of some ride comfort. It may also be responsible for the intrusive road noise we heard. Neither were unbearable and it's understandable a wagon will naturally be louder than its sedan counterpart. Perhaps the solution is to keep the back loaded with stuff as much as possible.



VW's got ya covered on safety, too, with standard antilock brakes, anti-slip regulation and 4-wheel discs. The driver and front passenger get standard front and side airbags, but rear passengers are forced to come up with $350 for their own side bags. We're disappointed that they're not standard, but at least they're not that expensive.

We certainly enjoyed putting 487.3 mostly city miles on the SportWagen and pumped 18.41 gallons of regular into it. That comes to an impressive 26.4 mpg, right in the middle of the EPA's 21 city/29 highway. And I'll admit to judicious use of the transmission's "S" mode, which probably means "slurp" as much as it does "sport". We'd expect your real-world numbers will come in even better than what we did.



Volkswagen is also promising even better fuel economy when the diesel-powered TDI model debuts in the fall. While the EPA rates an automatic TDI with an average of 34 mpg, VW hired its own testing firm and claims the 140-hp four-cylinder diesel can average 41 mpg. With 236 lb/ft of torque and a standard DSG transmission, it should make for an even sportier wagen. VW says the TDI version will start at $23,590 with a 6-speed manual, though the feds are offering a $1,300 tax credit for TDI purchasers that will largely erase its $2,000 premium. The diesel comes with an even bigger optional bonus, though. A DSG transmission for $1,100.



Mom, it looks like we found our vehicle. It's not our perfect car (it doesn't come in orange), but we think its perfect for our family. The SportWagen is roomy, stylish, economical and sporty enough. With the options we want, it cost us about $26,000, which is over our budget, but it has a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty plus all routine maintenance is taken care of by VW for three years or 36,000 miles.

And just as we're ready to buy, our local VW dealer tells me there's already a waiting list for the TDI SportWagens. Customers are being told not to expect cars until at least September, and maybe not even until January. Hmmm. That means we'll get to see all the new cars that are announced at the North American International Auto Show in January before deciding. Sigh. Our search may never end.



All photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 37 Comments
      • 6 Years Ago
      You're a young couple. Have a little sense and buy used. I just bought a 2004 Mazda 6 wagon for about $12K. Sure, you can't get it with the giant sunroof, but if you want sport, space, and style on the cheap, look no further. It's a bit thirstier but the price should offset that for a few years. Plus you can keep it longer since the kids won't outgrow the back seats.
      • 6 Years Ago
      When you started talking about getting a bigger car for your new kid I was going to complain about people and their ridiculous "needs". But since you got a Jetta wagon I can hardly do that. Congratulations on a reasonable family car!
      • 6 Years Ago
      I don't mind wagons but people really need to get over the Mini-van stigma. Not needed for one kid at all but once you have 2-3 its very useful. So what happens when you have two kid or booster seats in the wagon and grandma wants to come along on your outing. She has to drive herself? There goes your 3rd hand for the toddlers.
        • 6 Years Ago
        For those with very small children (age 2 or 3 or younger), one of the biggest perks of having a minivan is not having to constantly bend over to fish the kid(s) out of their car seat(s). Especially on those days when you might be running several errands that require getting in and out of the car. It can be murder on a person's back.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Nice ride. I will consider it if they give it 4Motion. Until then I'm sticking w/ my Subaru Forester. It doesn't handle at all like a sports car, I'll admit. But, I don't know why, I just feel like the smartest guy on Earth every time I get behind the wheel.
      Our other car is an '04 Passat, so there's still VW love in our family.
      • 6 Years Ago
      rear lights are a bit weird but the overall design is great, perfect for someone with one child or even two kids, i can never undertand people with one child who buy a seven seat minivan.

      maybe in europe we are spoilt with 5 seat multi purpose vehicles though, i currently have a renault modus as a courtesy car and even tho it's really small the interior space is brilliant and the boot is very useable

      • 6 Years Ago
      I can't wait for the diesel. Though I'm not the kind of person to stand in line waiting for it. Never owned a german car either. They handle the maint for the 1st 3/36k? That's not too bad!
        • 6 Years Ago
        best of luck getting one then. i doubt a wagon with over 50mpg on the freeway will have any issues selling as people ditch their suvs but still want a modicum of space in the back - at least if the 'spoken for' jetta tdis are any indication.
      Kumail
      • 6 Years Ago
      i really like this car, but no need for me to get it, i dont have kids :D
      • 6 Years Ago
      Is all wheel independent suspension a rare thing these days? Last time I checked most cars have independent suspension, saving for a few archaic RWD platforms.
      • 6 Years Ago
      You probably DON'T want side air bags in the back seat if you are carrying two kids in car seats. If you have just one kid in back you can put him/her in the middle position, but if you put a kid in a side seat and the side air bag goes off you will regret it. Just a thought.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I'm making a distinction between side curtains, which as you say cover the back seat passengers, and side air bags. All current VW models I've looked at come with side curtains that cover back seat passengers' torso and head. The side air bags mentioned in the article and that I referred to originally are extras (options) that you can buy for the back seat, similar to the side air bags that come standard for the front seat. I have read that side air bags (or any air bags) going off near children can be fatal. I don't have a reference for you, sorry. The side curtains, however, I am willing to live with, since there is no head protection otherwise in case of side collisions. (For the record, we have two Passats: an 03 sedan and an 08 wagon, so I know whereof I speak re: VW air bags).
      • 6 Years Ago
      I'm glad that VW hasn't abandoned the wagon market. I think this is a better vehicle for most people than the too high-priced Passat wagon and Tiguan. It's an A3 for the masses.
        • 6 Years Ago
        @epilonious

        ones a 5 door hatch, and ones a wagon. you can hardly call the Mazda3 a wagon. seems like apples and oranges to me...or lemons and oranges at best.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Nice to see a Jetta/Golf Wagon, but it seems just so plain and ugly, almost like Suzuki Forenza Wagon. For 2k$ one can get a Saab 9-3SC - with beautiful design and more power. Funny that nobody really notices...
        • 6 Years Ago
        I dunno. I think the mazda3 5-door is a better deal. Better mileage, same safety, cheaper... and while the interior isn't "as nice" as the VW it won't be utterly demolished by bored little hands and food particles like all the soft touch plastics on the VeeDub... and finally, the option for a manual in even tippy-top trim.

        That, and I fully trust Mazda to not break down or cost very much to maintain. Can't say the same for the VW. Mazda pulls off the "cheap but nice car for the masses" much better than VW these days. VW seems too much like "last season's Audi with a lot more chrome and a lot less robustness"
        • 6 Years Ago
        V6 Passats are expensive, but the 2.0T is 25K. I would much rather have the Passat with less options over this Jetta with more options - I find Jetta's pretty ugly, but you can't complain about the mileage.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Got any pix of the cargo area with a stroller in it? I'd seriously like to lose my Town & Country for one of these guys, but I need to be able to haul around a gigundo stroller for my kids.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Craig,
        I regularly travel with three 6-footers and their gear in my '06 Jetta TDI sedan, and it's not a squeeze at all. Also, unlike a Chrysler minivan, it doesn't handle like a pig on wheels, and I get 45+ mpg on the highway.
          • 6 Years Ago
          Do you have kids? How much room is left in your Jetta's trunk for your "gear" after you put the baby stroller in there? Carting adults and carting babies and toddlers is are very different experiences.

          I regularly carry adult passengers in my Honda Accord as well, but it is a royal pain to have my kid in the Honda. A full size stroller takes up the entire trunk, leaving no room for luggage.

          What's with the "pig on wheels" comment? The T&C handles very nicely for what it is, and delivers a nice smooth ride, which is more important than corner-strafing ability in a family hauler.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Ben I agree. Try carting two kids with strollers and other necessary kid stuff around. A minivan is the only way to go IMO. My T&C gets 25 mpg on the highway and we never struggle to find room to take more people or stuff. I don't understand the bias against minivans. It is the perfect tool for family travel. Not sure why anyone would want to stuff their family into a compact car, especially for "image" reasons.
      Henry
      • 6 Years Ago
      Nice looking ride, and my experiences with VWs are that they are great fun to drive. However ... ooops ... both my 1961 Beetle and 1988 Jetta were unreliable in the extreme. My son had a similar experience with a Passat sedan a few years ago. I hope you have better luck than I did. That said, the pull of the Passat is like that of a passing planet, compared with other sedans at which I've been looking. I was in the market for an Accord until it was supersized for 2008. I'd really like the European Accord, but that's the Acura TSX, which is costly and runs on premium fuel. I'd love to try the Passat, but experience overcomes that gravitational tug.
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