Third Look: 2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI

By Chris Martens

May 06, 2010

The 2009 VW Jetta SportWagen TDI was one of our favorite Winding Road test cars (the kind you want to take home to meet your parents), and at first glance the 2010 model seems destined to improve on what was already a good thing. Right off the bat, the new car’s nose seems smoother and more svelte, as does the rear end treatment (though some might find it a little non-descript, ala Buick). Paint quality, as always, seems sumptuous—noticeably better than on many Japanese or American cars. So, first impressions are positive.

As you move to the interior, improvements continue through the addition of small, yet significant detail touches that give the car a decidedly upscale feel relative to the more austere look of the 2009 model’s interior. Details such as delicate metal flanges surrounding key control switches on the center column seem to whisper, “This is a tastefully appointed space, don’t you think?” And it is. One welcome change, in particular, is the new white instrument panel lighting scheme, which looks slightly less cool than, but is functionally far superior to, VW’s old blue-and-red panel lighting motif. As before, the front seats are supportive without being confining, with very high-quality touch surfaces.

One interior detail that didn’t work out so well, however, is the all-glass sunroof/skylight, which is covered on the inside by a diaphanous fabric screen that keeps direct sunlight from beating down upon passengers’ heads. The skylight looks great, but the unforeseen tradeoff is that the all-glass roof apparently requires thick overhead support channels that significantly undercut back seat headroom for six-footers. Not a step forwards for what is otherwise a spacious family wagon.

But now let’s look at the fun quotient, which was a strong suit of the 2009 SportWagen TDI. As before, the TDI engine itself is a wonder, offering up the endearing combination of beefy slabs of torque (which always spells fun in our book) and amazing fuel frugality. The real joy of the TDI is not in its off-the-line acceleration, which frankly isn’t all that neck snapping, but rather involves tipping into the throttle and then savoring the way the car surges forward, surfing its own waves of torque. Who knew that averaging 37 – 38 miles per gallon could be so much fun?

The 2010 SportWagen’s suspension tuning struck us as a mixed blessing relative to the 2009 car, though differences are in fact relatively minor. On the whole the 2010 model offers a somewhat more plush, compliant ride, but at the expense of feeling a little less tautly suspended—and thus less toss-able—than the 2009 SportWagen. When cornering the 2010 model vigorously, then, apparently reduced levels of rear-end roll stiffness make the car feel slight more tail-heavy, and as cornering forces build the aft end seemingly wants to swing wide, inducing discernible yaw motions (something also true of the 2009 car, though to a lesser degree). Even so, the Jetta SportWagen TDI remains one of the most entertaining (and fuel efficient) wagons we’ve driven. It’s just that it has sacrificed a bit of the 2009 car’s nimble feel in order to achieve a smoother and arguably more luxurious, family-friendly ride.