2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagen

by Colin Mathews

2009 VW Jetta TDI Wagon

The average American doesn’t cotton to wagons anymore – the minivan, the SUV, and now the crossover have successfully taken its place for a huge cross-section of America. But then the GLBT community has never exactly mirrored that huge cross-section in its tastes and tendencies. We tend to start trends rather than follow them. I don’t have the data to prove that “we” drive wagons in higher numbers other than the collection of gay men and lesbians I’ve seen driving station wagons. Be they Subaru’s, Benz’s, Audi’s, BMW’s or Volvo’s, it seems our community appreciates the utility, convenience, performance, and perhaps even the retrospective nature of the station wagon.
I’m a fan of wagons and I think the diesel engine ranks up there with the iPod in terms of brilliant inventions. But let’s be clear: VW had huge shoes to fill when it designed this latest diesel, the 2.0 TDI. They had to get this engine perfect on the first try, period. Otherwise, legions of VW diesel owners would forever disown them. Much like Mercedes diesels, VW TDI diesels are long-lived and legendary, so this new clean-sheet design is pivotal. But VW wants their newest diesel to have a wider appeal, so they had to clean up the diesel’s act and quell its rattly nature.

2009 VW Jetta TDI Wagon

How’d they do? Brilliantly, in my estimation. For those of you who associate diesel with A) noise, B) smell, and C) sloth, please leave those notions at the door. Piezoelectric injection has cured the diesel of its persistent clatter. Tough U.S. EPA regulations, plus the aforementioned piezoelectric injectors and high-tech exhaust-scrubbing catalysts, have resulted in an exhaust stream that’s no more offensive than what your Kenmore spits out when it’s drying the whites (most of what exits new clean diesels’ exhaust pipes is made of inert nitrogen gas and water vapor – I put my nose up to the tailpipes just to be sure). And with 236 lb-ft of torque (that’s the stuff that shoves you in your back) on tap from 1,750 rpm, you’re no longer consigned to the right lane.
Yeah, yeah, it’s loaded with innovation and engineering acumen. But just how do 140 hp and 236 lb-ft torque work under the hood of the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagen? Long story short, they give hybrid-like economy as well as acceleration that blows the Insight and the Prius away. It’s a very versatile powertrain; drive it like mom drove the family wagon, and you can eke out around 50 mpg at sedate speeds on the highway (I managed 52.4 mpg at 55 mph with the A/C off and the cruise control set on level freeways).

2009 VW Jetta TDI Wagon

But if you need to get there on time, 236 lb-ft torque are your ally to burn rubber. Literally. This car will happily smoke its tires from rest with either the six-speed manual or the six-speed DSG automatic, the latter an optional super-high-tech transmission that talks like a manual but walks like an automatic. Car and Driver recorded a 0-60 mph sprint of 8.1 seconds, about two seconds ahead of both the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight. This is a small engine that it acts like a big six due to its huge torque production even at low engine speeds.
Stylewise, the Candy White Jetta TDI I drove looked confident and solid on its optional 17-inch aluminum wheels. I swore the tan interior was leather until I looked at the window sticker and realized it was V-Tex Leatherette (warm leatherette with a twist of the standard seat heater knobs). A word about VW interiors; for the price, they’re the best in the business. Audi is VW’s corporate cousin, and so Volkswagens typically end up feeling at least 10K richer than they are. As such, the interior of this $25,000 VW Jetta TDI was a model of ergonomic precision, firm comfort, and intuitive controls. My mother gushed over the completely black dash (just like her 1986 Volvo 240), which she proudly proclaims means “NO reflections in the windshield!”
The sturdy German chassis built around the handsome interior means doors that close with a reassuring “thunk” and the kind of solidity that equal high ratings in NHTSA crash tests and a Top Safety Pick nod from the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). To protect whomever you call family, all Jettas feature front and side airbags for both front seats, as well as side curtain airbags for head protection both front and rear.

2009 VW Jetta TDI Wagon

If you’ve driven a BMW, then you’ll be right at home in the Volkswagen Jetta. While it trades a dose of sport to the BMW due to its front-wheel drive layout, the Jetta nonetheless blends good steering feel, impressive ride comfort, athletic handling, and a ride that’s largely quiet with the exception of some road noise emanating from the rear wheel wells. All drivers will appreciate this car’s incredibly small steering radius, impressive all the more in a front-wheel drive application.
For whatever – and whomever – you call family, the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagen is a remarkably good fit. It manages to meld the best and most traditional features of the station wagon – comfy room for stuff and people, all-day road trip comfort, the flexibility of fold-down rear seats and a huge hatch – with the trendsetting styling, athletic driving demeanor, and exquisite details of a Volkswagen. That it does this all for $25,000 makes it a killer value ($23,700 when you include the $1,300 rebate check from the IRS due to the Jetta’s frugal consumption). And that it gives you the option of insane mpg or enthusiastic acceleration means more driving flexibility than today’s hybrids can provide. Finally, if your definition of family includes Mother Earth, you’ll enjoy guilt-free driving with the Jetta’s high-tech collection of engine and exhaust management that mean little more than harmless nitrogen gas and water vapor exiting the Jetta’s twin tailpipes.

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