The Volkswagen Jetta line of compact sedans and wagons has gotten more complicated since last year. In 2011, VW launched a redesigned, larger, and cheaper Jetta four-door sedan--but carried the Jetta SportWagen using the older body style, albeit with new front sheetmetal to make it resemble the sedan.
So the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen is essentially the same vehicle it's been for a few years. Not that that's a bad thing.
The greenest SportWagen is clearly the TDI clean diesel model, which accounts for roughly half of all Jetta SportWagens sold in the U.S. (and an increasing number of Jetta sedans and Golf hatchbacks too).
The 140-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbodiesel puts out a ton of torque with very little harshness or vibration. That makes it fun to use, whether it's thrashing around town or hammering down highways. (Passenger-car turbos should frequently be run at full throttle to clean them out.)
The EPA rates the 2012 Jetta SportWagen TDI at 30 mpg city, 42 mpg highway, and 34 mpg overall when fitted with the six-speed manual gearbox. When VW's impressive six-speed Dual-Clutch "automatic manual" is specified, those figures fall slightly, to 29 city, 39 highway, and 33 overall.
But VW Jetta owners have reported for years that they customarily get better real-world mileage than the EPA figures, so the SportWagen TDI diesel seems to be one of the few cars where your mileage may vary...for the better.
The 2012 VW Jetta TDI is one of the cars that highlights the importance of duty cycle when selecting a car. If you do a lot of urban stop-and-go driving, a diesel won't help, but a hybrid is perfect. On the other hand, if you do lots of high-speed Interstate mileage, the diesel will likely prove far more economical than most modern hybrids.
As well as the TDI diesel, the Jetta SportWagen is offered with a 2.5-liter gasoline engine paired with either a five-speed manual or the six-speed DCT automatic, both of which earn a combined EPA rating of 26 mpg.
All Jetta SportWagens handle well, with nicely weighted electric power steering, superbly damped suspension, and excellent brakes. The cabin uses high-quality materials that are far nicer than the new Jetta sedan's harder plastics. But if you're buying a wagon, you're looking for cargo space, and the Jetta wagon offers a load bay comparable to many crossovers that are taller, far less fun to drive, and considerably pricier to fuel.
Most of the usual options are offered, including a navigation system, which wraps in a more powerful audio system, a CD changer, an SD card slot--if you happen to carry your music collection that way--and something that ought to be standard in every car by now: iPod integration.
The base gasoline model, the Jetta 2.5L S SportWagen, is priced at $19,995 before delivery, but all other models exceed $24,000. The TDI clean diesel model starts at $25,260
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