New Car Reviews

2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI

This Jetta SportWagen TDI is exactly what we should have in our long-term fleet. The DSG transmission is much nicer than our six-speed manual for daily driving, and it’s only a 1-mpg penalty at the pump. Being able to bang off a quick, clean 6-4 downshift for passing is a huge advantage over the manual car, although I wish our tester had paddle shifters like a GTI. I instinctively look for those paddles when I’m driving a DSG car and need to make a quick pass. Reaching down to bump over the shifter isn’t as natural.

The SportWagen was perfect for my weekend of running errands. I drove all over Southeast Michigan and Northwest Ohio, and I didn’t bother looking at the fuel gauge since I had a full tank when I left the office on Friday. This morning I added about ten gallons of ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel at about $2.21 per gallon, so my total fuel cost for 360+ miles of driving was about $22.00. I could live with that, and the SportWagen is certainly on the short list of cars I’d consider owning if I were shopping for a new car today.

I still wish the Jetta offered a little more thrust at highway speeds, but these new emissions laws are making it difficult to do so and keep fuel economy in check. The days of adding an aftermarket computer chip to your diesel vehicle to gain power and fuel economy seem to be over. Pity.

Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor

On Saturday morning my mother and my brother Greg arrived at my house in Greg’s VW New Beetle. We transferred their luggage to the Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI that was sitting in my driveway so that I could drive them to the Detroit airport. Greg is a longtime VW devotee and VW mechanic who is a great admirer of German technology in all its many forms, but especially German automotive engineering. Anyway, he was about to get into the shotgun position when I said, “Wait, stand outside while I start this thing. You won’t believe it’s a diesel.” And, for sure, he was quite amazed by how quiet the new VW TDI engine is. “Volkswagen engineers really know their diesels,” he remarked admiringly.

This is a very tractable and pleasant car on the freeway. Cruising at 80 mph is effortless. The Jetta has very refined manners overall. Once you’re underway, the TDI engine settles into a nice purr, and you’d be hard-pressed to know that you have a diesel under the hood. Actually, it’s difficult to discern the diesel-ness of this car at any time other than the initial start-up, and even then, the diesel clatter is very subdued. Your passengers will likely never know unless they are paying special attention.

I was reminded, though, of the minor hassles of owning a diesel when I exited US-23 at Washtenaw Avenue and headed east, seeking diesel fuel. I drove through three or four stations and did about a six-mile loop practically back to where I started before I finally found a station that offered it. This is not really a big obstacle, and anyone who owns a diesel quickly learns where to buy fuel in their local area. For long trips, of course, any truck stop will do the trick.

Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor

This is the first TDI/dual-clutch automatic I’ve driven in a few years, and the pair works remarkably well together. Half-throttle acceleration runs and downshifts are particularly slick and quick. I’m not as enamored of this combination as Phil, however, and if it were my money, I’d rather save the $1100 and enjoy rowing my own gears (and if this were your car, you’d eventually get used to the quiet turbo-diesel’s relatively low shift points and narrow torque band). I, too, missed the paddle shifters installed in most DSG-equipped VWs and Audis.

The wagon looks a bit funny, but I’m very glad that Volkswagen offers it (and at a pretty decent price). The Jetta sedan has a huge trunk, but this easily accessible cargo area is absolutely enormous, especially considering the smallish size of the Jetta. My weekend’s worth of luggage and beer barely made a dent in the back, but it pretty much filled every nook and cranny of our Four Seasons Audi R8.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

As the economy continues to falter and investment portfolios show the effect of the stumbling Dow Jones average, frugality is the watchword of the day. And what car better embodies the creed of frugality than the Volkswagen Jetta TDI? With only 140 hp on tap, the Jetta TDI’s 2.0-liter turbo-diesel engine has just enough power to let you comfortably cruise at 80 mph on the highway, and with an impessive EPA rating of 29 city/40 hwy/33 combined, you won’t burn up much fuel as you do that cruising. And on top of that, the base price is a relatively modest $24,570. Sure, you won’t get a whole lot of driving excitement with the Jetta TDI, but this car just might give you the opportunity to find some self-satisfaction in knowing that you’re driving a practical, economical car at an affordable price.

Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor

Diesel and sport are two words that don’t belong in the same sentence even when the word wagon is also there to keep peace. Really what we’re talking about is a minivan without sliding doors or a third row. VW’s diesel-driven midsize model is cod liver oil for the car lover’s soul – good for you but difficult to swallow. In exchange for sluggish acceleration, you get mid-thirties cruising mpg. At least the automatic is a better partner with the tiny (2.0-liter) turbo diesel than the stick-shift box fitted to the Jetta sedan in our Four Seasons fleet. The automatic may be slow off the mark but it never stalls the feeble diesel, something the stick does every chance it gets.

Don Sherman, Technical Editor

2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI

Base price (with destination): $24,570Price as tested: $26,120

6-speed DSG automatic transmission – $1100
17″ aluminum wheels – $450
(list other options)

Fuel economy: 29/40/33 mpg (city/hwy/combined)

Size: 2.0-liter turbo-diesel in-line 4
Horsepower: 140 hp @ 4000 rpm
Torque: 236 lb-ft @ 1750 rpm

6-speed DSG automatic with tiptronic

Weight: 3285 lb

17 x 7.5 aluminum wheels
205/55R-16 all-season tires

Buying Guide
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2009 Volkswagen Jetta

2009 Volkswagen Jetta

MSRP $17,515 S (Manual) Sedan


20 City / 29 Hwy

Safety (IIHS):

Best Pick

Horse Power:

170 @ 5700