New Car Reviews

2010 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI

Driving a TDI Volkswagen is always refreshing. Despite the fact that the suspension is more about comfort than sport and the powertrain is optimized for fuel economy instead of performance, an enthusiast will walk away relatively happy. Complaints about the soft brake pedal and less-than-perfect steering are minor when you consider the cargo capacity and fuel economy benefits of a wagon like this.

I particularly enjoy DSG-equipped TDIs because the clutch on a manual TDI is very light and offers no feel. During aggressive driving you really need to work the manual to keep the engine in the power. With a DSG, all you need to do is plant your foot and the car sorts out the rest for you and you never have to worry about stalling while creeping along in traffic.

Volkswagen’s navigation system is quite nice looking, though I had no reason to use it for directions during my time in the TDI. The heated seats work very well, which is a good thing because the diesel engine (like so many others on the market) is slow to warm up in the winter. Perhaps owners would become accustomed to the wait, but I found myself wishing for a remote starter to let the car idle while I ate breakfast.

Overall I find the Jetta TDI wagon to be one of the best values on the new-car market right now. It would certainly be on my short list if I were shopping for a new car.

Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor

Driving around in this Volkswagen, I’m having a difficult time understanding why anyone would buy an Audi A3 TDI. The “premium” A3 TDI has a base price of $30,425 — $4315 more than this loaded Jetta’s base price, including the DSG. On top of that, the VW’s extremely posh interior, updated to match that of the new Golf, has a leg up on the A3 and just about every other car in this price segment.

As we already knew from our year with the Jetta TDI sedan, the diesel provides excellent efficiency and has virtually no drawbacks in daily driving. I’ll agree with Phil about the transmission — this superfast dual-clutch automatic is the perfect match for the 2.0-liter’s narrow powerband. It’s so smooth, quick, and adept in its shifting that the average driver might never notice a difference between this engine and a high-torque gas unit.

David Zenlea, Assistant Editor

In the wrap story on our Four Seasons Jetta TDI sedan, we noted that several editors wished our car had been equipped with the dual-clutch automatic transmission rather than the manual. After driving this wagon with the DSG dual-clutch, I’m not convinced that the manual is such a bad choice. Don’t get me wrong. I love DSG when it’s mated to the turbocharged gas engine of the GTI. But the transmission doesn’t seem nearly as refined when paired with the diesel.

Most notable is the significant lag in response when you flatten the accelerator at speed. The diesel’s low redline means you can only have a two-gear downshift when you would get three cogs in a gas-engine car. When a dual-clutch gearbox makes a two-gear jump, it loses the speed advantage it has in using two separate discs to engage the engine. There’s also a noticeable surge from engine braking as the transmission downshifts when coasting to a stop. It’s not dramatic, but it is enough to push you forward.

Frankly, I’m not convinced that the dual-clutch offers much advantage over a torque-converter automatic save for minuscule fuel savings primarily relevant for calculating fleet fuel economy. So my final take is that both the manual and dual-clutch automatic have their own drawbacks in the Jetta TDI and regardless of which you choose, they’re the weakest element of the vehicle. Still, I wouldn’t let the transmission stop me from buying a Jetta TDI if affordability, comfort, and fuel efficiency were high on my list.

Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor

I wish we could keep this car for a little while longer — I made the journey to Chicago and back for last year’s auto show in our Four Seasons Jetta TDI, and I wish I could do the same next week in this example.

Benefits? For starters, VW has spiffed up the interior (not that it was crude before, mind you), the wagon adds a fair amount of cargo space aft of the second row, and this wagon came equipped with the in-dash nav system. I’m usually not a fan of such systems, but given that there’s only one 12-volt outlet in the cabin, I have to constantly switch between feeding voltage to my Garmin and my cell phone.

Seeing as I regularly spend plenty of time on freeways in my own transportation, a TDI is undoubtedly the perfect car for my next vehicle purchase. I’m more intrigued by the Golf TDI than I am the SportWagen, however — it’s almost $2000 cheaper, and although it may not have quite as much cargo space, it still offers the versatility of a tall roofline and a cargo hatch.

Evan McCausland, Web Producer

I was happy to see this TDI SportWagen on our car board just as I was starting to miss our recently departed Four Seasons Jetta TDI sedan. VW’s four-cylinder turbo-diesel is always a pleasure. It’s extremely linear, provides good acceleration, and is remarkably economical. And as Phil mentioned, when it’s linked to VW’s quick-shifting DSG automatic, power is always at the ready. There’s no need to frantically downshift before punching the throttle — the DSG transmission does it for you and completes it far faster and more smoothly than most humans could pull it off.

As always, the interior is beautifully done with class-leading fit, finish, and layout/design. And, although I agree with David Zenlea on the logic of buying this over the A3 TDI in terms of price–the A3 TDI starts just under $30,000–I’m not sold on this SportWagen’s exterior design. The stubby, sharply angled hood, which looks fine on the shorter-wheelbase Jetta sedan, looks odd and disproportionate when attached to the wagon’s more full-figured body. Looks aside, the Jetta TDI wagon is a great package that provides the cargo room and passenger volume of a small SUV while returning the fuel economy of a hybrid.

Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor

It’s always nice to get mid-30s on the real-world mpg scale for a price in the mid-$20Ks, but it’s especially enticing in a vehicle with the usable around-town torque, the 500-mile-plus highway range, and the expansive space of the Jetta SportWagen TDI. I averaged an indicated 33.6 mpg over 250 mixed, winter weekend miles in this wagon, but during our recently completed year with a stick-shift Jetta TDI sedan, we averaged an even-more-impressive 37 mpg. This particular test vehicle is $27,950 (almost $5000 more than our long-term four-door), which is a pretty good deal considering that it’s a spacious station wagon with touch-screen navigation and an $1100 dual-clutch automatic.

I really like manual transmissions, but I agree with some of my colleagues that VW’s DSG is the superior transmission to be teamed with this turbo-diesel powerplant, since the engine’s powerband is fairly narrow and the stick shift clutch’s behavior is finicky. However, I can’t argue with Eric’s point that the TDI/DSG combination is more sluggish here than in other DSG applications.

I disagree with Jen’s disapproval of the SportWagen’s looks, but I’m a closet wagon nut. And I definitely agree with Phil about this Vee Dub’s extreme delay to warm up on cold winter mornings.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

My main takeaway here, after briefly driving the Jetta SportWagen, is that I am reminded once again that the Germans are making some brilliant diesel engines these days. I wish that more Americans had an opportunity to drive vehicles from Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz that are equipped with these new generations of so-called “clean” diesels. Sure, diesel powertrains are more expensive to produce than conventional gasoline engines, and manufacturers obviously have to pass along those extra costs to buyers, but the fuel economy benefits are pretty amazing. The Jetta makes a superb highway commuter and is an ideal car for someone who has a long daily drive to work. The engine itself is extremely quiet; you hear just a faint diesel clatter upon start-up, but once you’re under way, you’ll be hard pressed to even remember you’re driving a diesel. Modern diesel engines are amazingly refined, so if you haven’t experienced them, don’t be afraid to take a test-drive. You’ll be surprised.

Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor

Having lived with a Jetta TDI sedan in our Four Seasons fleet for a year, I pretty much knew what to expect when I signed out the Jetta TDI wagon for the weekend. Like the sedan, the Jetta wagon isn’t flashy in either its styling or its performance. Instead, where it impresses is with its everyday usability. You hardly notice the diesel powerplant when you go about your daily chores – except that you may notice that you don’t need to stop at the gas station as often as you’re used to. The Jetta TDI isn’t exciting to drive, but it is user-friendly and predictable in its behavior. The added bonus of the wagon version is its cargo capacity. With the second seat folded it holds an impressive 66 cubic feet of cargo, and even with the second seat in place, rear cargo capacity is double that of the sedan (32 cubic feet). For that reason alone, I’d opt for the TDI wagon over the sedan were I considering a Jetta.

Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor

2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI

Base price (with destination): $25,060
Price as tested: $27,950

Standard Equipment:
Electronic stability program
Electronic differential lock
Heated front seats
Power front seats
Cruise control
Touch screen in-dash radio with 6-CD changer
Sirius satellite radio

Options on this vehicle:
DVD satellite navigation system – $1790
6-speed DSG automatic transmission – $1100

Key options not on vehicle:
Panorama sunroof – $1300

Fuel economy:
30 / 42 / 34 mpg

Size: 2.0L turbo diesel 4-clyinder
Horsepower: 140 hp @ 4000 rpm
Torque: 236 lb-ft @ 1750-2500 rpm


6-speed dual-clutch automatic

Weight: 3285 lb

16-inch aluminum wheels
205/55R16 Hankook Optimo all-season tires

Competitors: Toyota Prius, Honda Insight

Buying Guide
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23 City / 30 Hwy

Safety (IIHS):

Best Pick

Horse Power:

170 @ 5700