In the past, we looked at Volkswagens that arrived in our garage with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Although fun to drive, especially when equipped with the DSG automated manual transmission, the cars have been cursed with substandard cabin tech. But the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen 2.0T goes a long way toward fixing this oversight, as the one we tested included a whole new navigation system.
On the road
The subtly curved body of the Jetta SportWagen 2.0T suggests a compact little space capsule, its design striking a thoroughly modern note. We, and everyone else who saw the car, couldn't help but admire the 18-inch Karthoum wheels. In the cabin, a massive panoramic sunroof seems almost too big for the car. It's a nice option for people who like the light.
But what pleased us most was the optional navigation system, similar to what we had seen in the Volkswagen CC. The system's maps show traffic, letting us avoid the snarls during our test driving. Lacking VW's special iPod cable, we made due with the USB port, playing MP3s off a USB drive.
The six-speed manual shifted smoothly, but we would rather have had the optional DSG, a twin-clutch transmission that uses a computer to change gears. The car's turbo-charged 2-liter four-cylinder proved ready power to put twist to the tires at any opportunity, and our more enthusiastic starts lit traction control warnings all over the instrument panel while the front tires struggled to spin free of the asphalt. But even with these stresses, torque steer wasn't overbearing.
More impressively, our every request for power through the gas pedal was met with a palpable push in any of the six gears. Cruising the freeway, the Jetta SportWagen 2.0T made it easy to pass slower traffic, while the audio system delivered a clean sound with distinct highs. Given audio sources that include satellite radio, an SD card slot, onboard hard-drive storage, USB port, and iPod interface, we figured the Jetta SportWagen 2.0T would make a comfortable road-tripper. However, the lack of any available Bluetooth phone system is a disappointment.
After time spent getting to know the Jetta SportWagen 2.0T's cruising characteristics, we had to check out the sport part of its name. The little 2-liter engine gave plenty of power to dive into a corner, not minding having its revs run around the tach dial. As inertial forces started to work on the car, some body roll became evident, but the Jetta didn't feel tippy in any way. Working along turn after turn, the front wheels pulled the car through, while the rear of the car remained tame enough that we felt a little pivot as the car cornered.
In the cabin
An option on the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen 2.0T, a new navigation head unit fits into a double-DIN slot in the dashboard, using a touch-screen LCD to show maps and audio information. Function buttons line the sides of the screen, with audio controls on the left and navigation controls on the right. Audio buttons on the steering wheel supplement the head unit controls. And common to Audis and Volkswagens, a very useful instrument panel display between speedometer and tach shows trip, audio, and navigation information.
This new navigation system is a little quirky. The maps, stored on a hard drive, look good, and it lets you choose from four different types of map, including 2D, 3D, topographic, and traffic. It is a little odd to separate the 2D and traffic maps, which offer the same basic perspective, although some people may not want to look at traffic information. The topographic map is simplified, using colors to indicate terrain height instead of contour lines.
Being hard-drive based, the system works quickly--much better than the system it replaces. Entering destinations is easy, with the system's onscreen keyboard, but browsing the map with input mode is difficult. The cursor doesn't move the way we would expect.