2014 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI
Base price: $26,565
As tested: $30,770
MPG: 29 mpg city/39 mpg highway
- Diesel thrift, power
- Roomy cargo space
- Bland styling
- High diesel fuel cost
By Bob Golfen
For those who still equate diesel engines with growly noises and oily stink, there’s a new generation of clean-diesel engines waiting to make your acquaintance.
Volkswagen, a long-time proponent of diesel, currently offers the TDI option on seven of its models. And neither you nor your passengers are likely to notice that the 2014 Jetta SportWagen TDI is propelled by the same engine technology that motivates giant cargo trucks.
The Jetta SportWagen TDI is all about practicality and efficiency. Its wagon-back design provides as much cargo room as a small crossover without compromising VW’s distinctive European driving character or responsive steering and handling — making it a painless choice for driving enthusiasts who need space but chafe at the idea of an SUV or minivan.
The Diesel Difference
While you won’t notice any striking outward differences between the diesel and non-diesel models, you will notice the power. It’s amazing how much power and refinement the SportWagen gets from its fuel-sipping, 4-cylinder turbo diesel engine. Even though the horsepower rating is a meager 140, the torque is a muscular 236 foot-pounds that comes on at a low 1,750 rpm. That means off-the-line acceleration is crisp and hill climbing is effortless.
The fuel-mileage gain is significant; the EPA rating of the automatic TDI lists between a 6 and 9 mpg advantage over the gas-powered Jetta (and even a bit more on manual models). But there is a catch: Diesel fuel in the U.S. typically costs 50 to 60 cents more per gallon that regular unleaded gas.
VW went mainstream with the styling of the current Jetta, losing some of the charming individuality that set it apart. The SportWagen follows this trend, with a look that is clean and attractive, but hardly a standout.
The SportWagen does have better interior trim than the standard Jetta sedan, which has been criticized for lowering cabin quality to cut costs. But buyers have a full-measure of optional features — including navigation and sunroof — to choose from.
At around $30,000, the Jetta SportWagen TDI is an attractive package, though the mileage gain is mitigated by the high cost of diesel fuel, as well as a slightly higher sticker price. There’s not much compromise in drivability, though, which is why this compact VW stands in a league of its own.
BOB GOLFEN is a Phoenix-based automotive writer and former automotive editor for the Arizona Republic.