In 2009, Volkswagen introduced a new body style for its Jetta compact. The company took its best seller and gave it a long roof, creating the sleek Jetta SportWagen. The SportWagen is loved by Volkswagen fans all over, and there’s one that some enthusiasts consider the Holy Grail of Jetta SportWagens. For just a single model year in 2009, Volkswagen sold this new wagon with the 200 horsepower turbo four straight from the GTI. And yes, you can have it with a manual transmission.
Welcome back to Holy Grails, the Autopian series where we show off some of the coolest, most underrated cars that you love. After years of us yammering on about our own grails, it’s awesome to see what you have in store for us! We still have a pile of grails to work through, and we love every single one of them. If you know of a car that’s underrated, perhaps very desirable, maybe a little weird, or largely unknown, send it our way! I’d love to read about it.
In our last entry, reader Peter took us to France to experience a vehicular oddity. In the spring of 1993, Citroën introduced the Xantia, a family hatchback with spaceship looks from Bertone. Normally, this wouldn’t be much of a grail because there were 1,528,000 of these built. But there was a special and far rarer version of the Xantia called the Activa, and this combined a practical family car with the then-latest version of Citroën’s signature hydropneumatic suspension. This suspension was designed to give Xantia Activa drivers a soft suspension when driving on rough roads, and minimal body roll when cornering. The French hatchback can out-handle supercar legends and to this day holds a magazine’s record as the vehicle to complete its moose test the fastest.
Today’s car doesn’t involve a trick suspension system that can be difficult to maintain, but for some of you, that might be a good thing. Instead, it’s a punchy spec of an otherwise common car.
Last month, I got to experience my first Volkswagen Golf GTI. It was a wonderful experience and opened my eyes to why GTIs have remained so popular over the decades. A Volkswagen GTI gives you more than enough performance to make you smile, and it’s packaged in an affordable, practical body. If you must own just a single car that has to get you to work, cart the kid to school, and be a fun weekend toy, the GTI can easily be the tool for the job. And if you’re married to sedans, you could even get that GTI experience in a Jetta GLI. But what if you like your roofs long?
The Volkswagen Jetta has survived through seven generations. Through those generations, it not only became popular with enthusiasts, but it also became Volkswagen’s best-selling model by a wide margin. Today, Volkswagen’s crossovers take the sales crown, but the Jetta still moves decent numbers for a sedan.
As Volkswagen writes, the Jetta was born out of demand for a sedan version of the Golf. Launched in 1979 as a 1980, the Jetta offered drivers 76 horses from a 1.6-liter four, German style, good safety for the day, and good fuel economy. America was in an era of cutting down on emissions and good fuel economy was in vogue. The Jetta also offered buyers more features than other VW models at the time. Buying a Jetta got you a few more luxuries than a Rabbit such as an optional automatic transmission and full carpeting.
Volkswagen says that the Jetta really took off with its second generation. Launched in 1985, the new Jetta offered more of everything. It was large enough to seat five, had a more refined design inside and out, and its 1.8-liter four made 100 horses.
Owners got features like velour seats, power mirrors, and even a basic vehicle computer system. Mk2 Jettas could be had with four-doors or two-doors and this car was such a huge success that Volkswagen says that it outsold the Golf two-to-one. The Mk2 Jetta also remained in production for quite a long time. While the generation ended in 1992 for much of the world, China kept building them until 2013.
The Jetta would only continue to evolve over its generations. The third-generation Jetta, launched in the 1993 model year, got even more power thanks to another signature Volkswagen quirk: the VR6 engine. But perhaps the Jetta that most people remember was released in 1999 for the 2000 model year.
The Mk4 Jetta was released with a handsome design that still looks modern over 23 years later. American Jettas from this time came with a variety of engines from a 2.0-liter four that made 115 HP to a 1.8-liter turbo four that made 180 HP and all of the way up to the big daddy 2.8-liter VR6 and its 200 horses. And if you were like me and like your engines all clickety clacky, you could get one with a 1.9-liter diesel making 100 HP.
If you’ve driven one of these, you probably remember the interior smelling like crayons. I had one, and it was slammed on bags with wide flares welded on. Volkswagen notes that the Mk4 is also the first Jetta to get a long roof.
That brings us to the Jetta that we’re looking at today. Introduced in 2005, the fifth-generation Jetta further evolved the concept. The design rounded out and the interior became even more upscale. Volkswagen was big on technology with the Mk5, and buyers were treated to features like optional dual-zone climate control, active head restraints, emergency brake assist, electric power steering, and Volkswagen’s Direct-Shift Gearbox dual-clutch transmission.
The list of engines was pretty interesting, too. The base engine was a 2.5-liter inline five that made 150 HP. I like this engine because, with the right exhaust, it sounds like a baby Lamborghini. The aforementioned 1.9-liter diesel was still around and if you wanted Golf GTI power in a sedan body, you could opt for your Jetta to have a 2.0-liter turbocharged four making 200 HP. The Jetta GLI further offered some sporty bits like plaid seats, sport suspension, and sweet 17-inch wheels.
The fifth-generation Jetta went without a wagon at first. Volkswagen teased the Jetta SportWagen in 2007, but buyers had to wait until the 2009 model year for it to hit showroom floors. And when it did, Volkswagen managed to attract a number of enthusiasts. Quite a few of our readers own a Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen, and even I have two Jetta SportWagen TDIs.
Until now, I thought that the “holy grail” of Jettas was my Jetta SportWagen TDI with a manual transmission. I mean, it’s a torquey wagon capable of eating up some serious miles paired to an engaging transmission. For many enthusiasts, the only thing it’s missing is some brown paint. However, for reader Alex T and some enthusiasts, the real holy grail of Jettas was one that was sold for just a single year:
My nomination for my Holy Grail is the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen SEL 2.0T. For one year, VW offered the Jetta Sportwagen in the top trim (SEL), with the same engine as the GTI (2.0T TSI, 200hp, 207lb-ft) and a 6-speed manual transmission! Not only that, but these cars share the same chassis as a GTI, so suspension upgrades are simple and plenty. This is as close as VW ever came to selling a “GTI wagon” here in the US, and I would love to own one. As someone who has owned a 2013 Jetta Sportwagen TDI (I had upgraded this car with Golf R and Audi TTRS suspension parts, it was a great handling car) and currently owns a 2014 GTI, I can only imagine what my JSW would have been like with the power that my GTI has. This motor is also extremely tunable, and 250hp is very achievable with just a simple flash. This and the availability of factory upgrades/aftermarket support make this my Holy Grail car! See a motor trend review down below. Thanks!
Click here for the Motor Trend review that Alex T is referring to.
Somehow, despite my love for Volkswagen wagons, this one flew right under my radar. When Volkswagen introduced the Jetta SportWagen in 2009, the top-of-the-line model was the SEL. From what I’ve been able to find, this trim offered buyers standard features that were options in other Jettas, plus power inherited from the GTI.
On the outside, these looked like regular Jetta SportWagens. The only hint that you were looking at something different is when you saw the 2.0 badge on the back. But pop open the door, sit down, and you’re in for a ride. You’ll next notice the interior, which is well-equipped right from the jump. Dual-zone climate control is standard in these, as are heated real leather seats with position memory. You also got neat stuff like a Homelink system and a six-disc stereo system. Thus, the options list was thin and included only the option to get a DSG, a panoramic glass roof, and a navigation system.
Car magazines got to test a 2009 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen SEL outfitted with accessories from VW’s catalog, including a body kit and 18-inch Karthoum wheels. The Motor Trend reviewer found the experience of driving it enjoyable, but the accessories–specifically the 18-inch wheels–worsened acceleration, handling, and braking. How do big wheels do that? Well, they added 204 pounds that the car didn’t leave the factory with.
When Edmunds tested the same car, that publication’s tester found it able to reach 60 mph in 7.7 seconds, but it was slower in a slalom than a TDI, concluding that the chunky wheels don’t play nice with the stock suspension tune. Volkswagen says that without the heavy accessories, the Jetta Sportwagen SEL could dispatch 60 mph in as little as 6.9 seconds. CNET tested one without all of the accessories, and that reviewer praised the engine’s punch, though that review was focused on the car’s tech.
The suspension didn’t just disappoint reviewers, but enthusiasts too. Since it has a stock suspension, it apparently falls short of its GTI and GLI siblings. However, enthusiasts have found it easy to upgrade the suspension with parts from the VW family. Alex T said that they upgraded their Jetta SportWagen TDI to have suspension bits from the Golf R and Audi TTRS. Other enthusiasts on forums indicate that the aftermarket has a lot of options as well. Add in some plaid seats plus the proper wheels and you have yourself the GTI wagon that Volkswagen came so close to selling here.
In 2009, the Jetta SportWagen started at $18,999 for the S model with the 2.5-liter five. For $21,299, you were able to get the SE, which netted you synthetic leather, a better sound system, and a few more interior upgrades. Spending $23,590 got you a SportWagen with a 2.0-liter diesel engine. To get the king of the SportWagen lineup in 2009, you had to spend at least $25,990. If you didn’t want to shift your own gears, wanted navigation, and that neat roof, you knocked on the door of $30,000.
This car was a one-year wonder and it seems that nobody has any confirmed production numbers. Best guesses by enthusiasts place production at 4,500 units. By 2010, the Golf and the Jetta both got new generations. Meanwhile, the Jetta SportWagen still rode on the fifth-generation body but got a facelift to closer match its new siblings. Engine choices were also reduced to the 2.5-liter five and the 2.0-liter diesel.
Today, it seems that these cars are obscure. Enthusiasts on forums love them, but that’s about the only place you’ll find chatter about them. At least there’s a potentially good thing about the obscurity, and it’s that these can be found for cheap. I found three of them for sale. Sadly, just one has a manual transmission, but all of them are under $9,000. So, if you want to have a taste of GTI fun in a long roof, keep your eyes peeled for one of these.
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