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2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen Pros and Cons at TrueDelta: The car I love to hate (and I do hate it) by lava

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Introduction

Bought it as a compromise of handling, reputed gas mileage, cargo space, comfort and fit for a long-legged driver. Hate it for continuous reliability issues and thoroughly annoying nanny-state throttle lag (drive-by-wire acceleration delay). Love it for its excellent steering and perfect fore-aft weight balance (ability to drift like a rear-wheeled car on gravelled back roads).

Reviewed: 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen

4dr Wagon 170-horsepower 2.5L I5 6-speed shiftable automatic FWD

Why the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen?

Front seat room

I am a tall guy with big feet, so my vehicle choices are greatly restricted. The Jetta Sportwagen (Golf Wagon here in Canada) is very comfortable on long drives.

Cargo capacity

In our small business we need the space and convenience of a wagon. The Jetta Sportwagen has a lot of cargo space, even compared to an SUV

Handling

I like a car that handles well. The Jetta Sportwagen has magnificent steering and a wonderfully quick suspension but a bit too soft in the corners for my liking.

Fuel economy

I was hoping for a bit better than the 8+ litres/100 km we are getting with this Sportwagen. I was hoping it would be closer to the 6 l/100 km advertised on the window sticker.

Reliability & durability

I avoided VW products for 30 years until one of their models (the Golf) started posting above-average reliability ratings. Unfortunately, we seem to be having one of the old-style experiences with our Jetta Sportwagen (Golf Wagon here in Canada). We have had continuous repair issues since we drove the car off the lot.

Why Not the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen?

Powertrain performance

My biggest niggle with this vehicle which completely ruins my driving pleasure, is the way VW has decided to have the engine respond to the gas pedal from a dead stop. In "Drive" or "Sport" mode, the computer delays the throttle response so you either crawl away from a stop sign (or into a traffic opening, a potentially dangerous situation), or you mash down the pedal and spin the front wheels. They've made it so you always make hyper-mileage starts, you don't have the choice (except to mash down the pedal, but there's no control possible there). Put the shifter to the right, into Tiptronic mode, and you have a normal, very controllable throttle response from a dead stop. Why can't they program that in for "D" and "S" modes???? I really dislike this vehicle because of that.

Quietness

I've had quieter vehicles. I like a quieter vehicle. It's not rocket science, it's simply sound proofing. My 2006 Kia Sportage is wonderfully quiet. My 1995 Mercury Villager was quiet too. The Sportwagen suffers from excessive road noise. My old Hyundai Elantra GT was probably no quieter, but more pleasing somehow (less road noise, more engine noise). Road noise is very tiring.

Fuel economy

The Sportwagen's fuel economy is exactly what you'd expect from a fairly substantial compact wagon and a 2.5 litre gas engine, not the magically impossible gas mileage posted on the window sticker at the dealership!

Powertrain performance

I find the transmission jerky. Also, having it shift into 6th gear by the time I reach 60 kph when in "Drive" mode is simply stupid. Just another way to be able to inflate the gas mileage numbers, that's all. Driving in 6th gear in city traffic is very annoying for everyone (both for me and the drivers behind me in rush hour traffic, who chafe when four or five car lengths open up in front of me while I'm trying to get a move on without forcing a downshift). Using "Sport" mode is worse: the transmission stays too long in the lower gears, and, when you are braking, forces early downshifts that add extra braking and snap your passengers' heads forward. Tiptronic mode is not the answer because the stick is always in the same position, you've got no tactile reminder of what gear you're in, you've got to be continually looking down at the readout in the cluster.

Controls and instruments

I had to put white paint around the tiny red lights on the control knobs for ventilation. Otherwise it's impossible to determine where they're set in daylight. And forget trying to read the positions marked around the dials, you've just got to memorize them. Way to go VW.

Conclusion

Looking to purchase, after warrantee expires, a $300 plug-in device between gas pedal and computer to eliminate the utterly annoying throttle lag, and if the reliability issues clear up, perhaps coming to enjoy driving this car.

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Response from klawton

7:08 pm December 27, 2014

Our 2011 Canadian Golf Wagon (aka Jetta Sportwagen) is a 2.5l gasser with a manual stick and around 45K kilometers. As you would expect in a modern Volkswagen, it is a remarkably solid over-the-road car and it just eats the highway miles. The interior materials and fit and finish are first class. Around town, the steering is perfectly weighted and gives excellent feedback. The fine steering combined with the independent rear suspension setup endows the car with excellent agility. It is a hoot to fling around corners.

I dislike the choice of long gear ratios in the 5-speed manual. The drop in revs between second and third and third and fourth gears means the engine falls out of its power band on each upshift. For a 2.5 liter, this engine is surprisingly peaky and given the ratio choices, you really need to rev it out to get the most from it.

Sadly, at higher revs the engine is noisy and sounds coarse. On the other hand, people have told me they like the offbeat sound of the inline-five. There is some minor throttle lag on acceleration, but worse, the ECU keeps engine revs high when you back out of the gas, so engine braking is not there immediately when you want it.

So far (touch wood), the car has been extremely reliable. The left front coil spring, strut and strut mount were replaced under warranty by our local VW dealer. We had no complaint, but apparently their mechanics discovered an issue and repaired it at no cost to us. I would prefer to replace struts in pairs, but there you are. We had mentioned to our dealer on a couple of regular visits that the panoramic sunroof rattled. The dealer replaced the entire assembly, again at no charge to us and that problem is resolved.

Overall I like this car a lot, however I would much prefer if it had the lovely turbo-four in other VWs, instead of this 5-banger, and a set of transmission ratios chosen for real-world drivability and not just fuel economy.

We'll be in the market again in 2016 and we hope the new Mk7 Golf Sportwagen will address these issues.

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Response from PJam

9:32 pm January 19, 2017

Yeah ... I was like, great car, no problem. I have a 2012. But ... it's a manual and the transmission gave up on me. Loss of power ... could have had a bad ending. VW is not exactly willing to help as the car is out of warranty.

Disappointed ... I'll be posting an update on cost soon ...

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