- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

WOLFSBURG, Germany — Volkswagen has taken its time with the introduction of the station wagon version of the Golf. Not that there is much time between the world premier in Geneva, in March, and its arrival on European markets, this weekend. But the current Golf has been on the market for quite a while and the new generation is ‘under construction’ already. Rumours indicate that the next Golf will not bow in 2011, but instead by the end of next year.

Such a speedy model change would be the result of the high production costs of the current Golf and thus not generating enough profit. That is why people doubted if VW would come up with the Variant, the name for the estate in Europe. But at the Geneva auto show in March, the Golf Variant, made its world debut and it will arrive on European markets today.

As the estate is based on the Golf sedan, Jetta in the U.S., it will be dubbed Jetta SportWagon and it will arrive early September.

Between 1993 and 1999, nearly 580,000 Rabbit estates were sold worldwide, while the second generation that was on the markets until last year nearly 625,000 found a customer, most of them Europeans. Since the trend is to move away from large SUVs to more fuel efficient models, the station wagon may find its way back to the hearts of American customers.

No doubt that the Jetta SportWagon will attract people who love a practical, roomy and compact car and Volkswagen hopes to sell at least 18,000 units a year.

The SportWagon shares the 101.6 inch long wheel base with the Jetta sedan and will just like the Jetta be built in Mexico. Both models have the same length and width (179.5 and 70 inches) but height of the estate (59 inches) is 1.6 inches higher.

The rear end of the station wagon shows taillights that are fully integrated in the fenders. They emphasize the cargo loading width of the rear opening of 39.9 inches. Furthermore, the Jetta station wagon has some design features that shows the family ties with the Passat Variant, such as the rear window that wraps around the D pillars and the roof edge spoiler.

The European station wagon has roof rails, but they are not functional. If you want to transport something on top of the car, you need to buy the optional ‘functional’ roof rails.

Most people will have enough space with the luggage compartment that has a maximum volume of 54.7 cubic feet. The former model had 51.9 cubic feet of cargo space.

Behind the rear bench and with the flat floor (underneath is a flat cargo space for a lap top or so) the SportWagon has16.5 cubic feet of luggage space. Typical for the European Volkswagens is the lack of extra’s such as a luggage net. You can get it, but you’ll have to pay. What the equipment will be on the American model is not yet known.

In the U.S., the Jetta SportWagon will be available with a 2.5-liter I-5 engine from the market introduction, followed by the 2.0 Turbo in November and the 2.0 TDI diesel engine in March.

The power plants will not be any surprise, the flexibility of the interior will. It offers more possibilities than before with a foldable rear bench seat, an optional passenger seat with foldable back. It is a pity that VW does not offer a rear seat that is really easy to fold. Now you have to slide the front seats forward to fold the seats of the rear bench forward in order to lay the backrest flat. That does not even go without taking out the head rests.

The feeling in the cockpit of the SportWagon is not different from that of the Jetta. The atmosphere is businesslike and there is a fair amount of leg and head room, both in the front as well as in the rear. Also driving the Variant is familiar. We were especially interested in a new engine version for Europe, the 1.4 TSI, but that motor was not yet available. So we took the well known 2.0 TDI, that as mentioned before, will also come to North America. It will undoubtedly be equipped with a particle filter then, but in Europe you can still get it without such a soot filter. On the old continent, motorists drive a diesel without even thinking about it. You only notice it when you turn the ignition key, but on the road nothing tells you that there is a diesel under the hood. You only feel it because of the torque, that in the case of the 2.0 TDI is maximum 236 pound-feet at 1,750-2,500 rpm. The diesel is reated at 140 horsepower.

For the station wagon, Volkswagen did not change the suspension of the Jetta sedan, but only adjusted springs and shock absorbers. It proved to be adequate during my first test drive in the area surrounding VW’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany. The SportWagon is stable and feels reliable, also when driving through fast corners. The direct steering is pleasant, but that is something that is in order with the Golf and Jetta as well.

Closer to its market introduction in September expect to get pricing for the new VW.

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