- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

If you’re over 40, then you remember the good old days. I’m talking about the times when you and the family would pile into a Ford Country Squire Wagon and head out of town for the day. Gas was cheap, and the highways were uncrowded. The big Ford could seat nine, and my favorite place was back by the tailgate seat so I could make funny faces at all we passed.

But for car buyers in Europe, the “good old days” never went away. Saab, Volvo, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and others have always produced the multi-purpose people movers.

Need to haul a load? The Wagon will do it.

Got a German Shepard? Rover will have plenty of room in the cargo area of a Wagon.

And best of all, Station Wagons are cars, and are required to have a higher level of safety than SUVs; and they are less likely to roll over in emergency situations.

But what happened to the wagon here in the States? They never fully went away, and represent a healthy 300,000 units of the annual sales numbers for vehicles sold here.

First minivans and then the big SUVs really put a dent in wagon sales, and today’s car-based Crossover Utility Vehicles have further suppressed sales numbers.

But all of the SUV glory came at a time when gasoline was less than $2 a gallon. Big engines with big space translated into to huge sales numbers and profits for automakers. But when fuel got close to $3, many jumped the SUV ship. Now that gas and diesel fuel is near or has exceeded the $4 mark, there is a fire sale on large vehicles and “small power” is all the rage again, invoking memories of the “Asian Invasion” of small, gas saving vehicles during the gas crisis in the 1970s. Expect a flood of microcars to join hybrid vehicles in the rush to save money spent on fuel.

So if you want to save fuel and have room for Rover and some bags of mulch, you should take a look at the 2009 Volkswagen SportWagen. The Jetta Wagon is in its second generation, and is better than ever.

First off, this car is roomy. Tall drivers will love the abundant legroom and generous headroom, even with the optional glass moonroof. Tall, rear seat passengers can sit up straight as well, thanks to creative forming of the headliner, and an already tall cabin. But the lines of the Jetta SportWagen are curvy, and the high beltline gives the car a low-slung appearance. There will be no mistaking this is a VW, as it embodies the best of the current trend toward aerodynamic styling that all VWs enjoy.

Under the hood, you’ll have three propulsion choices: Available in July, 2008 will be a 2.0-liter turbo four making 200 horsepower, or a 2.5-liter five cylinder with 170 horsepower. Come August, a super-efficient, 140-horsepower, 50 state, clean diesel four will be available. VW diesels have a reputation for longevity and fuel economy, so you can expect the diesel variants to be in high demand when that engine is released.

Five and six speed manual transmissions are available, as are six-speed Tiptronic and Dual Clutch automatics.

During a recent press event, we drove the 2.5-liter five. The engine is smooth and powerful, and returns good fuel economy (21 city/29 highway for automatic and manual).

The front-wheel drive SportWagen exhibited no nasty torque steer behavior under hard acceleration. Ride quality is excellent on black top road surfaces, but a bit nervous on concrete.

The driver’s position is typical German, meaning well laid out. Thankfully, the goofy rotary controllers that adorn high-end German cars have not trickled down to the lower priced vehicles. All knobs, switches and gauges are where they should be, and are very easy to use. Touch screen DVD based navigation with rear view camera is an optional feature.

Standard equipment includes air conditioning with pollen/dust filter; a comprehensive interior lighting package; power windows and side mirrors; remote locking; three, 12 volt power outlets; CD/MP3 player with aux input jack; eight-way adjustable front seats; and a fully carpeted trunk area. A full compliment of airbags is also standard, as is traction control. Electronic stability control, a must-have safety feature, is standard on all 2009 VW models. The Jetta has always rated high in U.S. Government and insurance industry crash testing. This new model is sure to continue that positive trend.

Though final prices have not been released, Jetta SportWagen pricing is expected to begin at a very reasonable $19,000. It combines the best of what consumers wanted in SUVs, and the fuel and price economy our weak economy now demands; all in a sporty, fun to drive package.

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