THE RIDE: Four-door, five-passenger 2009 VW Jetta SportWagen SE.
DOWN THE ROAD: As the designation suggests, this truly is a sporty ride. Available in 10 trims, the front-wheel-drive car offers brisk acceleration and sufficient power.
TECH & PERFORMANCE: The 2.5-liter, inline 5-cylinder engine produces a healthy 170 horsepower at 5700 rpm and 177 pounds-feet of torque at 4250 rpm. It is mated to a standard 5-speed manual or the optional 6-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, both of which are capable of the job ahead. Lending stability is an independent front suspension with MacPherson struts and stabilizer bar; a fully independent four-link suspension with coil springs, shock absorbers and stabilizer bar takes up the rear. An electro-mechanical variable assist, power rack-and-pinion steering conveys a precise and direct feel to the driver. Braking duties are handled adequately by power-assisted front vented and rear solid discs.
LOOK & FEEL: Sitting on a unitized structure, the front grille is decked up in strips of chrome with dual-reflector halogen headlights stretching out at the corners. The exterior mirrors and door handles are body colored. As expected of any VW, the interior is elegant looking and functional with a three-spoke leather steering wheel, 6-disc in-dash CD changer, eight-way manual front seats and air-conditioning vents for rear-seat passengers. The gauges on the instrument panel showed off a blow glow with red indicators. But it's in the passenger and cargo holding department that the SportWagen shines. As though the under-floor trunk storage bin wasn't enough, the 60/40 rear seats fold flat, opening up 66.9 cubic feet of space. With the seats up, there is 32.8 cubic feet of space in the cargo hold. The single-zone A/C vents are located in the right place, above the dashboard and on the instrument panel.
SAFETY FIRST: Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for both rows, four-wheel antilock brakes, traction control, Electronic Stability Protection, front seat active-head restraints, three-point safety belts, tire pressure monitoring system and daytime running lights are standard.
OUT THE DOOR: $21,349, plus tax, tag, delivery and destination charges.
BY THE NUMBERS: Tires, 205/55HR16; wheelbase, 101.5 inches; length, 179.3 inches; weight, 3,228 pounds; fuel capacity, 14.5 gallons; city, 21 mpg; highway, 29 mpg.
WHY DIG IT: For one thing, the cost factor. Base-priced at $21,349, the Jetta SportWagen is athletic, comfortable and classy, touting fuel economy numbers that add to the appeal of gas prices dipping to a little over $2 a gallon.