Unlike crossovers, which claim to be “car based,” the SportWagen is a real car. It has smaller and lighter wheels and tires than most crossovers, which means the Jetta doesn’t clomp and crash over bumps, and its passenger-car rubber has no pretense of going off-road, so there are no knobbly tread blocks to introduce slop into the steering. Returning 21 miles per gallon city and 29 highway, the SportWagen’s 2.5-liter five-cylinder delivers fuel economy that’s on par with or better than everything but the hybrids. The wagon’s hatch is light, not too high, and can be opened and closed without requiring pull straps or a mechanical ballet of whirring motors. But most importantly, the SportWagen has a car’s low roll center and (relatively) low weight to give it nimble handling.
Although it is built off of the Jetta, the SportWagen is not just a sedan with a hatch grafted on. The vehicle is all new from the B-pillar back. The stamping of the rear doors is unique to the SportWagen, and the new roofline tapers down over two thin C-pillars before continuing out to wagon-specific rear quarter panels and taillamps. Even the rear headrests are different, sitting lower as to not block visibility out of the hatch.
In spite of the extra metal required to stamp out VW’s newest breadbox, Volkswagen says the SportWagen is only 50 pounds heavier than its sedan counterparts. And since all the Jetta’s extra junk is in its trunk, it actually helps balance out the car’s typically nose-heavy front-drive, 60/40 weight distribution.