Road trip! It's an exciting two words for any travel or car enthusiast, at least with the right set of wheels, though in fact becomes a de facto challenge when those wheels are attached to a 2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI. But there's the nagging question: What kind of fuel mileage will I get on this notoriously fuel stingy car?
We've already experienced and reported on the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI sedan and the 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI, the latter unfettered on Germany's Autobahn. So the 2010 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI was almost an old friend when we met it. At least we were well acquainted with the family. Like its siblings, the Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI is front-drive and is powered by a two-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder engine. Output is only 140 horsepower but the engine produces 236 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choices are a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic with Tiptronic shifting, with either shift lever or steering-wheel mounted paddle shifting.
But the Volkswagen Jetta TDI had a new accomplishment since last we had seen it, a new Guinness world record for lowest fuel consumption of 58.82 miles per gallon. The record was set by John and Helen Taylor who covered 9,419 miles in a 50-state jaunt over 20 days: Washington, D.C.; Rutland, Vermont; Des Moines, Ia.; Missoula, Mont.; Ponchatoula, La.; and of course many more.

Our road trip would take only ten days and cover ten states, from northeastern Pennsylvania, through Chicago, Ill.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Des Moines, Ia.; St. Louis, Mo.; Wheeling, W.V.; and back to northeastern Pa. Miles covered: 2,973.7 in 52 hours and 31 minutes of driving time. That's an average of 55.9 mph, and we won't say how fast we drove but we travelled on Interstate highways (or similar) with speed limits of 65 and 70 mph and passed radar traps without raising official attention. One measure of travel efficiency is, after all, time.
Scroll down for more photo gallery of the 2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI.
The Taylors drove a Jetta TDI sedan. Our wheels, as mentioned, was a 2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI. Like the Golf, the Jetta for 2010 gets a new corporate face, dropping the large, almost Audi-like grille for a horizontal-theme grille with headlights and fenders dramatically angled back. We actually prefer the side view of the SportWagen versus the sedan, the bright trim around the windows accentuating the length of the cabin, making the Jetta Sportwagen look sleeker and indeed sportier than the sedan. The slightly tapering roofline perhaps costs a few cubic feet of maximum cargo space, but most people don't pack station wagons that full on a regular basis.
Nor did we, though we did lower the rear seat--actually the seat bottom slides and tip forward with the seatback folding forward for an almost flat floor--and loaded the SportWagen to the height of the cargo cover from tailgate to front seatbacks with two large suitcases, two computer briefcases, a projector, winter outer gear (Minnesota in November? You never know), and other assorted necessities of life. In other words, we didn't travel particularly light, a no-no of fuel misers.
We didn't use the hidey place several inches thick under the cargo floor. We didn't have anything that flat we needed to secure. Another problem--not for just Volkswagen alone--is that the cargo cover does not cover the area immediately behind the front seat, and we would really like a cargo net that would restrain flying objects in case of an accident.
The Jetta SportWagen's front seats must be moved forward to lower the rear seats but then can be moved back into the regular driving position. The front seats, however, have an odd semi-power operation. The seats slide forward and aft manually but have power tilting seatbacks. It's a theme reprised in the heating/air conditioning controls. Unlike fully automatic temperature controls which regulate temperature and fan speed, only the temperature can be maintained automatically on the Jetta's HVAC system. The fan speed is set manually.

Interior styling of the Volkswagen SportWagen TDI almost doesn't qualify for the term unless one goes by the less-is-more philosophy: Black-on-black, simple and efficient. The contoured leather-wrapped steering wheel--newly redesigned for 2010--was good under hand for our almost 3,000 miles.
We used the navigation system exclusively for our sojourn in the Jetta SportWagen TDI, leaving maps at home and trusting the lady in the dash. What we couldn't blame her for is directing us through one, um, dubious neighborhood in Chicago. It was the best route by calculation--although we suspect a nearby expressway might have been quicker. But another time she directed us off the Interstate for a route that was longer timewise than the route we took because we knew better than she did. Then after she recalculated based on what we had chosen, she said our route would take about an hour and a half less. We suspect we somehow selelcted the wrong routing option, but it wasn't clear to us which route to choose when programming it.
We found highway comfort to be very good for this class of vehicle. Wind noise was nil and tire noise only a problem on coarse pavement that foils the sound deadening of much more expensive cars. Most of the time, though, the steady low thrum of the diesel engine could be heard through the firewall if one listened for it, more endearing than annoying.
At idle, too, the engine could be heard inside the Jetta SportWagen TDI as a gentle tapping, much as we had heard with the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI sedan and 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI. The sound was more distinct from the outside , enough to turn the heads of, say, people at the other pumps when we were leaving a filling station.
Speaking of which, we had no problem finding the ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel the SportWagen TDI required, in part because of the navigation system, which we set to display filling stations with diesel fuel. Combined with the range of the Jetta SportWagen TDI, were we to run out, it would have been our fault.
The range, of course, is a result of the Volkswagen TDI diesel engine, and for those who've waded through this article, here are the numbers:
Miles traveled: 2973.7
Fuel used, gallons: 75,79
Observed fuel mileage, calculated: 39.3
Observed fuel mileage, trip meter: 38.8
Interestingly, we noted that on flat, straight highways, we saw 42 mpg on the since-this-start average mpg readout (a supplement to the cumulative average mpg) with the cruise control set...just about there. Hills kill fuel mileage.
However, overall that's considerably less than the Taylors achieved. It's also less than the EPA's highway estimate of 42 mpg (except for the flat stuff), and that of a "third party certifier," 44 miles per gallon. We doubt that those tests, however, took the don't-spare-the-horses (or the torques) attitude we did, or the occasional forays into urban areas.We think our numbers are representative for what people
Could flying be cheaper? We don't even have to calculate, especially considering we had two on board, a full wagonload (literally) of luggage and cargo and multiple stops. Plus we wouldn't have seen Air Force One landing at Madison, Wisconsin. And we wouldn't get to say "Road trip!" at the beginning of this story.
Illustrations: 2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI. Photos by John Matras
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2010 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI selected specifications, as tested
LayoutFront engine/front-wheel drive, unitbody 5-seat wagon
Engine2.0L/140 hp DOHC 16-valve in-line four
Displacement, cc1968
Compression ratio16.5:1
Material, block / headcast iron / alloy
Fuel deliverydirect fuel injection
Horsepower @ rpm140 @ 4000
Torque, lb-ft @ rpm236 @ 1750 - 2500
Recommended fuelultra low sulfur diesel
Transmission6-speed automatic
Suspension, f / rstrut / multi-link
Steering, typerack-mounted elecrtric power steering
Turning circle, ft.35.8
Brakes, typeFront and rear disc brakes
Rotor diameter, in., f / r11.3 / 10.2
Wheels, size, type15 x 6.5-in., aluminum
Tires, size, type205/55R16 all-season
Dimensions & capacities
Length, in.179.4
Width, in.70.1
Height, in.59.2
Wheelbase, in.101.5
Ground clearance, in.5.4
Curb weight, lbs3,285
Cargo volume, cu. ft., min / max32.8 / 66.9
Fuel tank, gal.14.5
Trailer towing max, lb.
0-60 mph, sec.9.5
Top speed, mph130 electronically limited
Fuel econ., EPA city / hwy, mpg30/42
Fuel econ., observed, mpg, calc.39.3
Fuel econ., observed, mpg, trip comp.38.8
2010 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI Automatic features/options prices
Base price$25,410
Exterior: Roof-mounted satellite radio antenna, dual tone horn, power glass sunroof, heated windshield washersstd
Interior: manual single-zone climate control with temp. set, cruise control, floor mats, trip computer, keyless-remote power automatic locking, power mirrors, three 12V power outlet, 112V outlet in back seat, AM/FM/6-disc CD changer/MP3/satellitet touchscreen Premium VIII touchscreen radio, MDI/iPod. Bluetooth, 8-way manually adjustable front seats w/ power recline, leather-wrapped steering wheel w/ audio controls, tilt/telescope steering wheel, leather-covered shift knob, V-tec seating surface, power windowsstd
Safety: front/side/side-curtain airbags, traction control, engine braking assist, electronic differential lock, electonic stabilizationstd
Warranty: 12 year/unlimited mile corrosion perforation, 5 year/60,000 mile powertrain/3 year/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warrantystd
Mat kit, rubber$215
Splash guards$185
Sport Goal Black; 18-inch wheel package$1,899
Sport Goal Gray/Sport Goal Silver 17-inch wheel packages$1,099