Sportwagen let me drive his Sportwagen today! Here are my impressions:
Not a bad looking car. Being based on the Jetta, but still being a wagon gives it an awkward mid-ground between the Passat wagon and a Golf, placing it about the overall size of a mid-sized sedan. The paint is nothing terribly special, the wheels are quite nice, and the lower grille gives it a charming wide grin.
Surprisingly comfortable. I say "surprisingly" because this is a German car and every other German car I've been in has resulted in back pain, shoulder pain, and "oh my god get me out of here". That being said, the Jetta TDI is far from a luxury car, but it's not an altogether horrid place to be. The steering wheel is adequately sized, with functional but not boyracer pistol grips, and SO MANY BUTTONS. The seats were supportive and had a decent amount of bolstering. They're not Recaros, but they don't need to be. Something odd: the pedal position. The brake pedal isn't in the center of the wheel well where it seems to be in other cars. All of the pedals seemed squished over to the right slightly, with the clutch and brake just to either side of the centerline. I would have preferred the clutch be a bit farther to the left.
I'm calling this "engine" instead of "performance" because despite being a "sport"wagen, this is by no means a sports car. It gets up from 0-60 in about 8.8 seconds or so, and makes most (aka all) of its power between 2500 and 3500rpm. Stick it in 5th gear (I never tried 6th) at 30mph and bury the pedal and you are rewarded with absolutely nothing, but if you manage to keep it in the power band it is pretty reasonable. Will chirp the tires in 1st and 2nd gear. Will do all this while getting pretty incredible mileage— around 38mpg.
I might be biased because the last manual I drove was a truck, but the 6-speed row-your-own in the Jetta is pretty damn good. Shifts are smooth, mechanical feeling, with minimal effort required. Throw distance is whatever. Not super short, but not a stretch by any means. Clutch pedal travel is... eeeeh. It's pretty damn long, but the engagement point is *very* well defined to the point where I was able to hop in an drive it immediately with very little manual-trans experience.
One gripe: There appears to be a 1st-gear lockout when over 40mph, meaning I can't just push in the clutch, toss it into 1st, and idle up to a light. It has to be in neutral or a higher gear.
I sound like a broken record with these ratings.
Handles good, not great. There is body roll, but it is predictable and for the most part seems rather composed. Flooring it through a corner resulted in mild understeer and a bit of complaining from the front tires. I didn't exactly carve any corners, so I can't go more in depth.
I heard very little of the stereo, but I'm pretty sure it's good-not-great but not bad enough you'd want to put the time and money into upgrading it. In a word: adequate.
The engine itself sounds a lot less like a diesel than earlier VAG TDIs (I'm lookin' at you, B5) did, with an unintrusive engine note that was still loud enough you could hear what it's doing from inside the cabin.
Makes a nice noise while decelerating in gear.
Good car. Great fuel economy, practical, but not soul-crushingly boring.