Monday, January 13, 2014

2011 Jetta Sportwagen Manual TDI Quick Review

This car is good, but quirky.  The shifting is nice and usually, but not always, easy (I guess the cars needs to get warmer sometimes).  The computer telling you when to shift for the best fuel economy is a bit of a joke since it wants you to shift into a higher gear when the engine would be running at about 1000RPMs where the diesel actually does sounds loud, rumbly, and dieselly.     The experience of driving with the TDI engine is ok, but definitely not as responsive as a gasoline would be.  I've mostly adjusted to the lower redline and higher bottom end stall speed, but my car has an ECU remapping in it's future for sure though.  The suspension is a nice balance between comfort and stiffness. 
The Bluetooth integration is borderline garbage.  They want you to use their voice activated features which suck.  Pressing the button which looks like a phone handset doesn't send a button press message to the phone, but instead has the car ask what you want and then fail to do it (it wants me to give every one's name as Lastname, Firstname when I tell it to dial).  I guess 2011 didn't know that voice activated dialing was already on every phone ever made at the time.  Good luck using their system with google now or Siri.  And if you want to use the Bluetooth audio to listen to MP3s on your phone, the play, pause, and skip track buttons don't work.  You also have to make sure your phone is playing before you're allowed to switch to the BT Audio input (which means you miss the first few seconds of your first song). 
The radio shows RDS data 8 characters at a time.  It has a 6 inch wide screen and leaves 5 inches blank instead of showing you the artist and song together.  This isn't a problem if you pay for the builtin satellite radio.  You get 12 presets and only 12.  The satellite radio has something like 30 presets, but with FM/AM, you're out of luck.  I'm probably abnormal in listening to more stations than that on a somewhat regular basis, but I can imagine a road warrior wanting to be able to keep presets for different cities.  I don't understand why it has to be limited at all.  They might just need better software teams.  At least the FM reception is strong and clear at much greater distances than I'm used to. 
My kids love it for the most part, but when there are three people in the back, they have nowhere to put their juice because the cupholder is in the middle seat arm rest that folds down.  Even with boosters, they're also still a little too low to see out the windows, which I hear is key to discouraging motion sickness on long trips.
The door lock buttons on the doors are stupid and pointless.  When the door is open, the button on the car won't lock the doors.  So you have to get out, put your lunch and computer down in the frigid weather, dig out your keyfob again, and then lock it.  I know they don't want you to lock your keys in the car, but it's still just plain stupid.  I have forgotten to lock my doors at all several times now since I don't always remember the extra steps.  When I go out in the morning to run and remember to check the door, I have to go back inside and get the fob to lock it if I actually want to.  VW engineers must have secured garage parking to not think this is a problem. 
The 110V AC outlet in the back is very convenient.
The driver's seat has adjustable lumbar support and a good moderate amount of side bolstering so you don't move, but you also don't feel like you're in a metal cocoon like in a lot of newer GMs and Fords.  The passenger seat lacks the lumbar knob (I think).  The back seats are pretty cush and have plenty of legroom despite my way back driver's seat, but the booster seats slide around side to side a lot on the slick plasticky leatherette surface.

All in all, I'm happy with it because it's a manual station wagon in spite of the dumb VW design decisions, it gets great fuel economy, and because, even though it's a diesel, it's much quieter than the equivalent Subaru wagons.  I still wish more other car makers put manuals in their wagons though.  Not having a lot of choices with stick shifters made me more willing to accept bad design than I should have been.  If anything happens to this car, the odds of me buying another modern VW are close to zero because I don't want to deal with their design intruding on my control of every aspect of my driving experience. (Conversely, the odds of me buying an air-cooled Beetle or Super Beetle at some point are close to 100%)

Other cars which I considered: Ford Focus, Ford Fiesta, the 2014 Mazda 3, the Subaru non-wrx,non-sti Impreza, the Subaru Crosstrek, and a 1996 Buick Roadmaster on ebay that had been converted to stick shift,
What I really wanted: 100 more horsepower in this Jetta Wagon and electronics/ergonomics that were less moronic. (I hope to get both of those things eventually through the aftermarket and maybe some custom work)  I also wanted the super huge Jetta wagon sunroof option, but couldn't find it on a manual used Jetta in the area in a timely manner.  That thing is unrestrained wonderful and would have made me a little less angry with the design mistakes.