What’s It Like to Own a VW Jetta SportWagen TDI?

In this installment of “What’s It Like to Own,” we sit down with NerdWallet columnist Philip Reed to talk about the highs and lows of owning a VW Jetta SportWagen TDI, which we’ve identified as a used car bargain.

How did you get interested in the Jetta SportWagen?

My father was a chemist and was often experimenting with different fuels. He owned several diesels and ran them on biodiesel and vegetable oil. He had a 2011 VW Jetta SportWagen and, when I visited him in rural Massachusetts, I always enjoyed driving his car. On twisty back roads in New England, I loved the car’s handling. My dad and I had many road trips in that car just prior to his death two years ago.

How long have you owned the SportWagen, and how did you acquire it?

I’ve owned my TDI for about 18 months now and have put about 14,000 miles on it. I bought it from a VW dealer in Los Angeles.

How do you typically use the SportWagen?

My wife and I share this car and use it for grocery shopping, hauling plants and potting soil, taking my clubs and pull cart to the golf course, and road trips to Las Vegas, Utah, and Northern California.

What do you enjoy most about it?

There’s something so trustworthy and hardworking about the sound of the diesel engine. Especially on the open road, you feel it will run forever. I also love the interior, which is handsome, and the seats are comfortable. I like the storage space, and the rear seats fold down for even more room. Throughout, it has a solid build quality that many other cars lack.

A friend of mine saw my car and liked it. Next think I knew, he bought one for his son. Then he bought one for himself too. Every time I see him, he says, “I love this car!”

What don’t you like?

There is significant turbo lag when driven in the non “sport” transmission setting. I’ve gotten used to this, but when making sudden maneuvers in traffic you have to build in a little more response time. I also feel that, for a 2014, it lacks some safety equipment, such as blind spot warning and cross traffic alert. The rear backup camera is mediocre but useable.

What’s something most people probably wouldn’t know about the SportWagen?

This is one of the cars VW cheated on to game the EPA emissions test. It was repurchased by VW and “fixed.” The fix reduced the fuel economy by only a few mpg but actually provided a bit more power. Also, it’s a big car on the inside, but a small car on the outside. When I see it in a parking lot, it looks small next to the SUVs and pickups. So it’s easy to park. And it’s just the right size for me. Another thing people might not know, but would really love, is the range. With a full tank of diesel (14.5 gallons), it can easily go over 500 miles.

How demanding is maintenance and upkeep? Any big surprises?

I was a bit surprised by how far I drove before needing an oil change, about 10,000 miles. That, and replacing the tires, is the only work I’ve done on the car.

What should a potential buyer know before pulling the trigger?

The driving experience will be different than a gas car. Don’t mistake the turbo lag for a lack of power. Diesels have plenty of torque and, with the 6-speed DSG transmission, this car performs well. To make up for the turbo lag, be sure to drive it in the “sport” setting.

What are your future plans for the SportWagen?

My wife and I are considering driving around the country in a giant oval from Los Angeles to Florida, to New England, to Seattle, and then back home. With 40+ mpg on the highway and good storage space inside, this will be the perfect car for that.

What would it take for you to consider selling it?

I recently checked the value on Carvana, which offered me $13,067 for the SportWagen — meaning that, if I sold it to them, I would have driven it essentially for free for 18 months and 14,000 miles. But I’m not selling it any time soon. It’s the perfect car for my lifestyle right now.

What’s something that you’ll always remember about your SportWagen?

When I drive this car, I think about my Dad and the research he did, the things he taught me about cars, and how much he loved this particular car. He owned a red one and felt it made him seem younger. I often think about those road trips we took together. And now I know I’ll think of the road trips my wife and I take in it and the time we spent together.

About the Car

  • 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI
  • 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder diesel engine (140 hp)
  • 6-speed automated manual
  • purchased in May 2019 with 28,500 miles
  • driven 14,350 miles since purchase
  • purchase price: $13,200
  • current value: $13,067 (recent offer from Carvana)

About the Owner

Philip Reed writes a syndicated column about cars for the financial advice site NerdWallet. Before that, he worked for Edmunds for 16 years, where among many other stories he wrote “Confessions of a Car Salesman,” chronicling his three-month stint as an undercover car salesman. He lives in Long Beach, California.

Photos courtesy of Volkswagen and Philip Reed

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