Station wagons may be a hard sell in SUV-crazy America, but Volkswagen isn’t giving up on them. A recent Car and Driver online report quotes Rainer Michel, product-strategy director for VW of America, as saying the front-wheel-drive Jetta SportWagen will be redesigned for 2014, the first complete re-do for this model since it was reinstated for 2008 after a few years furlough. Not only that, Michel says the company is thinking of adding an all-wheel-drive quasi-SUV version along the lines of the Alltrack concept from last April’s New York Auto Show.
Today’s SportWagen is built alongside the Jetta sedan at VW’s Puebla, Mexico, plant. The sedan remains the brand’s U.S. top-seller, and was redesigned for 2011 as a slightly larger, more competitively priced compact in a bid for even higher volume. Both body styles are based on VW’s older PQ-series platforms, but the next-gen wagon will move to the new MQB modular-matrix corporate architecture that hosts the redesigned 2014 Golf (and, eventually, some 40 distinct models among VW Group’s four mainstream brands). As a result, the SportWagen will lose its structural kinship with Jetta sedans, and that could mean a change to European sourcing and consequently higher sticker prices despite the lower manufacturing costs being claimed for the new architecture. As far as we know, the Puebla plant is not yet tooled to produce MQB-based vehicles.
However, it’s possible that the new SportWagen could be sourced from VW’s Chattanooga plant, which builds the new-for-2012 U.S. market midsize Passat sedans. The facility is being expanded for additional models, notably a midsize 3-row crossover SUV that’s also aimed mainly at America. Moving the SportWagen to Tennessee would still protect pricing from unfavorable dollar/Euro exchange rates, though it might hamper exports to the Euro Zone, which levies tariffs on vehicles made in the U.S. but not those from Mexico.
Whatever its ultimate sourcing, the 2014 SportWagen should follow the new seventh-generation Golf in being a slightly larger and roomier car that is also lighter, thanks to extensive use of premium high-strength steel and other weight-saving materials. The aim is to improve fuel economy and emissions performance per tough new regulations, abetted by more-efficient powertrains. VW has already confirmed a 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder for 2014 Jetta sedans, replacing an unloved 2.5-liter 5-cylinder, so count on that for the new SportWagen as well. In European tune, it’s good for 158 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. The U.S. version should have similar outputs. You can count even more on the return of VW’s 2.0-liter TDI 4-cylinder turbodiesel, which lately has accounted for 90 percent of SportWagen sales. This engine currently claims 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque in U.S. trim, but we wouldn’t be surprised if VW substitutes the 170-horse, 280-pound-feet version that’s been available in Europe for some time.
We expect transmission choices will stand pat with a standard 6-speed manual and optional VW DSG dual-clutch automated-manual that can emulate a conventional automatic. An engine idle-stop system is standard for all new-Golf powerteams, and this could also feature on U.S.-market SportWagens.
In his Car and Driver interview, product chief Michel hinted at a possible name change from Jetta SportWagen to Golf SportWagen or just plain SportWagen. Whatever it’s called, the new model should employ a front-strut/rear multilink suspension, 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS and integrated VW ESP stability/traction control system, and perhaps good old-fashioned hydraulic steering assist instead of the increasingly fashionable electric sort. In addition, the next U.S.-market SportWagen may offer some or all of the upscale driver-assistance features listed for 2014 European Golfs, including adaptive cruise control with low-speed automatic braking, lane-keeping assist, drowsy-driver alert, and automatic parallel-parking assist. The wagon is also likely to inherit the new hatchback’s electronic parking brake and driver-centric dashboard with standard touchscreen. The last, part of VW’s new “modular infotainment architecture,” could be available in three sizes depending on model and options: 5.0-inch black-and-white, 5.8-inch color, and 8.0-inch color 3D.
As for a possible AWD version, product chief Michel told Car and Driver that it’s being considered because of overwhelmingly positive response to the Alltrack concept, even though the New York car was based on the midsize European Passat wagon, not the compact SportWagen. C/D notes that “Michel said he’d prefer to offer Americans both a conventional SportWagen and an Alltrack-like spinoff.” If the latter does materialize, it would be basically a more-affordable take on premium-brand Audi’s new 2013 A4 Allroad wagon and a direct rival to Subaru’s car-based Subaru XV Crosstrek. That means an elevated suspension, all-terrain tires, SUV-style body cladding and fender flares, perhaps an underbody skid plate or two, standard roof rack, and, of course, the AWD. The last would probably be an “as you need it” system that normally drives the front wheels and shifts power aft only to maintain traction. Powerteams and most other features would be the same as for the front-drive SportWagen, which C/D sees as “the more affordable option for people who don’t need to pretend they own an SUV.”
Though the current SportWagen is only a blip on VW’s sales chart, it offers a unique combination of performance, fuel economy, practicality, quality, and affordability. CG Auto likes it a lot—enough to name it a 2012 Best Buy—so we’re glad to see VW keeping the wagon flame alive in the U.S. market. An Alltrack version would be icing on the cake.