European car companies have always adopted a much different attitude towards station wagons than their North American competitors. Whereas wagons in the United States were initially based on large car platforms and intended merely as a more convenient way to haul between seven and nine family members along with all the associated luggage, camping gear or sports equipment that went with them, German, British and Swedish car companies decided that wagons could be something more. They felt that the addition of an extra, covered cargo area didn't mean that the vehicle had to lose the same handling, speed or fun factor that defined the sedan that the wagon was based upon. This was amplified by the number of smaller wagons in their product lineups, vehicles of a size much better suited to the narrow streets and difficult parking situations of the continent's cities and suburbs.
Gradually, these automakers began to also import larger wagons to the United States, with midsize family versions of their sedans becoming a common staple of offerings from BMW, Audi, Volvo and Volkswagen. Volkswagen in particular has been committed to offering wagons not only at the entry level, (which has become the vogue among Japanese car companies), but also as midsize, fully-featured vehicles. The first Volkswagens to hit American showrooms in wagon form were from the Passat line, which in the 1970's also included a hatchback. Gradually, the Passat would grow in both size and capability until the line boasted a comfortable sedan in addition to the family hauler. The Passat wagon would also see some of the first implementations of Volkswagen's 4Motion all-wheel drive system.
VW supplemented its wagon offerings briefly between 1987 and 1990 with a vehicle based upon the smaller Fox sedan, but it wasn't until 1998 that a long term compact wagon option became available in the United States. The Jetta wagon was as practical as its larger Passat brother, and it soon became a popular option for families not interested in a minivan and unwilling to give up the driving dynamics of their favorite VW sedans.
This article examines two of the best generations of Jetta and Passat wagons, taking a look at their available drivetrains, cargo capacity and overall characteristics in order to help buyers choose which of these used wagons from Volkswagen would make the best fit for the needs of their families.
2001 - 2004 Volkswagen Jetta Wagon
It took a number of years before the Jetta wagon made it to American shores, but it was worth the wait. The wagon's extended roofline looks as though it was destined to be grafted onto the sedan's conservative body shape, creating a vehicle with pleasing dimensions and a sharp profile.
The 2001 - 2004 Volkswagen Jetta wagon is available with a number of engine choices, which run the gamut from adequate to thrifty to exciting. Base wagons make do with a 115 horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, while top of the line models benefit from a 2.8-liter V-6 engine that puts out a much healthier 174 ponies. In later years, the V-6 was replaced by a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that produced similar numbers when it comes to power and torque. One of the more intriguing options for Jetta wagon shoppers is the availability of a 1.9-liter turbo-diesel. With around 100 horsepower and an astounding fuel economy rating of 36 miles per gallon on the highway and 47 in the city, the diesel engine makes a great choice for frugal drivers interested in maximizing their savings at the fuel pump. A 5-speed manual and a mixture of 4-speed and 5-speed automatics are the transmissions available for this generation of Jetta.
Inside, the 2001 - 2004 Volkswagen Jetta wagon is simple without being basic. Firm bucket seats grip the driver and help play into the performance image that VW has attempted to impart to each of its vehicles. There is a good amount of space for adult passengers in all seating positions, although not as much as some compact sedans available from Honda and Toyota. However, folding down the rear seats opens up an excellent 52 cubic feet of cargo space, complementing the standard 34 cubic feet found in the wagon compartment. This makes the Jetta wagon an excellent alternative to a compact SUV, particularly when the fuel-saving engine choices are taken into consideration.
The 2001 - 2004 Volkswagen Jetta is a solid used wagon with a great number of possible configurations, making it a strong seller on secondhand car lots across the country.
2007 Volkswagen Passat Wagon
The Volkswagen Passat has evolved well into its role as VW's larger mid-size platform, and throughout most of its history a wagon component has been a strong aspect of the vehicle's appeal. Large enough to compete with the Taurus in the past and now one of the few midsize wagons on the market not to bear the brand of a premium automaker, the Passat has seen its audience grow as the competition in its segment has melted away.
The 2007 Volkswagen Passat wagon is outfitted with several different engines, depending upon trim level and the amount of power required. Those who intend to use their Passat as basic family transportation will be well served by the vehicle's base 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, which has been turbocharged to provide a stout 200 horsepower. This edition of the vehicle is available with either a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission. If drivers crave more speed out of their European wagon, then a 3.6-liter V-6 engine can be selected, which dumps an aggressive 280 horsepower to either the front or all four wheels. A semi-automatic Tiptronic 6-speed is the only transmission choice for this particular engine.
The 2007 Volkswagen Passat wagon bears a more upscale interior than the smaller Jetta, with standard leatherette seats, MP3 CD player and power windows, door locks and heated mirrors. There are a number of option packages which can add heated seats, satellite radio, a sunroof and leather and wood trim throughout the cabin. Leg room has been improved for all vehicle occupants thanks to better management of the interior, and 61 cubic feet of cargo space is available once the rear passengers have vacated their quarters and their seats have been folded forward. The Passat's large chassis translates into a comfortable ride and the available all-wheel drive helps keep the vehicle pointed in the right direction even on snowy streets
When it comes to a mid-size used wagon, it is hard to beat the 2007 Volkswagen Passat in terms of style, comfort and value, especially considering the high level of standard equipment that comes with even the entry-level editions of this vehicle.