2003 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Wagon GLS
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Story and photos by Greg Wilson

Small wagon gets great fuel economy

2003 Volkswagen Jetta Wagons are available with three different four cylinder engines, but if you want great fuel economy, the Jetta TDI Wagon is the one to get. The diesel-powered Jetta Wagon TDI’s fuel consumption figures of 5.6 litres per 100 km (50 mpg) in the city and 4.4 l/100 km (64 mpg) on the highway are exceptional – no other small wagon comes close to these mileage figures. With its 55 litre fuel tank, the Jetta TDI Wagon has a potential range of 1,250 kilometres on a single tank!

The Jetta TDI Wagon is also one of the few real wagons on the market – small hatches like the Mazda Protege5 and Suzuki Aerio don’t have as much cargo area as the Jetta. The only other genuine wagon on the market is the Ford Focus wagon, or perhaps the PT Cruiser.

In Canada, Jetta TDI Wagons come only in mid-range GLS trim – in the U.S.A, they’re also available in a base GL trim. The Jetta TDI Wagon GLS’ base price of $27,035 is rather high, and additional options can boost the price even further.

2003 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Wagon GLS
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For example, options on my test car included the Luxury Package (power moonroof and 15 inch alloy wheels) $1,440; a Leather Package (leather seats, front seat lumbar adjustment, multi-function steering wheel, shift knob, hand brake) $1,195; and side curtain airbags $220. With Freight and A/C tax, my test wagon came to $30,545.

My test car had the standard 5-speed manual transmission, but if you want the optional 4-speed automatic transmission, it’s an extra $1,520.

Mostly positive interior impressions

Like other Jettas and Golfs, the Jetta TDI, has an attractive, clean, and nicely-finished dashboard with plain, easy to see gauges. At night, the instruments are backlit in blue and the controls in red – it looks attractive, but I found the red numerals on the control panel difficult to read.

2003 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Wagon GLS

2003 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Wagon GLS

2003 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Wagon GLS

2003 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Wagon GLS

2003 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Wagon GLS
Click image to enlarge

My car had the optional leather seats, steering wheel and shift knob – it’s a good quality smooth leather hide and the seats offer firm, but comfortable support. The leather gets damned hot in the summertime and darn cold in the winter, though. I’d go for the standard cloth seats. Between the front seats is an armrest that folds up out of the way to allow unobstructed gear changing. The amrest has a storage area, but it’s rather small.

My test car had an AM/FM/CD/cassette player with a large digital display – I’d rate the sound as “pretty good”, but not outstanding. The standard heater control layout – three dials for heat, vent and fan speed – were easy to operate. Other interior features of note: a 12 volt powerpoint, and two cupholders – one larger than the the other.

Features I liked: auto-down power windows for both driver and front passenger, manual height-adjustment and lumbar adjustment for both driver and front passenger seats, standard front seat heaters with five temperature settings, and tilt/telescoping steering wheel. However, I found that the steering wheel had to be positioned in its uppermost position in order to see the instruments clearly, even with the driver’s seat at its lowest position.

Due to the Jetta’s relatively narrow width, the rear bench seat is suitable for two adults only, even though it has three seatbelts and three rear head restraints. Legroom under the raised front seats is generous, and headroom is OK for people under 6 feet tall. There is no centre rear armrest, and the rear windows slide down about 80% of the way.

The standard 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks are designed so that the seatbacks fold flat and level with the trunk floor. First lift up the seat cushions, remove the head restraints and slide them into the purpose-built holes on the back of the seat cushions, and then fold down the seatbacks. The only problem I had was deciding what to do with the removeable privacy cover – it’s best just to leave it at home so it doesn’t get in the way.

The rear hatch door can be opened with a remote button on the driver’s door, or by using a remote key fob. The hatch lifts up easily and sits high enough that an average adult won’t bump their head on it. Like most VW’s, the Jetta’s trunk has a steel scratch-guard on the trunk lip which prevents damage to luggage when loading.

The Wagon’s spacious cargo area is carpeted on the floor and walls which means that moving cargo won’t damage the interior surfaces. The trunk floor is 990 mm (39 inches) wide between the wheelhousings, 787 mm (31 inches) tall, and 990 mm (39 inches) long to the rear seats with a total of 962 litres (34.0 cu. ft.) of cargo room, or about 2 1/2 times as much as a Jetta sedan trunk. With the 60/40 folding rear seats folded down, the cargo floor extends to 1625 mm (64 inches), totalling 1469 litres (51.9 cu. ft.) of cargo space. There’s even more cargo space under the floor where there a group of hidden storage compartments. As well, the Wagon’s long flat roof and standard roof rails are ideal for carrying 4X8 sheets, sofas, beds, or for attaching bike and ski carriers.

Inside the cargo area is a lamp, 12 volt powerpoint, four tie-down hooks, and even a medical kit. A sliding privacy cover can be extended to cover the lower half of the cargo area.

All Jettas have standard driver and front passenger airbags, front side airbags, front three-point safety belts with pretensioners and shoulder height adjustment, and the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren) system in the rear outboard seating positions. Side curtain airbags, which protect the heads of the front and rear passengers, are a $220 option, and well worth it.

Driving impressions

Starting up the diesel engine each morning produces a brief cloud of blue smoke from the tailpipe, but other than that, this diesel engine is smoke-free. It starts right away (no more glow plugs and five second delays) and produces a familiar diesel clatter at idle. With the windows up, you the sound is muffled – but I confess to disliking the constant rattling sound of the engine.

2003 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Wagon GLS

2003 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Wagon GLS

2003 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Wagon GLS
Click image to enlarge

The Jetta’s 1.9 litre turbocharged diesel engine develops 90 horsepower at 3750 rpm – that’s 25 horsepower less than a Jetta with the 2.0 litre gas engine. However, the TDI engine has more torque – 155 lb-ft at 1900 rpm vs 122 lb-ft at 2600 rpm. That makes the TDI feel more responsive from a standing start and during low-speed acceleration. Mid-range performance, however, ain’t great. The TDI’s engine redlines at about 4600 rpm and the Wagon is considerably slower from 0 to 100 km/h than a Jetta Wagon with the 2.0 litre gas engine.

VW’s factory-supplied acceleration figures say the Jetta TDI Wagon equipped with a manual transmission does 0 to 60 mph in 12.5 seconds – that’s about two seconds slower compared with the Jetta 2.0 Wagon. Equipped with the optional four-speed automatic transmission, the Jetta TDI Wagon takes a leisurely 14.7 seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph. I found the Jetta TDI Wagon is weakest when trying to pass or overtake in the upper rev ranges. Not surprising then, that Volkswagen has confirmed that 2004 TDI engines will jump to 100 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque.

Freeway cruising is pleasant: the diesel engine is relatively quiet because it does just 2,200 rpm at 100 km/h and 2,600 rpm at 120 km/h, and the engine’s generous torque helps maintain a constant speed without having to gear down too often.

The Jetta’s standard five speed manual stick is easy to move around, and gears can be selected with minimal fuss. Clutch pedal effort is light, and engagement is clean although you have to keep the revs up to prevent stalling on a grade. A large ‘dead pedal’ to the left of the clutch pedal offers a convenient place to rest your left foot.

The Jetta’s standard rack and pinion, power assisted steering has an easy, even, if not precise feel, and the car’s turning circle of 10.9 metres (35.8 feet) is good for tight u-turns.

2003 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Wagon GLS
Click image to enlarge

Like other Jetta’s and Golfs, the TDI’s front independent McPherson strut/coil spring suspension and rear semi-independent torsion beam axle and coil springs provides stable, predictable handling with some initial lean, and a comfortable ride. The Jetta TDI comes with standard Michelin Energy MXV4 195/65R-15 inch tires.

Four wheel disc brakes with ABS and EBD are standard on the Jetta Wagon TDI, and they are of sufficient size to offer stable, secure braking with responsive pedal feel.

Outward visibility is very good, but the rear head restraints block some of the view. I’d recommend removing the centre rear head restraint. The rear window has a defroster, wiper and washer to keep it clear of dust, slush and grime.

Competitor overview

Competitors for the VW Jetta Wagon TDI GLS ($27,035) include the Ford Focus ZTW ($22,105), Chrysler PT Cruiser Touring Edition ($25,085), Pontiac Vibe ($20,220), Subaru Impreza 2.5TS ($22,995), and Toyota Matrix XR FWD ($20,925).

As you can see, there are no other diesel engined wagons in it class, making the Jetta Wagon TDI the most fuel-efficient vehicle in its class. The Jetta Wagon GLS TDI is arguably the best-finished and most attractive vehicle in its class, but its price-tag is considerably higher than the others, even discounting for the GLS’ higher level of standard equipment. This is typical of Volkswagens across the line which are generally positioned as premium small cars.


An attractive, roomy small wagon with incredible fuel efficiency and many safety features, the VW Jetta Wagon is nevertheless rather pricey in its class.

Technical Data: 2003 Volkswagen Jetta TDI Wagon GLS

Base price $27,035
Freight $555
A/C tax $100
Options $2,855 (Luxury pkg $1,440; Leather pkg $1,195; Curtain airbags $220)
Price as tested $30,545
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact wagon
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 1.9 litre 4 cyl. diesel, direct injection, turbocharged, SOHC, 8 valves
Horsepower 90 @ 3750 rpm
Torque 155 lb-ft @ 1900 rpm
Transmission 5 speed manual (optional 4-speed automatic)
Tires P195/65 R 15 H all season tires
Curb weight 1416 kg (3121 lb.)
Wheelbase 2515 mm (98.9 in)
Length 1409 mm (173.6 in.)
Width 1735 mm (68.3 in.)
Height 1485 mm (58.5 in.)
Cargo capacity 962 litres (34.0 cu. ft.) seats up
  1469 litres (51.9 cu. ft.) seats down
Payload 426 kg (939 lb.)
Fuel consumption City: 5.6 l/100 km (50 mpg)
  Hwy: 4.4 l/100 km (64 mpg)
Fuel diesel
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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