I told you before that I liked how special my 1997 Jetta was, and that–despite its rampant issues–it had won me over to the Volkswagen side. But I didn’t start out intending to replace it with another Volkswagen in the summer of 2014.
You see, when the Cruze came out for 2011, the year I graduated from high school, I was probably one of its biggest fans. A solid, desirable, world-class compact car, from General Motors? What a surprise. I also liked the mature, straightforward design language, at a time when most other compact sedans looked like tadpoles. So, when I had to go out of town, instead of risking it with the 1997 Jetta, I would rent cars…and my chosen mode of conveyance was always the Cruze, if I could snag one. I even got sort of picky at the rental counter? “Do you think you can show me where the compact cars are, and I can pick the Cruze I like?” I tried to snag at least a 2LT, because those had leather and the larger 5-spoke alloy wheels at the time.
And so the 2014 Cruze was the top contender in my mind for a new car. However–those plans quickly changed. I called and emailed around to some Chevrolet dealers in Oklahoma and Texas, and they didn’t seem too willing to deal with someone my age. One of them patronizingly told me that the best I’d be able to do was a Spark.
And then I started looking at other cars, and Volkswagen crossed my mind, again. Well, let’s just see what they have. I liked the 2012-and-later “NMS” Passat, for many of the same reasons as the Cruze. It looked a lot more crisp and grown-up than most of the other things in its class. A quick search on one of the major car sites led me to AutoNation Volkswagen Park Cities, who had an excellent price on a 2014 Passat SE. And it was another car I’d already driven and knew I liked. This trim, I knew, would get me leatherette, a sunroof, the non-navigation touchscreen system, Bluetooth, and a nice set of alloy wheels. When I emailed them, I was immediately put in touch with a salesperson named Shannon. Shannon was extremely helpful, was able to answer all of my questions, and then (most importantly), she put me onto Volkswagen’s College Grad program.
As I was just barely an adult, I had thin credit at the time. I knew I could put enough money down to make most finance institutions say yes, but Volkswagen Credit would provide me a competitive interest rate on any of their cars with no money down provided I (a) had no derogatory credit history, (b) was graduating within the next six months or had graduated within the previous year, and (c) had a full-time job or an offer letter.
“I’ll take it,” I said, once I sent in all of the documents and verified that I did indeed qualify. But then, as I maneuvered through Volkswagen’s US site, looking for the exact color combination I wanted, something else caught my eye, something compact, elegant, and wagon-y. This is a car that I must have known in the back of my mind existed, but had never paid an ounce of attention toward.
I did my research this time, discovering the following: The Mk.5 Jetta debuted in the U.S. in 2005; however the wagon (which was interchangeably called Jetta or Golf, depending on the region) didn’t reach our shores until 2009. In 2010, both the sedan and wagon were facelifted to more-closely resemble the new Mk.6 Golf. The 2010 Jetta SportWagen was facelifted with basically the same front clip and dashboard as the Mk.6 Golf. In 2011, the Jetta sedan was completely redesigned, and that’s where the wagon and sedan diverged. In the intervening years, the Jetta SportWagen had gotten some trim and options shakeups, but by 2014, you could get two engines: a gasoline 2.5-liter inline 5-cylinder, or a diesel 2.0-liter turbocharged “TDI” I-4. The latter was the earliest generation of Volkswagen’s common-rail “Clean Diesels” that were part of the Dieselgate debacle, although no one outside the company knew this in 2014, the Jetta SportWagen’s swan-song model year. And 90 percent of wagon buyers went for the diesel.
I called Shannon back and asked her about the Jetta SportWagen. They had two identical new ones. One was white with a black interior, and the other was black with a beige interior. Both were TDI models. “Definitely the black one,” I said. The car in question was the second-highest trim, unceremoniously called trim called “TDI with Sunroof.” That got you the touchscreen infotainment system, satellite radio, a 6-way adjustable power seat, leatherette upholstery, the aforementioned panoramic sunroof, Bluetooth, a reversing camera, and snazzy 17-inch 10-spoke wheels. The MSRP was $30K, but the dealership was asking $26,900 out-the-door, which I found to be a fair price, and I thought the car fit me to a tee.
So, we arranged for me to pick it up in person. And that Saturday, I set off from Oklahoma City to Dallas, a three-hour drive. My one-way rental from Hertz was a 2014 Chrysler 200, hardly what I would have chosen, but I was surprised at how much power it had. Only when I got to the Volkswagen dealership and popped the hood did I discover that my rental had the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, and not the four-cylinder.
Shannon handled everything spectacularly, and made my first new-car purchase as seamless as could be. So did the rest of the staff. This was a dealership in a ritzy area, otherwise surrounded by Bentley, Maserati, and Ferrari stores. But they didn’t treat me like a stupid college student, the way the Chevrolet dealerships did. The Jetta SportWagen had a couple of extras that weren’t mentioned: a cargo-management system that consisted of velcro blocks, and rubber floor mats. Awesome. I test-drove the car for due diligence, and found it to my liking, so we moved into the F&I office. Volkswagen Credit’s rate turned out to be something in the 3-percent range, which was about as well as I could have done. The F&I manager asked me how many miles I planned to drive the car, and I told him about the standard amount. “Oof,” he said. “You’ll run through the factory bumper-to-bumper warranty within three years.”
“Well…yeah,” I replied, unmoved.
“What If I could get you a warranty for the same payment, and same overall price?”
“How will you do that?”
“We’ll buy your interest rate down to 1.99 percent if you get the warranty.”
I then asked to see the warranty paperwork. As a general rule, I don’t buy extended warranties on things, because I expect them to last. And I’d read great longevity reviews about the Jetta SportWagen TDI. But…I found an all-important line at the bottom of the warranty contract: “Cancel within 10 days for a full refund.” So I agreed. I would later cancel the warranty and keep the lower interest rate. Score.
Within an hour and a half of arriving, I was back on the road to OKC in my new Jetta SportWagen. I immediately put the Bluetooth streaming to good use, calling up my favorite podcasts. I was told that AutoNation had a 150-mile money-back guarantee, but I would exceed that just getting home. Hopefully, I didn’t develop a case of buyer’s remorse. But I didn’t think I would…especially since the diesel’s trip computer was reporting over 40 miles per gallon along I-35.
Upon pulling into the driveway at home, I ran into my first spot of trouble. The panoramic sunroof would not close. It would almost close, and then would open again, like it was obstructed. The local dealership was, of course, closed, which meant I’d have to solve this one myself. I wound up rectifying it by holding down the sunroof deflector until the roof closed…which later turned out to be the issue. Apparently, the deflector had been bent during delivery and my local dealership wound up replacing it under warranty.
When my mother, with whom I no longer lived, saw my Jetta SportWagen, the first thing she said was, “Isn’t that an old man’s car?”
The car itself provided reliable and extremely economical transportation to and from school; I averaged somewhere around 36 miles per gallon. It was drama-free, unlike the green Volkswagen. But, more importantly, it made me feel like something, to have a new car I could be truly proud of. Not only that, I found myself subject to that phenomenon where you see more examples of a car once you’ve bought it. I saw plenty of Jetta SportWagens around town, and indeed most of them were the TDI models. I saw even more of them when we took it to Denver for a family funeral.
Shortly after buying the Jetta SportWagen, I wound up pivoting away from the remote web agency and to–of all things–a job developing internal web applications for a local car dealership. Well, perhaps it wasn’t so local. It was toward the south side of Norman (where I’d purchased the green Volkswagen). That made it about a 40-hour commitment each way, and put a lot of miles on my new car.
Mom asked me another interesting question. The neighbor kid next door had gotten a lightly-used 2011 Volkswagen Jetta sedan as a 16th-birthday present about the same time that I got my wagon. Mom asked if mine was newer. My response: “Yes and no.” The neighbor’s Jetta was physically older, but the car was a newer design, incorporating Volkswagen’s contemporary, squared-off son-of-Audi design language. Mine was clearly from an older era.
Funnily enough, it was that exact thing that caused me to trade in my Jetta SportWagen after just nine short months of ownership, and with all of 19,000 miles on the clock.