I was really delighted when Volkswagen Singapore contacted me to express their interest to loan me the Sportsvan Highline for a review, after they read my blog on the VW Jetta. My initial thought was: are there significant differences compared to my Jetta? After a 3-day test drive, I have uncovered so many features and gathered a bucket full of thoughts about the Sportsvan.
Whenever I mention the name “Sportsvan” to my peers, they thought I was reviewing a van. The Sportsvan is actually a compact 5-seater MPV. It is shorter than Jetta by 83mm, a little wider than Jetta, slightly shorter wheelbase. This, plus a shorter front bonnet, makes the Sportsvan easy to manoeuvre. It might be hard to tell it’s a Sportsvan on the road because there is no badge behind the car, unless owners opt for the sticker decal that runs along the doors.
Though shorter than Jetta, the interior is much more spacious. The Sportsvan is taller by 126mm, the seats are high and makes it easier to get in and out, especially for elderly, but it’s not that high like a full MPV.
The interior design retains the feel of a Jetta sedan, yet it is so roomy. The door compartments are much bigger, the middle compartment with retractable cup holders is bigger, there is even a smartphone belt to hold the smartphone! Why didn’t Jetta have this?
The rear seats of the Sportsvan are extremely roomy, the aircon vent in the middle would never get in the way unlike the Jetta. Plus, you can actually shift the rear seats towards the front to provide more room in the boot, which is shallower than Jetta but more spacious than the 7-seater MPV.
The advantage of the Sportsvan is that you can put bulkier and higher items, especially more if you fold up the rear seats.
The Sportsvan appears to have more premium details over the Jetta. There are more leather and chrome accents around the interior.
I also notice more ambient LED lighting at various locations, like the door handle, the leg area.
I like the additional triangle windows and the thin A-pillar which let me see the full frontal view corner-to-corner better.
The favourite feature for me – and my daughter – is the huge sunroof that stretches all the way to the rear seat. In my sedan, I occasionally wind down my door window to enjoy some fresh air, but it resulted in strong wind draft.
The sunroof offers an alternative experience as I drive during off-peak hours. While I hear that most car owners do not use the sunroof after a while, I would at least retract the blind to let in light into the car cabin and bathe a little sunshine.
For a regular sedan driver, I like that the Sportsvan feels and drives like a sedan.
I have already shared in my Jetta post about how Jetta offers a blend of old and new features. On the Sportsvan, there are a lot more modern tech. First of all, the brake is electronically applied, so you can practically ignore the need for parking brake, as it will automatically lock when you stop the engine and it will automatically disengage when you move off. You can also enable “Auto-Hold” next to the gear stick, which will automatically engage the brake when the car comes to a stop, so you can lift your foot off the brake pedal without shifting to neutral gear.
Equipped with BlueMotion technology, the Sportsvan is fitted with engine start-stop system and regenerative braking. With the new traffic ruling in Singapore that stationary cars must have the engine stopped, this feature will let drivers abide by the law while enjoying air-conditioning.
I can also select different driving profiles: Normal, Eco, Sport, Individual. The Eco mode is similar to normal but it enables coasting when you release the accelerator, effectively driving in neutral gear, hence there is no drag. It also reduces aircon consumption. With the combination of these features, the Sportsvan is definitely more fuel-efficient than Jetta.
The Sport mode increases the steering torque, improves response on the accelerator pedal, changes gear slower to achieve higher engine power.
The cruise control system has a Speed Limiter feature which is great for driving along expressways so that I can set a speed, and no matter how hard I step the pedal, the Sportsvan will never go above the speed.
The other family-favourite tech feature is the Park Assist, which in layman terms is auto-parking. The Sportsvan can auto-park after detecting an empty lot, both parallel and straight lots. I didn’t manage to try the feature on a parallel lot, but the straight lot works great. It is not fully automated: the driver has to control the gear stick, accelerator and brake. Only the steering wheel is assistive. This alone is good enough for most drivers, and I feel this gives them control over the Park Assist system.
While the Jetta only has front and rear sensors, the Sportsvan has sensors all around the car which helps in detecting obstacles and moving objects like motorcycle. This same sensor is how Sportsvan can auto-park the car to such accuracy.
The infotainment system on the Sportsvan is a grade better than the Jetta, although it appears similar. Called “Discover Pro“, the navigation system sports an 8-inch touch display (compared to 6.3-inch on the Jetta). The disc tray and SD card slots are located in the glove compartment. Voice command is supported, there is a “Car” menu to display the car statistics and manage car settings (on the Jetta, this is done on the dashboard display).
The speakers on the Sportsvan sounded wider and less cosy than the Jetta. The bass lacks volume and kick, and tweaking the 3-bar equalizer does not deliver more boom. The mids are also not forthcoming, while the treble is clear and enjoyable.
And on the Sportsvan, I finally got to try out App-Connect which integrates smartphone apps onto the infotainment system’s touch screen. App-Connect supports Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink, which only works by connecting via USB cable. Among the 3, the Apple CarPlay appears to have the most features enabled.
Android Auto is limited to phone, SMS message, music, and Google Maps (Android Auto is not available in Singapore market but I downloaded the APK manually and sideloaded it). I cannot access my social networking apps or messaging services on my smartphone, though the Android Auto apps list has some.
The MirrorLink is another platform which cannot be downloaded like Android Auto and there are only a handful of Android smartphones with MirrorLink built-in. I managed to get it to work on my wife’s Samsung Galaxy Note 5, and found the function list limiting.
Overall, App-Connect limits the full smartphone experience. I would rather interact with the smartphone directly than to plug through the car system and access only a limited set of apps.
Despite having similar 1.4L engine size, the Sportsvan performs in a different way. With 125PS – compared to 122PS on the Jetta – the Sportsvan, under normal Drive and Eco modes, does not respond as quickly, but offers a much more comfortable drive. And like all TSI engines, the gear change is undetectable, more so on the Sportsvan due to its quieter engine
As described in my Jetta post, the Jetta does not throttle that smoothly at low gear and low RPM. Jetta wants you to step on the pedal and move fast. The Sportsvan, on the other hand, lets me throttle lightly and glide as commanded without jerking feel. The steering wheel is also lighter compared to Jetta.
On the flip side, the Jetta responds faster when I step on the pedal. Even at half-pedal, the Jetta knows I need to increase my acceleration and down-shifts immediately to give the car the needed boost. If I pedal further, it again down-shifts promptly for more throttle. The Sportsvan needs a lot more coaxing, in fact, I had to floor the pedal before it realises, and even so, the acceleration is less aggressive like Jetta.
What the Sportsvan lacks in pedal response, it makes up with the Sports driving mode. Just tap the gear position south-wards, and the car kicks into higher RPM for more engine power. Once I’m done with the power, I tap the gear again to return to normal Drive mode. The Sportsvan Highline is also equipped with paddle shifters hidden behind the steering wheel, just tap anytime to start driving in manual gear mode. To return to auto gear, press and hold the right paddle.
Between Normal and Eco mode, I do not feel any difference other than when I lift off the accelerator. Eco mode will coast and keep the velocity while Normal mode will engage the gear and charge up the BlueMotion battery.
Summarising my driving experience, the Sportsvan is capable of achieving both the family cosy driving feel as well as the fast-and-furious mode. The engine is quieter compared to Jetta. Without hearing the engine revving, I can be more liberal on the accelerator without my passengers hearing the engine (and driver) at work. I do get more road noise on the Sportsvan, probably because of the larger sportier wheels.
6 Reasons Why My 9-year-old Loves Sportsvan
Here’s what my daughter likes about the Sportsvan:
- The interior lighting is brighter (because of the open rooftop).
- Bigger than Jetta.
- Bigger boot space.
- Sun roof which she can look up and see the sky.
- Sun roof is retractable.
- Sun roof has a blind that blocks the sun.
As you can see in the above list, she really loves the sun roof!
The VW Sportsvan is a great car for new or small families who need huge 5-seat space and tall boot without going for the huge MPV and giving up on the VW sporty driving experience. I love the option to choose various driving profiles to achieve different driving needs. The Park Assist auto-park feature will be a hit for new drivers who have yet to master parallel parking. The sunroof will be a favourite with rear passengers who would be able to appreciate shades of green trees and buildings above our heads.
I asked myself why I did not consider getting the Sportsvan instead of the Jetta. Thinking back, I was so used to driving a sedan that I had never thought of getting a mini MPV, since I have a small family. I was really attracted to the Jetta for its price point for owning a pure German technology. Plus, the Sportsvan costs about S$15,000 more than Jetta Highline (or S$10,000 more than Jetta Sportline), and if I have had a higher budget, I would have considered other sedan models.
But if you needed a larger car and have a higher budget, the Sportsvan is a more comfortable and better-made car than Jetta. Don’t make the same mistake as me. Head down to Volkswagen Singapore for a test drive and check out the latest prices with a Sales Agent. If you need my recommendation, ask for Ian Yeo.