Category Archives: Volkswagen

2008 Volkswagen New Beetle S (668)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2008 Volkswagen New Beetle S coupe. But I have to bitch about the “dumbly engineered sun visors”. The windows are unusually large and the engineers and test drivers (yea right) went brain dead when they ignored the need to cover more of the window for side sun. Ok, so they may not have sun in Michigan.

General Info:

Parts – US/ Canadian 17%, Germany 35% and Mexico 35%. Transmission – Argentina.

Assembly – Puebla, Mexico

Class:  – Subcompact Cars

Cars: – Eos, GTI, Jetta, New Beetle, Passat & Wagon, Rabbit and Touareg.

Observation:

I’m sure we all have observed the movement of traffic on most of our highways and how it fluctuates because there is no way to determine the average speed of that flow. Therefore drivers speed up until all lanes are bunched up like an accordion. Then as panic radiates from a rapidly moving flash of red lights our hearts pound from near misses or worse . . . “CRASH”. Then everyone is inconvenienced by slowly clearing crash scenes that back up all lanes with nowhere to go like parking at the big game – but no entertainment.

Well – what if there were strobe lights that blink at the average rate of speed of traffic for a specified number of miles ahead. That would provide a way to synchronize your cruise control to allow a smooth flow of travel. We all know that makes for more comfortable transportation.

Handling & Performance:

Impressive, especially if you’ve ever driven earlier year models – like in the 60s.

Styling:

V-Dub has become an Icon of our time. It was perhaps the first of the economy cars and simply a part of our driving experience. I appreciate the fact it has changed little in its dress and I also appreciate the conveniences and comfort designed into this old friend. It even has changed its anatomy and where you always found the engine you find a trunk – although small it is larger than the tradition of the past. But they have built in the ability to fold down the rear seat back that gives a good deal of cargo space.

Fit and Finish:

Outstanding.

Cost:

Acceptable since they give a lot of hidden quality of all manner of control features to make your driving experience safer.

Conveniences and comfort:

The list below is also impressive as standard. And what you see is what you get – everything is standard.

Consumer Recommendation:

It would be an easier decision if it were better on the fuel consumption. 35-40 mpg is what I’d expect because this is a good commuter and shouldn’t be just for fun driving.  In fact, even though it is not on the competition list, I’d look at the Toyota Yaris if you want a commuter with about 40 mpg for about $14,000 – and it’s not a hybrid.

Recognized Competition:

VW New Beetle $17-26,000, Chrysler PT Cruiser $15-29,000, Mini Cooper $18-25,000, Scion tC $17,000, Ford Focus $, Kia Spectra5 $15,995, Mazda MX5 Miata $21-27,000, Pontiac G5 $15-19,000, Chevrolet HHR $16-20,000, Chevrolet Cobalt $14-19,000, Toyota Matrix $16-17,000, Honda Civic $15-25,000.

Good News:

Great high tech features for handling and safety,

Bad News:

Tiny sun visors, low fuel economy for this class car.

Standard Equipment:

2.5 liter 150 hp inline 5 cylinder engine, 5-speed manual trans, power assist rack and pinion steering, electronic stability program, anti-slip regulation, electronic differential lock, electronic brake force distribution, anti-lock disc brake system, front and side airbag, daytime running lights, side impact beams, tire pressure monitoring system, air conditioning, power heated mirrors, intermittent wipers / washers, cruise control, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, remote trunk and fuel cap, folding rear seat, 12 V power outlets, anti theft alarm with immobilizer, in-dash CD player, and 16” alloy wheels with anti-theft locks.

Gas Stats:

$2.71/ Gal avg. Sept 11, ‘07

www.fueleconomy.gov

for more information.

20 City and 28 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $17,365.

2007 Volkswagen Eos 3.2 liter (661)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2007 Volkswagen Eos (Greek goddess of dawn) 3.2 liter 2-door retractable hard top convertible. That is a leap forward and a leap of faith for VW much like the Phaeton which, of course, will haunt VW through each new launch.

Well they need not worry too much about this Eos because it is likely to be a winner. The Phaeton was a “Fish out of water” for VW and this Eos is swimmingly perfect for the car buying public. With gas prices promising never to go back down and with nearly 30 mpg for a top performer this is bound to succeed and as well it should. It is terribly fun to drive and as capable as cars in class and even those that sport a more expensive badge.

General Info:

Parts – Germany 75%, U.S/ Canadian 1%.

Assembly – Wolfsburg, Germany

Class:  – Compact Cars

Cars: – Eos, GTI, Jetta, New Beetle, Passat, Passat Wagon, Rabbit and Touareg.

Handling & Performance:

I enjoyed how well this front wheel drive Eos handled and quickly forgot that it’s a VW.

I tested the V6 but I would strongly suggest looking at the optional 2 liter 4-cylinder 200 hp turbocharged engine that is less money and delivers a few more mpg up to 32 highway with not a lot less horsepower.

Styling:

Well, it was Hitler who championed the Beetle from Volkswagen. If there is any reason to hate the little bastard that would be it. Oddly enough it was widely embraced by war weary Americans and for the life of me I can only wonder why. Is it because it was considered cute and economical? Curious because gas was about 15 cents a gallon. In any case it won the hearts and minds and pocket books of American car buyers long before Germany’s Mercedes Benz was accepted as the Icon of the Rich and famous and a symbol of success. A Jewish friend always suggested it was the Germans legacy to the Jews.

The retractable hard top/ convertible is new for VW but what’s not new is the fact it must be stored when down which makes cargo storage a bit of a problem. They have provided a small covered cargo area and a pass through to the rear seat and that’s the best that can be done. In the up position the trunk is actually good size for a sporty convertible. If you’ll need more a family sedan will be more appropriate solution for you. For the same reasons the rear seat is small but not impossible like many other two door convertibles.

What is also amazing is that the retractable Hard Top incorporates a large sliding Sun Roof. Unbelievable. Nice touch VW … even though I’m not a fan of sun roofs.

Fit and Finish:

Excellent attention to detail.

Cost:

More than I envisioned, but it handles extremely well and it should be a contender in class even as priced, especially for V-dub enthusiasts. Secondly it becomes more affordable when you consider this is not just a four seat coupe. When you throw in the retractable HARD top suddenly it is less money than others with the same feature.

Conveniences and comfort:

Hello VW… you listening? The sun visors don’t extend. Don’t you guys have sun in Germany? This is one of my pet peeves and I doubt I’m the only one who wants to block the sun from beating on your face from the side? And on a hot bright sunny day it is really distracting.

Second bitch: Electronics on German cars generally are less intuitive than all other makes. Thus the (optional) Nav system for example is more difficult to use. What’s that about? If they only sold their cars in Poland I would understand and we could term it “RPN”. That’s how Hewlett Packard (HP) explains one of the settings on its hand held calculators. The acronym stands for “Reverse Polish Notation”.

Third bitch: Cruise control is poorly placed under and close to the turn signal. And to add insult to injury they designed the shape exactly like the turn signal. No wonder they lost the war.

Fourth bitch: the accelerator has an annoying hesitation starting out and this isn’t the turbocharged model.

Now, that being said, these are not killer annoyances. Eventually I would get used to the oddities and of course the rest of the automotive world “Could” be wrong after all and then I’d apologize to the Germans. Until then I’d ask them to consider changing some of these things. British and Italian cars don’t strike me the same so I don’t think it’s a European thing.

Consumer Recommendation:

VW is a reliable car. I’ve been happy with the product generally and understand you can’t be all things to all people. A very old VW Beetle got me through college, I embarked on marriage in a (VW) Carmen Ghia and with a young family we bought a new Bug just because.

Recognized Competition:

VW Eos $28-37,000, Ford Mustang $19-32,000, Pontiac G6 $17-29,000, Volvo C70 $39,090, Mini Cooper $18-25,000, Mitsubishi Eclipse $20-29,000.

Good News:

Not too much to look at in class so it’s an easy search. It is powerfully responsive and handles like a sports car with softer suspension. Nice hard top / convertible design.

Bad News:

Price could be an obstacle.

Standard Equipment:

3.2 liter 250 hp V6 engine, 6-speed front wheel drive automatic transmission, speed variable assist power steering, stability program, anti slip, electronic differential lock, 4-wheel power assist Anti lock disc brakes, front, curtain and side airbags, child anchors, fog lights, auto headlights, LED tail lights, rear head restraints and roll over protection, tire pressure monitoring system, antitheft with immobilizer system, dual zone climate control, cruise control, trip computer with compass and outside temp display, power windows, power heated mirrors, tilt and telescopic steering column, center armrest with storage, intermittent wipers with heated washer nozzles, 12 way power heated front seats, leather wrapped multifunction steering wheel, shift knob and hand brake, leather interior, remote release for trunk and fuel door, remote keyless entry, fully automatic power retractable hard top, large power glass sunroof, 17 inch alloy wheels and in dash CD player MP3 format readable. Options include Navigation system and upgraded sound system.

Gas Stats:

$2.89/ Gal avg. July 31 ‘07

www.fueleconomy.gov

for more information.

22 City and 29 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $36,850 – With options $40,930.

2007 Volkswagen Rabbit 4-door (659)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2007 (late year model) Volkswagen Rabbit 4-door sedan. You know what, we in America really need to re-think our perceived need to drive bulky, heavy vehicles like today’s SUV’s. Most of the world drives cars that provide much more fuel economy and sacrifice very little in the area of interior space. Here in the US truck class cars (that included SUVs) make up fully 50% of all cars sold.

I’m sure many buy large cars in self defense since there are so many on the highway. Think if you drove a “Smart” car how intimidating it would be on the same road with big heavy cars.

Responsible cars like the Smart Car and this VW Rabbit would be a much easier sell if there weren’t so many big cars to share the highway with. And on the roads of most of Western and especially Eastern Europe a large car is a “Fish out of water”. Roads are simply too small to accommodate them.

General Info:

Parts – Germany 75%, U.S/ Canadian 1%.

Assembly – Wolfsburg, Germany

Class: – Compact Cars

Cars: – Eos, GTI, Jetta, New Beetle, Passat, Passat Wagon, Rabbit and Touareg.

Observation:

European car makers seem unafraid of using Express up and down windows as are those in America. Such features are very convenient but you seldom see American car makers willing to risk lawsuits. Pa-leese – what’s that all about? What ever happened to the old west, pioneer spirit, and people taking responsibility for themselves? In any case this VW Rabbit with Express up and down windows include “Pinch Protection” so this won’t cause a boo-boo.

As far as I’m concerned it was ok without “Pinch Protection”. Oooo-my-gosh is it any different than teaching your child to look both ways before crossing the street. Or is it the adults we have to worry about in this case. If so, I wonder if that person should be behind the wheel to begin with.

Handling & Performance:

Wonderful. Everything is so smooth from steering to shifting and acceleration to braking that it is a pleasure to drive such a well thought out and engineered car. I would, however, opt for the optional Stability program. I have tested these kinds of safety features on the race track and other test venues and I’m totally sold on the benefits – totally.

Styling:

Ok, I like the look even though it is pretty common place – how about you?

Fit and Finish:

Good. It’s made it Germany and most people in Europe still have a pride of workmanship that is less and less common in today’s world. But, management must be a part of the equation because some VW’s are manufactured in Mexico. Know what I mean?

Cost:

Good. Not steel, but a good value.

Conveniences and comfort:

Good stuff is standard and the option of a sunroof I can live without.

Consumer Recommendation:

In my opinion it is the best of the bunch listed here. Not that the others are bad, but this is just a bit better for the money.

Recognized Competition:

VW Rabbit $15-17,000, Dodge Caliber $14-20,000, Ford Focus $14-17,000, Chevrolet Cobalt $13-20,000, Pontiac G5 $15-17,000, Saturn Ion $12-20,000, Nissan Versa $13-15,000, Toyota Matrix $15-17,000, Mazda3 $14-20,000, Honda Civic $15-25,000,  Hyundai Elantra $13-17,000, Subaru Impreza $18-33,000, Kia Rio $11-13,000, Scion tC $17,000.

Good News:

Fun to drive, quality construction seamless interface between car and driver.

Bad News:

Small profile for US highways as it is overshadowed by typically large cars, only fair fuel economy around town but decent highway results and it is rather plain Jane styling.

Standard Equipment:

2.5 liter 150 hp 5 cylinder engine, 5-speed manual transmission front wheel drive, electro mechanical power steering, anti-slip regulation control, electronic differential lock, antilock front and rear disc braking system, front and side air bags, side curtain head airbags, rear seat child anchor system, child safety door locks, daytime running lights, side protection door beams, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows with pinch protection, power mirrors, tilt and telescoping steering column, center armrest with cooled storage, intermittent wipers, front seats lumbar adjustment, fold flat front passenger seat, split folding rear seat, rear seat armrest with pass through, front and rear reading lights, fuel and trunk remote door releases, power central locking system, remote keyless entry, in-dash 6-disc CD changer / MP3 format readable, heated front seats, heated washer nozzles, anti-theft alarm system and immobilizer system. Options: power sunroof $1,000, Electronic stabilization program $450, 16” alloy wheels $400, Sirius Satellite radio $375.

Gas Stats:

$2.99/ Gal avg. July 10 ‘07

www.fueleconomy.gov

for more information.

22 City and 30 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $16,990.

2006 VW Jetta 2.5 (588)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2006 Volkswagen Jetta 2.5 4-door sedan. This is nice. I like the changes, even if it does resemble the Audi. Not that I dislike Audi. In fact the new grill treatment is growing on me, but I like the VW grill better.

I enjoy driving a manual transmission from time to time and this was one of those times. It was particularly nice because it had enough power and the proper gear ratios to allow fewer shifts. And that made my test-driving through the mountains a comfortable and fun experience. Now if they would only encourage the Highway Patrol to be more lenient with enforcement of posted speed limits. Really folks our cars are much more capable in all respects from when speed limits were posted on “OUR” highways. Today those limits are simply a way for the state to generate revenue any old time they want to. That just isn’t fair because such arbitrary enforcement sends mixed messages when they aren’t consistently applied. For example: 75 mph in a 65 zone is ok and even law enforcement drives at those speeds along with the rest of us. It’s like swimming with Shamoo. They only bother you when they are hungry. What kind of message does that send to drivers? 

Meanwhile, back in the Jetta I decided I prefer this model to the more expensive Passat that I recently tested and reported on. For the money it is a better value (in my humble opinion).

General Info:

Parts – Germany 35%, Mexico 35% US Canadian 8%, Engine – Mexico, Transmission –                      Argentina.

Assembly – Puebla, Mexico

Class:  – Compact Cars

Cars: – Golf, GTI, Jetta, Jetta Wagon, New Beetle, Passat, Passat Wagon, Phaeton and                    Touareg.

Handling & Performance:

How cars look today is a function of the technology available to all manufacturers. Computer aided design (CAD) systems are also used to engineer how cars perform mechanically. More and more we’re seeing additions to the electronic control elements that correct or compensate for our humanness. Computer assists react in milliseconds to brake or not depending on the relative position of the car to the road and go so far as to specify individual wheels for ultimate control. In addition, the throttle is disabled long before our feeble ability senses the need to back off. Computers allow us to go faster – more safely. In the future technology already available will prevent accidents by overriding our intended actions when necessary. The ultimate “Back Seat Driver” is being assembled as I speak.

Driving schools will tell you motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death among Americans age 3 to 33. According to engineer, author and teacher Merkel Weiss the leading cause of all such accidents across the board is “Distraction”. I agree.

Styling:

You’ve come a long way baby. VW that is. It’s like they finally grew up, and in fact got so bold they hatched the Phaeton and although it is a nice car people weren’t ready for a high end VW.

Fit and Finish:

Very German, very good.

Cost:

Well priced. Good value for the money. One has to wonder if that’s because it is assembled in Mexico, as is the New Beetle.

Conveniences:

Below is a list of very thoughtful things that make this a delight to drive.

Consumer Recommendation:

If you like shifting you’ll appreciate this manual trans. The synchro is so good you can shift without the clutch. I’ve done that with a 13 speed big rig but haven’t felt so comfortable doing that in a car until I drove this Jetta. I don’t recommend you do it. If you’ve driven old cars before synchromesh transmissions were developed and first introduced by Cadillac in 1928, you can really appreciate how much improved transmissions have become.

Recognized Competition:

Volkswagen Jetta $18-24,000, Toyota Camry $18-26,000, Chrysler Sebring $20-31,000, Chevrolet Malibu $16-23,000, Pontiac G6 $16-29,000, Ford Fusion $17-22,000, Hyundai Sonata $18-23,000, Mitsubishi Galant $19-27,000, Kia Optima $16-20,000, Suzuki Verona $18-20,000, Subaru Legacy $22-34,000, Mazda 6 $19-28,000, Honda Accord $18-29,000, Nissan Altima $18-30,000, Acura TSX $28-30,000.

Good News:

Well priced for good value, nice manual trans that helps to make it fun to drive, comfortable seats, visors with extensions, auto up and down power windows.

Bad News:

Can’t think of anything.

Standard Equipment:

2.5 liter 150 hp inline 5 cylinder engine, front wheel drive, electro mechanical power steering, independent front strut and multilink rear suspension, ESP – Electronic Stabilization Program, ASR – Anti Slip Regulation, EDL – Electronic Differential Lock, ABS – Antilock Braking System with power assist disc brakes, front and side airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags, child tethers, anchors and rear door locks, daytime running lights, height adjustable seat belts, side protection door beams, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, locks and outside heated mirrors, center armrest with storage, adjustable intermittent wipers, drivers power recline seat, fold flat front passenger seat, split folding rear seat, rear seat armrest with storage and pass-through, dual illuminated front visor vanity mirrors, front and rear reading lights and cup holders, remote release for fuel filler and trunk, remote keyless entry with folding key, 16” alloy wheels with anti-theft locks, in-dash 6-disc CD player MP3 format readable, anti-theft and engine immobilizer system.

Gas Stats:

22 City and 30 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $20,290.

2006 VW Passat 2.0 T (585)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2006 Volkswagen Passat 2.0 T. VW does some great things and although the Phaeton was a bust I believe such efforts help to make the rest of the line better. Ahhh, well then the Edsel should have made Ford better you say. I’ll have to think about that.

Listening to the head of VW talk about company philosophy at a press conference recently gave me comfort that these guys know what their doing. We don’t pay enough attention to who is behind the product. We’re more interested in how good we look “Behind the Wheel”. 

VW and Audi share a lot including some platforms and you’ll even see the similarities in the Grillwork of the two brands. Both car lines are good but the one main ding I would give is also shared across the two cars and that is the DSG – Direct Shift Gearbox that I have a real problem with and explained in a previous review on the Audi.

General Info:

Parts – Germany 80%, US Canadian 1%, Engine Germany, Trans Japan.

Assembly – Mosel, Germany

Class:  – Mid Size

Cars: – Golf, GTI, Jetta, Jetta Wagon, New Beetle, Passat, Passat Wagon, Phaeton and     Touareg.

Handling & Performance:

The electronic handling enhancers like the ESP are all good things that make this a great driving experience. What’s not to like beside the lousy DSG Transmission. I’m in the Jetta at the moment and love the manual shift transmission. It is wonderfully easy and preferred over the automatic a la DSG.

Styling:

You gotta just love what VW has done over the years. They still give us the Beetle that has been a part of our lives for a long time. Ok, so they also produced the “Thing”, but the Bug has been a lovable Icon and somehow touched us all.

Today the styling is crisp and fresh. This is simply a nice car to look at. It has bulky components and frankly I like that. I get bored with Japanese “too pretty” and dainty looks. I suspect that is why SUVs sell so well. They present the image of rough and tumble rugged individualism. That’s the American pioneering spirit. No wusses here.

Fit and Finish:

Very good.

Cost:

Well cost is another matter all together. The base price is good and some of the items noted, as options are ok too like the rear side air bags for $350. But then there’s Tiptronic paddles at nearly $1,100, which I think is nearly useless for most drivers. The Nav system at $1,800 is up to you. Some people love and need them while others will never get out of town and thus it is an unnecessary appendage. Me, I love ‘em. The Package #2 option group for $2,825 includes Power sunroof, Stereo system with In-Dash CD changer and Satellite radio XM, leather and heated front seats. I’d dump the sunroof and go with all the rest.

Now that being said, look at the endless list of great features below that are really very special.

Conveniences:

Loaded with lots of good stuff as standard equipment.

Consumer Recommendation:

If they try to sell you the DSG auto transmission don’t do it. The manual trans is the way to go. Simple and fun to drive.

Here, in part, is what VW says about DSG: DSG Settles the Question of Automatic Vs. Manual?

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Before the age of DSG, the driving world was divided: Manual or automatic.  The DSG transmission changed all that. Volkswagen’s traditional strength in solving automotive challenges through innovative engineering is clearly demonstrated by DSG, the slickest-shifting transmission on the planet these days.

Don’t you believe it! Unless I got a few lemons this is the worst attempt at changing how transmissions shift gears for us. It even borders on being dangerous. Backing up for example, you press on the gas and when the trans decides to engage it jerks your head forward and there better not be any objects behind you. Crash!

Recognized Competition:

Volkswagen Passat $23-32,000, BMW 3-Series $31-45,000, Chrysler 300 $24-40,000, Cadillac CTS $29-51,000, Pontiac Grand Prix $21-27,000, Ford Five Hundred $22-28,000, Mitsubishi Galant $19-27,000, Mercedes Benz C-Class $29-54,000, Audi A4 $28-45,000, Saab 9-3 $26-42,000, Mazda 6 $19-28,000, Honda Accord $18-29,000, Nissan Altima $18-30,000, Lexus ES 330 $32,000, Jaguar X-Type $32,330, Lexus IS $30-35,000, Infiniti G35 $31-34,000.

Good News:

Nice styling, decent fuel economy, solid construction, ESP stability is standard, side airbags front and rear.

Bad News:

Horrible DSG transmission.

Standard Equipment:

2.0 liter 200 hp inline 4 cylinder engine, front wheel drive, power steering, independent front and multilink rear suspension, ESP – Electronic Stability Program, ASR – Anti Slip Regulation, EDL – Electronic Differential Lock, ABS – Antilock Braking System with power 4-wheel disc brakes, front airbags, side curtain airbags front and rear, child tethers, anchors and rear door locks, daytime running lights, height adjustable seat belts, tire pressure monitoring system, air conditioning, cruise control, trip computer with compass, power windows, locks and outside heated mirrors, tilt and telescoping steering column, center armrest with storage, drivers power recline and lumbar support seat, rear seat armrest with storage and pass-through, illuminated front visor mirrors, front and rear reading lights and cupholders, remote release for gas and trunk, remote keyless entry, press / start ignition, push button parking brake, in-dash CD player, anti-theft and immobilizer system.

Gas Stats:

22 City and 31 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $23,900.

2005 Volkswagen Touareg SUV (557)

Overview:

This week we’re looking at the 2005 Volkswagen Touareg SUV. Classy is the first words to come to mind when looking at this SUV. And although I like SUV’s like most of my readers I resist recommending them because of the impending fuel fiasco.

15-20 real miles per gallon is unacceptable, so sending the message to the carmakers means consumers will have to buy Hybrids to push the demand up. That’s the only way we can speed up the development of alternatives to using fossil fuels. As long as we accept the cost of gas carmakers will never put money into research in the way they would if sales of “Gas Hogs” sag in a serious way. 

Ok, enough stumping on this issue. Let’s assume you don’t give a damn about the extra $1,200 per year (average of 15,000 miles per year at $2.65 per gal.), then this is one of the finest SUVs on the market for 2005. Incidentally, Motor Trend awarded it Sports Utility of the year if you give any weight to awards like that. Me, I believe magazines like that grant such awards based as much on the advertising budget from that car or truck company. Cynical? I suppose, but it’s true no matter what they tell you about the separation of the Editorial and Advertising departments. (Note: I owned two newspapers for a time – but of course we would never be influenced by how much Coors Brewing, for example, spent at our paper).

General Info:

Parts – US/ Canadian 1%, Germany 80%.

Assembly – Bratislava, Slovakia

Class:  – SUV

Cars:  – Golf, GTI, Jetta, Beetle, Passat, Phaeton, R-32 and Touareg.

Handling & Performance:

Braking should be fantastic with all the various assist programs but I must say I didn’t feel any difference. But it sounds good, eh? Seriously though, the ESP and brake assist programs make safe handling as good as cars can be today.

Styling:

Cream of the crop. It’s a VW but it is as strong a luxury competitor as any on the market.

Fit and Finish:

It’s the tops.

Cost:

Strongly competitive with all the standard features that are mechanically significant. Very nice and they’ve done it at a decent price.

Conveniences:

It sounds simple but I came to appreciate a subtle feature provided with the turn indicator. You can tap and release it and the signal is actuated for three flashes which is just enough for those gentle movements in lane changes or exiting the freeway.

Consumer Recommendation:

If available in your country, you may want to consider the V6 TDI version for better fuel and operating economy.

The Competition:

VW Touareg $37-58,000, Hummer H2 $52,000, Cadillac Escalade $54-70,000, Lincoln Aviator $41-44,000, GMC Yukon Denali $50-52,000, Audi Allroad quattro $40-47,000, Land Rover LR3 $38-49,000, Volvo XC90 $35-45,000, Acura MDX $37-44,000, BMW X5 $42-70,000, Infiniti FX $35-46,000, Porsche Cayenne $41-89,000, Lexus GX 470 $46,225, Mercedes M-Class $40-49,000.

Good News:

Well-appointed and well put together, nice turning signal feature for 3 flashes with a tap, several safety conscious features.

Bad News:

Lousy fuel economy, spendy but priced well in the company it keeps.

Standard Equipment:

3.2 liter 240 hp V6 engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, permanent 4-wheel drive, ESP Electronic Stability Program, Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD), Anti lock braking system, Engine Braking Assist (EBA), Hydraulic Brake Assist (HBA), Anti Slip Regulation (ASR), Electronic Differential Lock (EDL), inflatable spare tire with compressor, Dual front and side airbags with side curtain airbags, child rear anchors and door locks, climate control, power heated mirrors, rain sensors and heated washer nozzles, in-dash CD player, cruise control, 5 12-volt power outlets, adjustable roof rack, Aluminum and wood interior, adjustable steering column, leather wrapped steering wheel, remote keyless entry, auto headlights with daytime running lights, vehicle alarm and theft deterrent system, homelink, heated front seats, power glass sunroof, 17” alloy wheels, and 24 hour roadside assistance.

Gas Stats:

16 City and 21 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $37,140.

2005 Volkswagen GTI (556)

Overview:

Ok, so after I drove the Jaguar XJR I knew I’d have to return to the real world. But thanks to VW I got to have a fun week driving the very agile Volkswagen GTI. I like speed so the Turbo was great and I even got to pass a lot more gas stations than with the Jag that got a whopping 21 mpg on a good day.

Contrasted to the Jag’s Supercharged engine the GTI employs a Turbocharger for boost. Well some folks will be annoyed with the head snapping when the turbo kicks in. Of course the annoyance would be worse f you didn’t have the extra boost. Have you noticed there are always tradeoffs in life? It’s a constant balancing act to give and take. And one of those trade offs is that when it comes to $3.00 plus a gallon of gas size, luxury, simplicity of this GTI allows you to stop less frequently to fill up the gas tank.

When you put transportation into perspective and you consider you can buy FOUR GTI’s for the price of admission for the Jag I tested last week, you have to ask yourself – “is the luxury really worth the difference in cost?”

The added fuel economy reminds me that I tend to drive more in a fuel-efficient car. You may say that I’m spending just as much therefore, but you know what? I also get to go more places, see more things and visit with more people when I’m not as concerned about spending so much on fuel. I guess that comes from remembering when I paid $.20 (that’s 20 cents) for a gallon of gas when I was a teen.

The contrast is obviously very great between the two cars I refer to here, so it’s easy to reflect on the relative value. Surely I got to and from my destinations in the same time with the GTI, and although the comfort level is noticeable, I don’t believe it is worth the $60,000 more. That is, unless you light your cigars with $100 bills.

General Info:

Parts – US/ Canadian 1%, Germany 36%, Brazil 30% Engine – Hungary, Transmission –     Argentina.

Assembly – Curitiba, Brazil

Class:  – Compact

Cars:  –  Golf, GTI, Jetta, Beetle, Passat, Phaeton, R-32 and Touareg.

Handling & Performance:

This is a fun car to drive. It is fast because of the turbo that keeps you in the front of the race. Zippy. If you like rides at Magic Mountain or other favorite theme park, you’ll appreciate the easy snappy response of driving a Turbocharged car of this size.

Styling:

Clean lines and not hard to like because it is pretty conventional.

Fit and Finish:

Good. Most current V-Dubs have made components bulky to the feel and touch. Early models were much more flimsy and delicate. I’ve owned at least 3 VW’s and the 1963 Carmen Ghia we bought new was a neat car but they were extremely simple cars then. Those were the no frills days.

Cost:

Competitively priced especially considering the generous standard equipment package.

Conveniences:

Well appointed for the car and compared to the competition.

Consumer Recommendation:

All competitors in this class are very close. All are great transportation cars sensibly priced. The Honda Civic and Nissan Sentra top my list but this VW is a close third.

The Competition:

VW GTI $20-22,000, Subaru Impreza $18-32,000, Ford Mustang $19-31,000, Honda Civic $13-22,000, Chevrolet Cobalt $14-21,000, Saturn ION $11-21,000, Nissan Sentra $13-18,000, Mazda 3 $14-19,000, Mazda RX-8 $25-32,000, Acura TSX $27-29,000, Hyundai Tiburon $16-20,000.

Good News:

Decent fuel economy, well-equipped, nice quality / durable components, and you will be pleased with the comfort of this little car.

Bad News:

Turbo can be annoying when it kicks in. Seats are difficult to adjust, in my opinion.

Standard Equipment:

1.8 liter 180 hp turbocharged 4 cylinder engine, 5-speed manual transmission, front wheel drive, ABS disc brake system, electronic differential lock, power steering, torsion beam rear sport suspension, dual front and side airbags, child anchors, daytime running lights, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, power heated mirrors, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, front and rear intermittent wipers, adjustable sport seats with easy rear entry, split folding rear seats, remote fuel and hatch releases, radio with in dash CD and Cassette players, leather wrapped steering wheel and anti theft alarm system.

Gas Stats:

24 City and 31 Highway MPG

Pricing:

MSRP $19,510.

2004 Volkswagen Jetta Sedan TDI (509)

Overview:

This week I headed to the Pacific Northwest to test the 2004 Volkswagen Jetta. Why? Because I love that part of the world and this is the weekend for the cattlemen’s Bar B Q in Southern Oregon. It’s a time for fun and games and great Tri Tips to go along with the wonderful people.

Elections are coming up November 2, 2004 so there were down home politicians shaking hands and kissing babies in anticipation of re-election. We had a horseshoe tournament including Commissioners, Sheriffs and members of the House of Representatives and from the Senate. People who put their pants on the same way and have concerns just like the rest of us.   

The trip also gives me a chance to revisit the simple life of wide-open country and fewer folks to contend with both on and off the highways. In Los Angeles you get to test the brakes more and enjoy the ride less. I guess that’s why I live part of the time in L.A. – so I can appreciate the time I get to spend in Oregon.

Everyone is concerned with the rising prices of oil and thus prices at the pump, so this VW handles that concern with 43 mpg on the highway in a Turbo Diesel engine. That’s one way to fight dependence on Middle East oil.

Recently I co-wrote a feature on Clean Diesel in Europe and how much more economical that alternative is. It is more highly refined diesel and there are more diesels in Europe anyway.

General Info:

Parts – 40% Germany, 30% Mexico, Engine – Poland, Transmission – Japan

Assembly – Puebla, Mexico

Class:  – Compact

Cars:  – Golf, GTI, Jetta / Wagon, New Beetle, Passat / Wagon, Phaeton, R32 & Touareg.

Handling & Performance:

Really quite good. I drove from Portland to Medford Oregon in about 4.5 hours and I was never reminded that I had been sitting that long which I did complain about in the New Beetle on the same trek. I also didn’t notice a want for power even if you won’t break any land speed records.

Styling:

I like the very popular look of Mercedes Benz and this VW mimics the look. And generally the design is very nice which is true of all of the new products from VW.

Fit and Finish:

Very good.

Cost:

Also very good. This is a very well appointed sedan for the money.

Conveniences:

Nothing special or unusual. It does have a good size trunk for a Compact rated car.

Consumer Recommendation:

Daughter Jen bought an Acura TL and except for the Navigation system it is not a good trade up from this Jetta. I wish she would listen to me at least when it comes to cars. A fatherly thing to do is to say, “Jen, buy the Jetta and save $16-20,000.

The Competition:

VW Jetta $17-24,000, Dodge Stratus $18-23,000, Acura TSX $26-28,000, Dodge Neon $13-20,000, Honda Civic $13-21,000, Hyundai Elantra $13-15,000, Saturn L300 Sedan $16-23,000, Mitsubishi Lancer $14-30,000, Ford Focus $13-18,000, Toyota Corolla $14-17,000, Nissan Altima $17-27,000, Chevrolet Cavalier $10-18,000, Pontiac Grand Am $22-24,000, Subaru Impreza $18-32,000.

Good News:

Little car price for a 5-seat sedan, great fuel economy, nice styling.

Bad News:

Troublesome seat adjustment

Standard Equipment:

1.9 liter 100 horsepower 4 cylinder engine, TDI – Turbo Diesel Injection / engine, 5-speed auto trans, front wheel drive, antilock power disc brakes, power steering, front and side air bags, child rear door locks, anchors and tethers, air conditioning, cruise control, remote keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, tilt column, height adjustable front seats, split folding rear seat, power glass sunroof with tilt and slide, remote release for gas filler cap and trunk, Monsoon sound system with CD/ cassette player, anti theft system with immobilizer, trip computer. Options included 5-speed tiptronic, ESP Electronic Stabilization Program and cold weather package for heatable front seats and windshield washer nozzles.

Gas Stats:

32 City and 438 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $22,710.

2004 Volkswagen Passat GLS Sedan (505)

Overview:

This weeks test auto is the very popular 2004 Volkswagen GLS Sedan 4Motion (for all wheel drive).

Over the past couple of months I have made the rounds of this companies family of cars. From the very expensive Phaeton to Audi’s A8 to this Passat. There is a similarity between cars from the same country. It suspect it reflects the character of the people a great deal. Japan is meticulous and they pay great attention to detail. The Germans have a way of seeking perfection. Surely both countries are very nationally proud and their work ethic is unsurpassed.  

Well, this German engineered Passat has a lot of impressive cousins and we all know how serious that people are about what they produce. Contrary to some critics this Passat is a fine automobile that has good genetics with the likes of other higher end products. It remains a popular contender in this class and inherits a lot of experience and qualities from its siblings.

General Info:

Parts – 75% Germany

Assembly – Emden, Germany

Class:  – Midsize

Cars:  – Golf, GTI, Jetta / Wagon, New Beetle, Passat / Wagon, Phaeton, R32 & Touareg.

Handling & Performance:

Very good handling characteristics from the 4-Motion all wheel drive, which makes this car fun to drive. However I feel it is a little sluggish and underpowered off the line. But what is more maddening is the delay between pressing down on the accelerator and having to wait for that neck jerk you get when it finally connects. Remember riding a Cushman Scooter with its centrifugal clutch. That’s the sensation you get. Ok, so it dates me but I imagine many of you know what I’m talking about.

Anyway, this criticism carries over to Audi A8 at $72,000 and the Phaeton at $106,000. Ok, so why should I complain about the Passat? Well, I do, and I did make note when reviewing those cars recently. This was an annoying glitch.

Styling:

Very nice. Daughter Jennifer was doing a coin flip between this and the Acura TL. She is extremely pleased with the TL, but I know she would have been equally happy with this VW. The Acura badge is admittedly more prestigious however, and for about the same money. You’ll pay very little more for a similarly equipped Acura.

Fit and Finish:

Outstanding. I believe this VW gets a boost from the common ownership of Audi, VW and Bentley. As mentioned, the Passat, Phaeton and Audi A8 all come from the same family and they have begun to up the class barrier for all company products.

Cost:

Competitive.

Consumer Recommendation:

You won’t go too far wrong with today’s bevy of beautiful automobiles from Germany, where beauty is more than skin deep. German cars exude the image of Solid, well built and sturdy cars. That gives a sense of confidence beyond what America has been building over the past 20 years.

Both Germany and Japan have earned and enjoy the worlds respect due to their build to last philosophy. However consumers today must take a hard look at American competitors for price and overall value.

The Competition:

VW Passat GLS $22-39,000, Dodge Intrepid $21-25,000, Chrysler 300M $29-33,000, Nissan Maxima $27-30,000, Volvo S60 $27-37,000, Chevrolet Impala $22-28,000, Buick Regal $25-29,000, Ford Taurus $20-24,000, Toyota Camry $18-24,000, Saab 9-5 $35-40,000, Honda Accord $16-29,000, Pontiac Bonneville $27-35,000, Acura TL $33-35,000, Mazda 6 $19-23,000, Mitsubishi Galant $18-26,000, Subaru Legacy $21-28,000.

Good News:

Decent fuel economy, top fit and finish and very nice styling.

Bad News:

Underpowered

Standard Equipment:

1.8 liter 170 horsepower 4 cylinder engine, 5-speed auto trans, all wheel drive, electronic differential lock, antilock brakes, power steering, front and side air bags, child rear door locks, theft deterrent system, air conditioning, cruise control, remote keyless entry, power windows and mirrors, split folding rear seat, power glass sunroof with tilt and slide, Monsoon sound system with in dash CD/ cassette player, trip computer. Options included leather package with wood trim, rear sunshade, 5-speed tiptronic, ESP Electronic Stabilization Program.

Gas Stats:

20 City and 28 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $29,125.

2004 VW Phaeton (497)

Overview:

This week I tested the 2004 Volkswagen Phaeton. In ancient Ethiopia Phaeton was the son of an Ethiopian princess and his father was the sun god. Was this the origin of the Phaeton name VW was thinking about or was it inspired by the elegant 1932 Ford Phaeton?

My burning question is how do you sell a VW that is more Bentley like than VW? It also seems odd that they would market this car through Volkswagen dealers. It would seem more appropriate to go through Bentley dealers. VW owns Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini, Skodo (Chek) and Seat (Spanish Fiat).

My friend and car nut, Merkel, sums up the ride as “Subdued Extravagance Optimized.” Merkel is not easily impressed since he’s an engineer by training. So you can imagine how surprised I was to hear his comment that this is a “Lovely Car.” He guessed the price should be around $50,000. Wrong. Try nearly double that!

I agree the Phaeton is overpriced and further, it is understated. Someone said it looks like a Passat on Steroids.

General Info:

Parts – Germany 90%

Assembly – Dresden, Germany

Class:  – Large

Cars: – Golf, GTI, Jetta & Wagon, New Beetle, Passat & Wagon, Phaeton, R32 and Touareg.

Handling & Performance:

D-lightful comfort and extreme when it comes to power. W-12 means exactly that… two V6 engines side by each and it produces 420 horsepower to really impress you. If it doesn’t you are asleep. I understand this engine will also be available in the Audi A8, which is built at the same plant in Dresden, Germany.

The speedometer goes up to 200 mph and I have little reason to doubt it would do that. I couldn’t find a place here in the United States where I couldn’t quite push the needle that far over. But it does move from 0-100 faster than most cars can go from 0-60.

Auto engineer and professor Merkel feels the transmission is not up to the capability of the engine. I happen to agree that it needs work and I was irritated by the delay between pressing the accelerator and the transmission actually engaging.

Only a handful of automobiles today employ ESP – electronic stabilization program – and it is wonderful. This technology will save a lot of lives and it is standard on this car.

Styling:

Understated elegance.

Fit and Finish:

Pristine. Wonderful attention to detail.

Conveniences:

I happen to love the On-Star feature, but the controls are so sophisticated they are almost invisible.

The Navigation system is awful and turns out to be a liability rather than an asset. There is no nice way to say it. It sucks, big time. And it is endemic of the German carmakers electronics. Audi, Mercedes, BMW and Audi are all terrible. The engineers need to look to the American and Japanese approach to interfacing with the driver and passengers since they do a far better job. Simply put, the longer you must fiddle around at the particular workstation / feature in question the LESS you will want to use that feature. I actually could not justify spending any more time trying to enter an address. I could easily have reached my destination faster than the time it would have taken to input the information. I should have known this would not be easy when they gave me a quick start booklet.

Cost:

Merkel’s guess as well as others I asked all figured this Phaeton would cost about $50,000. Guess again. How about two out of three?

Consumer Recommendation:

I discussed this car at length with Merkel as a sounding board and the conclusion is I can’t recommend purchase of this vehicle in the first year of production. VW looks to the consumer to do their QC (quality control), which is an unspoken company policy. (Insider information.) Frankly I have neither the time nor the patience to hang out at the dealership.

And the case in point is that I did find some subtle flaws I’m sure will cause the consumer headaches. An example is the preciseness of the ignition key. I had a lot of difficulty and several times was worried that I might actually not get the car started. This is the opposite philosophy of Japanese carmakers. They build a car that doesn’t break. Then they give it to the consumer. What a novel idea.

The Competition:

VW Phaeton $65-80,000, Acura RL $45,600, Audi A8 $68,500, Volvo S80 $35-49,000, Jaguar XJ Series $60-75,000, Lexus LS 430 $55,375, BMW 7 Series $69-117,000, Mercedes Benz S-Class $74-123,000, Infiniti Q45, $52-62,000.

Good News:

Outstanding elegance even if a little understated, fast and uplifting to drive.

Bad News:

Terribly difficult to use NAV system and On-Star is poorly displayed, fuel economy is lousy and to add insult to injury you’ll pay a gas-guzzler tax of about $3,000. That will smart a little.

Standard Equipment:

6.0 liter 420 horsepower W-12 48 valve engine, all wheel drive, auto leveling air suspension and electronic damping control (EDC), electronic stabilization program (ESP), 4-wheel ABS power assist disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution (EBD), engine braking control (EBC), power steering, dual front air bags and side air bags front and rear, child tethers, tire pressure monitors system, anti theft alarm with motion sensor and immobilizer system, Xenon headlights and washer system, auto headlights, climate control, remote keyless entry, rain sensor and heated windshield washer nozzles, power one-touch windows, power opening and closing trunk, leather seating, genuine wood accents, 18-way driver and 16 way passenger power seats ventilated with air conditioning, heat and massage feature with lumbar support and memory function, heated rear seats, rear pass through with ski bag, rear power sunshade with side window shades, power adjustable steering wheel, power glass sunroof, HomeLink system, Navigation system with visual and audible commands, trip computer, heated leather wrapped multifunction steering wheel, 270 watt sound system with digital sound processing (DSP) and 6-disc CD changer, OnStar system,

Gas Stats:

12 City and 19 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $94,615.