Category Archives: Volkswagen

2003 VW Passat W8 (475)

Overview:

This week I had the opportunity to drive Jenny’s dream car of the week, VW Passat W8 Sedan. Jen is my daughter and she’s been looking at it because it has the BMW look. So why not buy a BMW? No, I take that back Jen, don’t listen to me… what am I saying, she doesn’t listen to me anyway.

BMW has historically been a product that is expensive to repair and maintain. Yes, things are changing and that has more to do with today’s technology that allows for longer intervals between tune-ups and better brake components.

Ok, so I like the Passat but it is expensive. When I’m spending my money it is expensive, when I’m spending someone else’s money, it isn’t all that bad. The boss blows money like it comes easily, so why should I worry about saving it? Right? Am I right? Isn’t that the way it works? Would you go to dinner and buy a $100 bottle of wine like the boss, or would you buy two buck Chuck?

Enough already… people will buy what moves them at the moment. We’re impulsive creatures who demand instant gratification in general. So, damn the torpedo’s, full speed ahead. And at the end of the day that is what makes the economy so vibrant. Jen – Buy the Passat if you want it. Or wait for your birthday and Marc will buy it for you. If you wait for me, you’ll be walking. If that doesn’t sound like most parents I’ll eat my keyboard.

General Info:

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

Assembly – Mosel, Germany

Class:  – Compact Cars

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

Handling & Performance:

Fasssssssssssssst. Well maybe it should Fassst. The W8 makes a big difference Jen tells me. She went to the dealer and test-drove the V6. Then when I stopped by with the W8 it was fresh on her mind that this was more like it. “Dad, I want to get into auto racing. Can you help me?” No, Jen. Can’t you slow down, breathe through your nose? Have more kids or something. Forget about fast cars. Next thing you know, you’ll want to go dancing.

Styling:

There has been a nice progression in this model. It has matured and moved up in class. Nice job VW. It reminds me of Chrysler and Nissan more recently. It’s like they got a blood transfusion and have new life.

Fit and Finish:

Generally German quality is excellent and this is no exception. VW must have made a lot of money on those cheap ass cars over the years and now they’re getting a little snooty by appealing to the higher end buyer. Us common folks aren’t good enough any longer, eh? Eh, is Canadian for “isn’t that right”?

Conveniences:

A lot of them and you’ll pay dearly for them.

Cost:

More than I expected. Why don’t they ease into price hikes? Give us a break. On the flip side however it does have “Real” wood trim (as if there were another kind of wood). Still too much money.

Consumer Recommendation:

Unless you have a burning desire for speed, go for the V6 and drop unnecessary features to cut the cost. Model Range includes the GL, GLS, GLX and W8. Sunroof, leather can be dropped but don’t drop the ESP. The GLS will also allow you to have the AWD (4-Motion). In any case, somewhere between the GL and the W8 you can build your own and eliminate the non-essentials for a price that fits your budget. What you will get without all the frills is a German engineered car built for the Autobahn’s of Germany. Ok, so you’ll have to travel to a no speed limit state to truly enjoy the capability.

The Competition:

VW Passat $22-39,000, Saab 9-5 $34-39,000, Dodge Intrepid $21-25,000, Chrysler 300M $29-33,000, Nissan Maxima $27-29,000, Volvo S60 $27-37,000, Chevrolet Impala $21-27,000, Buick Regal $24-29,000, Ford Taurus $20-23,000, Toyota Camry $19-25,000, Subaru Legacy $20-25,000, Honda Accord $16-29,000.

Good News:

German engineering, high quality construction and features like real wood trim, fast and AWD fun to drive.

Bad News:

Pricey with all the features standard on the W8. So-so mileage.

Standard Equipment:

4.0 liter 270 horsepower V8 engine, 6-speed manual trans, all wheel drive (they call it 4-Motion), Electronic Stabilization Program (ESP), front and side airbags, side curtain protection airbag, auto leveling, fog lights, child safety locks tethers and anchors, Anti-lock brake system (ABS), theft deterrent system, climate control, cruise control, in-dash CD and cassette players, remote keyless entry, power windows and locks, power heated mirrors, tilt and tele leather wrapped multifunction steering wheel, leather seating with power front adjustable seats with lumbar support, heated windshield washer nozzles, HomeLink communications system, Wood interior trim, rain sensor wipers, 17” alloy wheels, sport suspension, power glass sunroof with tilt and shade and Monsoon sound system.

Gas Stats:

17 City and 24 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $39,400.

2003 Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible GLS (469)

Overview:

This week’s test car was the 2003 Volkswagen New Beetle Convertible GLS. I like to revisit the most popular cars and trucks because more people care about those. I drove this VW when it first came out for 1999 and in the tradition of VW it remains pretty much the same in look and feel.

In fact they still have the same uncomfortable seats. I blasted the seats before but they must not read my column or more likely they don’t give a s… ahh, hoot. Ok, more importantly, it’s what YOU think. Let me hear from you so I can pass it along to VW. Email me at joe@atthewheel.com.

General Info:

Parts –  US/Canadian 8%, Germany 40%, Mexico 22%. Engine: Mexico Transmission: Japan

Assembly – Puebla, Mexico

Class:  – Mini Compact

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

Handling & Performance:

If it weren’t for the damn seats it is a really good road car. Not like the early days of VW where a stiff wind could literally blow you from one lane to the other.

VW’s are good around town and commuter cars. You can maneuver in traffic and they are easy to park. However, it doesn’t take the bumps very well and bottoms out much to easily.

The turbo version is nice but the added power isn’t justified for the added cost as far as I can see. The fact is there are no highways that allow the speeds possible in the non-turbo, so why spend the money.

If you have ever driven the original VW bug of the 1950’s and 1960’s you’ll notice the absence of clutch chatter and that “Tin Can” feeling you came to love so. The only similarity between old and new is the shape.

Styling:

I am disappointed with the uncomfortable seats but the tradeoff is the ingenious way they have designed those same seats to fold up and forward for rear seat access. Long trips however will seem longer.

I still can’t get used to the engine being in the front and when I pop the trunk I expect a greasy engine instead of a carpeted trunk. On the other hand it looks more like a “Glove Compartment”.

Is this really a ladies car? Surely a color change from “Mellow Yellow” will make a lot of difference but I can’t help seeing Walt Disney’s “Herbie – The Love Bug” when I look at this cute-as-a-bug Beetle. I’d love it for my daughter but would feel funny buying one for my son. I guess I’d want him to have a muscle, macho manly car that smells more like grease, oil and gas than flowers in the vaaaze – know what I mean? It is said that moms make him a little boy but it takes the father to make him a man.

The most noticeable feature of this car is the “Cathedral Ceiling”. I think they must have had basketball players like Wilt Chamberlin or Michael Jordan in mind when they designed in the headroom. I feel like Lilly Tomlin’s Edith Ann character in her oversize rocking chair.

Fit and Finish:

Excellent – with that homey feeling. The vaaaze (vase) is a nice touch, but a little effeminate. Or do you think guys should be a little more sensitive to such things.

Conveniences:

If they made the rear seat pass through larger you could get a set of golf clubs in the trunk but they didn’t, so forget the clubs. You could put them in the back seat and forget the friends. On a positive note, you won’t have to drive when the guys get together for a day on the links.

Cost:

Not bad actually. When they first came out you’d have to pay a premium but now I believe you can buy them closer to the MSRP.

Consumer Recommendation:

Great chick car but I doubt you’ll find many macho guys tooling around town in one.

The Competition:

VW New Beetle $16-26,000, Saturn SC $13-16,000, Hyundai Tiburon $16-19,000, Mitsubishi Eclipse $18-28,000, Subaru Impreza $19-31,000, Toyota Corolla $14-15,000, Ford Focus $13-19,000, Honda Civic $13-21,000, Toyota Celica $17-24,000, Toyota Echo $10-11,000.

Good News:

Priced well, fun to drive, ok gas mileage, good commuter car, solid ride, brilliant front seat movement for rear seat access and decent rear seat legroom.

Bad News:

Uncomfortable seats and limited cargo area.

Standard Equipment:

2.0 liter 115 hp 4-cylinder engine, front wheel drive, power steering, 4-wheel anti-lock disc braking system, dual front and side airbags, child anchor system, semi automatic convertible top, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and door locks, power mirrors, remote trunk and fuel doors, rear cargo pass through, anti-theft alarm and immobilizer system.

Gas Stats:

22 City and 29 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $21,850.

2003 Volkswagen EuroVan MV (463)

Overview:

This week I looked at the 2003 Volkswagen EuroVan MV, for Multi Van, Camper version, meaning it has a pop up top with a bed and the third row bench seat pulls forward to make into another bed. I like to camp and this gave me the opportunity to shake down the van in the environment it was made for. All things considered it was good. Not great, but good.

Surely the ride was smooth and designed for the autobahn where speed limit is to my liking – None. But here in the US it is unlikely you’d ever get the chance to see if it would reach 200 KPH or 120 MPH let alone the speedometer that indicates 160 MPH. I don’t think so.

My better half said repeatedly that she likes it, and gives it thumbs up during and after our camping outing, while I’m less impressed and find several thumbs down issues. I wasn’t as comfortable, for example, in the upper sleeping area. I think it would be fine for children and the lower rear fold down seat that makes into a bed would be better for adults. The upper was just too claustrophobic for me. You can’t lie on your back and put your knees up without hitting the top.

General Info:

Parts –  US/Canadian 1%, Germany 75%.

Assembly –  Hannover, Germany

Class:  – Passenger Van

Cars: – EuroVan, Golf, Jetta, Jetta Wagon, New Beetle, Passat, Passat Wagon & Touareg.

Fit and finish is very good with the exception of the bottom rough unfinished look.

Camper version with pop up top for 7 feet of clearance up front. The problem is the clearance drops at the rear. A scissor lift apparatus would have been a better choice for lifting the top… in my opinion.

Handling & Performance:

Drives great with smooth ride. It stands tall, so you do get that tipsy feeling but I never did feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

Remember when VW’s were synonymous with slow? Not any longer. VW finally caught up with the “fast” women of the free love 60’s.

Styling:

The van sits very high which is even taller with the pop up on the camper version. Sitting high is nice for visibility but the bus-like seating requires a step that makes entry and exit as difficult as an SUV. Other current van designs are low slung with easier driver and front passenger access. VW also does not offer double sliding doors, as do competitive vans. But at the end of the day there aren’t any real competitors to the Camper version of this EuroVan.

VW has designed into the MV Camper the pop-top, but it lifts from the front with lots of room up front while narrowing to zero at the back. I believe they could have made it a scissor lift that would give the same clearance front and back.

Fit and Finish:

Generally VW is excellent and that is the case here, but I was surprised at the unsightly unfinished look around the bottom of the body.

Conveniences:

The shift is mounted on the floor, which requires an awkward reach.

Cost:

The MV Camper version I tested was over $32,000. That includes the Pop Up with a bed, a fold up table, and a rear bench seat that pulls forward for another bed. There was no refrigerator in my test vehicle but I understand it is a part of the camper package. The cost can’t be compared with the competition because the VW is unique. This is the only Camper mini-RV, so the price is not bad in that sense.

Consumer Recommendation:

If you want a quick get-a-way vehicle for a small family, or a longer trip for two this is a great way to go. You can avoid hotel room costs and avoid costly restaurants with a refer. There are so many campsites around the country with bath facilities including showers you can travel simply and cost effectively.

The Competition:

VW EuroVan $26-32,000, Chevrolet Venture $21-33,000, Chrysler Town & Country $24-37,000, Chrysler Voyager $21-24,000, Dodge Caravan $20-35,000, Kia Sedona $20-22,000, Mazda MPV $22-26,000, Oldsmobile Silhouette $28-36,000, Toyota Sienna $23-37,000.

Good News:

Comfortable, spacious, versatile, powerful, second row seats can be easily removed.

Bad News:

Only fair mileage, cramped upper sleeper albeit ok for kids, awkward entry and exit, poor finish around bottom skirt, only one sliding door, no entertainment package offered and jerky accelerator.

Standard Equipment:

2.8-liter 201 hp V6 engine, front wheel drive, ESP electronic stabilization program, 4-speed auto transmission, power steering, independent suspension, power ABS braking system, dual front airbags, daytime running lights, height adjustable front seat belts, climate control, cruise control, stereo with cassette, power front windows, child safety rear door lock and anchors, remote keyless entry, power heatable outside mirrors, rear window washer and wiper, 3-place bench seat that is removable and converts to bed, fog lights, theft deterrent system, folding table, window curtains and rear cargo shelf.

Gas Stats:

17 City and 20 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $32,395.

2003 Volkswagen Jetta GLS 1.8T Wagon (462)

Overview:

This weeks test vehicle was the 2003 Volkswagen Jetta GLS 1.8T(Turbo) Wagon. My friend Rusty says, “this drives like my BMW. And are you sh…. kidding me about the price? I’m guessing in the $40’s.” No Rusty, I’m not kidding, but now that you mention it I am beginning to doubt what I recall was the window sticker.

Ok, so I verified it and Rusty says, “I’m a big guy (6’5” about 230 lbs) and this is really comfortable. And what did you say it got for mileage?” I didn’t Rusty, but it is almost 30 miles per gallon and at the current prices of gas in the US at about $2.00 a gal, this is a big plus. Rusty agreed and thought he would look further into owning one of these Jetta Wagons. But I told him to hold his horses and wait for the full review because he should look at the competition too.

General Info:

Parts –  US/Canadian 1%, Germany 70%, Transmission Japan.

Assembly –  Wolfsburg, Germany

Class:  – Small Station Wagon

Cars: – Eurovan, Golf, Jetta, Jetta Wagon, New Beetle, Passat, Passat Wagon & Touareg.

Handling & Performance:

Ok, so it does feel like a BMW in its presentation and handling. It has a lot of the qualities of the Saab 9-5 Wagon too, but even if you add leather and power seats to bring the Swedish Saab and the German VW Jetta to a level playing field, the Saab will set you back a full $10,000 more. Jetta is definitely fun to drive and the turbo will flat impress you for a 1.8-liter engine. It will satisfy you hunger for power, but what do you expect from a German car?

Styling:

Well, I like it a lot. The lines are clean and they’ve designed in a lot of space for a car with small exterior dimensions.

Fit and Finish:

Excellent. It smacks of the appearance of much more expensive cars. I’m impressed, and I don’t impress easily.

Conveniences:

Neck and neck with the competition for less money. Good going VW. And they even throw in a sunroof.

Cost:

Very good by any measure and surely far and away ahead of the competition.

Consumer Recommendation:

Perhaps the closest competitor (for the money) is the Subaru Impreza but I’d still opt for the Jetta. I’m pleased to say this is a winner and I put a lot of miles on it for a full road test. I traveled up to Salinas, California in the central coastal region of the state. That’s right next to the beautiful Monterey / Carmel area on the coast. Salinas is the lettuce capital of the world for you trivia buffs but I picked up some artichokes, which, incidentally, were great.

The Competition:

VW Jetta Wagon $18-21,000, Audi A4 Avant $28-34,000, BMW 3-Series Sport Wagon $30-32,000, Chrysler PT Cruiser $17-27,000, Ford Focus Wagon $17-18,000, Mazda Protege5 $17,000, Mercedes Benz C Class Wagon $31-37,000, Saab 9-5 Wagon $35-40,000, Subaru Impreza Wagon $18-24,000.

Good News:

Outstanding pricing, good mileage, powerful with the Turbo, roomy and it even comes standard with a power glass sunroof with tilt.

Bad News:

Turbo adds power but it is jerky off the line. I’d think that could have been done better.

Standard Equipment:

1.8-liter turbo 180 hp 4-cylinder engine, front wheel drive, anti-slip feature, electronic locking differential, power steering, independent strut front suspension, power ABS disc braking system, daytime running lights, front and side airbags, Side curtain head impact airbags for driver, front and rear passengers, height adjustable front seat belts, adjustable front head restraints, child safety rear door locks and anchors, air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, power heatable outside mirrors, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, center armrest, rear wiper washer system, split folding rear seat, roof rails, and cargo area cover.

(If you want a 5 speed automatic transmission add $1,075. Leather package that includes leather seats, heatable front seats, heated windshield washer and leather wrapped multi-function steering wheel, add another $1,050 – which is all worth it in my view).

Gas Stats:

22 City and 29 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $21,240.

2002 VW New Beetle Turbo S (384)

Overview:

This week I’m reflecting on my week in the Pacific Northwest in a Volkswagen Beetle Turbo S. How sweet it is, Jackie Gleason used to say. And I must admit, this is a pretty impressive little car that is more Porsche than VW in my opinion. In fact, most of the production is sold in Europe where consumers don’t view the New Beetle as a super simple, basic economy car as we do in this country.

But this car is truly at home on the autobahn fast lane along with Mercedes, Audi and BMW. I, like lots of folks out there, have owned a VW sometime in their lives. If like me this car helped get you through college. But even after college I found it was also good for my then young family when we bought a 1970 model. It was solid and light-years ahead of the 1960’s vintage that got me through school. Today’s New Beetle is so far advanced over either of those it is a contradiction to the name it bears.

General Info:

Parts – 30% Germany 30% Mexico 12% U.S. & Canadian

Assembly – Puebla, Mexico

Class: Sub-Compact

Volkswagen Cars: Cabrio, Eurovan, Golf, Jetta, Beetle, Passat.

Handling & Performance:

Hold on to your hat. This is going to be “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”. Remember when Disneyland had different tickets? Well this would be an “E” Ticket with a turbo that jerks the steering wheel in your hand when it kicks in. The electronic stabilization program works well in helping the driver stay out of trouble. An error warning light accompanies the engine and braking assist for demanding maneuvers. This is usually only found on more expensive cars. The speedometer goes to 160 but it is electronically governed for a max 130 mph.

Styling:

You either love it or hate it. Sure it looks like VW of yesteryear but with today’s technology. Each year they give it a nicer, sleeker and sporty looking car that is breaking out of the traditional VW Beetle I grew up with.

Fit and Finish:

Really quite good in spite of the stereotype “Made in Mexico” conjures up. But, it is only assembled in Mexico and most of the components, particularly the engine and transmission for example are made in Germany. In any case they still have a good work ethic there and do a good job putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Southern Californian’s will remember when the hot ticket was to go get your car “Tuck and Rolled” in Tijuana, Mexico?

Conveniences:

VW Beetles (Bugs) were skimpily equipped in the “Good?” old days. Of course that’s when men were men and you didn’t need no heat or air conditioning. Well, the truth is we simply weren’t spoiled yet. Today’s New Beetle is equipped with everything you’d ever want included as standard equipment.

Cost:

Not bad for how this car handles and how well equipped it is, but after you replace the horrid seats the cost may be high than you’d like.

Consumer Recommendation:

I hate to say it, but I wouldn’t buy this car for one important reason. The seats are terribly uncomfortable, especially on a long trip.

Manufacturer Recommendations:

Whoever designed the seats should be taken out and shot. Vee have vays of getting better seats, and buying a different car is one way.

The Competition:

Ford Focus $12-18,000, Honda Civic $13-21,000, Hyundai Tiburon $14,000, Mitsubishi Eclipse $18-26,000, Saturn SC $13-16,000, Subaru Impreza $19-24,000, Toyota Celica $17-22,000, Toyota Corolla $13-15,000, Toyota Echo $10-11,000.

Good News:

Faster’n snot, smooth ride and fun to drive, great warranty and roadside assistance that is standard along with an impressive list including leather and sun roof.

Bad News:

Horribly uncomfortable seats after a short 30 miles or so, premium gas required, limited production said to be only 5,000 for 2002 out of 55,000 being built.

Standard Equipment:

1.8 liter 180 horsepower 20 valve 4-cylinder turbo charged engine, 6-speed manual trans, front wheel drive, 4-wheel ABS disc brakes, power steering, speed activated rear spoiler, electronic stabilization program (ESP), fog lights, dual front and side airbags, immobilizer anti-theft system, leather, power heated mirrors, stereo with cassette, air conditioning, power windows and door locks, cruise control, glass power sun roof, and remote keyless entry.

Gas Stats:

23 City and 30 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $23,400.

2000 Volkswagen Jetta GLS VR6 (281)

Overview:

This Jetta GLS will put the VW kick back in your britches. I’ve owned a few over the years and always liked them. I’ve had two “bugs” and one Karmann Ghia. Those were fun driving days and this Jetta brought back that old feeling.

Yes, that one too. The ride is solid, fun and as “cool” as it was then. However, those were basic V-dub’s and the Beetle was popular in nearly every circle. The reasons were economic for most and simply “cool”, or “in” for others. Basic was good for the majority because the 1950’s weren’t all that far removed from the end of WWII. People could relate to rationing. The mindset was a mix of save, conserve, rebuild, re-use etc., and “splurge” after all the lean years. The 1950’s were “Happy Day’s” times. You were happy with anything. 

Well, people fell in love with VW’s and even fell in love “in” them. Impossible you say. Nothing is impossible. We’ve learned that too. Well, VW’s today have grown and perhaps there is only a slim resemblance to the old. Not even the New Beetle is a basic car. This Jetta I tested had a moon roof and luxury things that take it out of the basic car category. Air conditioning in the “Old” Beetle was crank open all the windows and drive like – well, fast, which wasn’t very. I remember driving up to Las Vegas in the Ghia in a kind of caravan with friends. They all had big American cars with V8’s and they’d pull way ahead going uphill and I’d put the pedal to the metal downhill and catch them. We got there the same time, but for the two of us in the Ghia it was “Mr. Todd’s Wild Ride”. Those things were light and a puff of wind could blow you off the road. Somehow we survived but those escapades gave me sleepless nights when my own kids were out driving after dark. Know what I mean?

Handling & Performance:

Not a road racer since it felt a little loosy-goosey to me. I didn’t feel real “in control”. But it was fun to drive in the context of normal day-to-day driving – zipping around town.

Styling:

but usual. If I wanted different I’d go for the New Beetle or the Audi TT. It isn’t as roomy as you’d expect a 4-door to be.

Fit and Finish:

It’s good like most German cars. Japanese are also better, by and large, than most American competitors. However, you get what you pay for and I’m not sure it’s worth the cost. American cars still seem to have that good old Ford attitude of production line, crank ’em out quickly and make them affordable. And that brings us to cost.

Cost:

For me, VW made getting through college easier. I, like most struggling college students, didn’t have a lot of dough so low operating costs for gas and maintenance was a big help. But things have changed and VW is no longer a low cost car, unless you consider about $20,000 low. That’s where you’ll find prices for the New Beetle and this Jetta. If you want economy you’ll have to go to Saturn, Daewoo Lanos, Chevy Metro, Honda Civic, Kia, Mitsubishi Mirage and Toyota Echo with prices ranging from about $9,000 – $12,000. At these prices that’s even less than the VW bug was back in the early 1960’s considering relative value of the dollar. Money doubles every 10 years at 7%, so $1,500 for a new Beetle then would be well over $12,000 today. So – bottom line, it’s a little pricey for what you get.

Generally, for what we use a car for, and for how long we keep them, it makes more sense (to me) to buy based on price in this “Economy or Compact Car” category. In that regard, I’ve tested all of the competition noted below and for transportation, all are quite equal. So my recommendation is go for the Price Leader.

The Competition:

Chevrolet Malibu $16,460-19,090, Dodge Stratus $15,910-19,810, Ford Contour $16,845-22,715, Honda Civic $10,750-17,545, Nissan Altima $15,140-20,390, Oldsmobile Alero $15,675-21,365, Pontiac Grand Am $15,920-21,350, Saturn LS $15,010-20,135.

Good News:

Solid feel, fun to drive, good fuel economy.

Bad News:

A little pricey for what you get, drive train seemed a little noisy, not roomy.

Standard Equipment:

2.8 liter 174 hp V6 engine, front wheel drive, 4 speed automatic transmission, anti lock braking system, air conditioning, power windows, door locks outside mirrors, cruise control, split folding rear seat, leather, stereo sound system, remote access to trunk and fuel filler, dual front and side airbags, remote access system, anti-theft alarm system.

Gas Stats:

19 City and 26 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $23,970

1999 Volkswagen EuroVan MV (230)

Overview:

Well getting into this VW Euro Van MV was a bit of a disappointment after all the good things I heard around the industry. You know, like when people say go see this movie, and it stinks. Don’t get me wrong, this van doesn’t stink, and there were only a few disappointments we’ll touch on later. The most obvious difference from Vans of old is the power you get from the new 140-horsepower, 2.8-liter six-cylinder VR6 engine.

In the 1970s I had an older Dodge window van with a big V8. What else from an American automaker, right! What a boat that was. Anyway I was reminded of it as I stepped on the gas in this VW and it actually responded. But it was also smooth and quiet. That old Dodge was a real piece of work – a classic example of Brute muscle and no class. The VW vans of old, on the other hand, had a lot of personality and but absolutely no “GO”. Remember?

I haven’t reviewed many “Camper” style vans, which is what this really is and one of the three trims in fact “is” the classic camper version. Remember the hippie days of the 1960s and the multi colored mural or simply rusty looking VW vans? They were really “In” in those days and probably more because they were V-dub’s. It became a symbol of rebellion and anti-establishment sentiment of the day. It was the beginning of the breakaway from traditional American cars. But like the bug, it too could hardly get out of its own way.

I had mixed emotions about the rear passenger area and seats that face each other. But the difference is, of course, a result of the Camper origin of this van, and has some real advantages. I think mom’s and dad’s will appreciate the layout and the inclusion of a folding table and florescent lighting over it. That will give the kids more to do than kick each other and make faces and all that stuff kids do. The rear storage space is good, and because of the high profile of the Euro Van (about 8 inches taller than the Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan), you can haul tall things. Something else you can do in this EuroVan MV you can’t in other minivans, is sleep. The rearmost bench seat opens flat to meet a pad in the back cargo area that together forms a cushioned flat expanse from the back of the front seatbacks to the tailgate. They even come with curtains that just snap over the windows for privacy.

I found getting in and out a bit difficult and I tired of that quickly. It was like getting up into one of those U-Haul trucks when you decide to move and “do-it-yourself”. But in that situation you get to take those back to U-Haul who still own ‘em. Another negative is there’s only one side door, on the passenger side, and it slides manually. Stylish American and Japanese vans are much more convenient by contrast and thus this complaint is very real. While most Euro Van buyers will miss the dual sliding side doors and the power-operated options that aren’t available, VW lovers will embrace this van for other reasons. It’s European. It’s quality built. It looks different from other competitors, and that alone will be reason enough for some to buy it.

Although I like Euro Van’s newfound power, handling is quite another matter. Unlike the low slung competitive vans, the high profile Euro Van takes corners in a “Tipsy” sort of way. That will be a little unsettling for those with a heavy foot and little respect for curvy roads. When it comes to dips the suspension reacts like a tugboat in high seas – stable but rolling motion nontheless. I haven’t been on the bounding mane in a while and rather like the motion anyway. So if you don’t get seasick the ride probably won’t bother you either.

I’ve driven all the competition except the Pontiac Montana and Ford’s Windstar but for the dough Honda Odyssey edges out the others.

The Competition:

Chevrolet Venture $20- $23, Chrysler Town & Country $27 – $36K, Dodge Caravan $18 – $31, Ford Windstar $18- $30K, Honda Odyssey $23 – $25K, Mercury Villager $22 – $25K, Nissan Quest $22 – $26K, Oldsmobile Silhouette $24 – $31K, Plymouth Voyager $18 – $22K, Pontiac Montana $21 – $23K, Toyota Sienna $21 – $26K.

Good News:

European quality workmanship, powerful, roomy, camper like convenience.

Bad News:

Floats over dips, stepladder entry, poor gas economy, one manual sliding side door, boxy styling.

Standard Equipment:

2.8-liter 140-horsepower VR6 engine, front wheel drive, 4-speed automatic trans, independent suspension, power rack and pinion steering, alloy wheels, 4-wheel anti-lock brakes, dual airbags, traction control, child safety locks, Climate control, cruise control, heated power mirrors, intermittent wipers, rear window wiper / washer, power windows and door locks, and an AM/FM stereo cassette, folding table with fluorescent light over the passenger area, snap-on curtains

Gas Stats:

15 City and 20 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $31 – $34K.

1999 VW Beetle (229)

Overview:

Car enthusiasts couldn’t wait for the return of the VW Beetle and now it’s here complete with a vaaase for a flower. Unique? Sure. A VW? Not really. It kind of looks like one, but that’s where the story ends. It sets on the same chassis as the Golf, has an in-line 4-cylinder 2.0 liter 115 horsepower engine supplying more than adequate power.

Later in 1999 they will even offer a 1.8-liter turbocharged 150 horsepower engine for those who like to fly. That will be the same engine that now powers the PASSAT GLS. There are so many departures from the original concept of the VW Bug that it is a “bridge too far”. It really is a totally different car. Hey, it even has trunk space right where you’d expect it to be, in the rear. It is also very comfortable unlike the original Beetles of old that were simply bare bones putt putts. Remember how the whole car would shudder when you let out the clutch? The engine roared but performed like a pussycat. Remember the gravity feed heater that never worked? Anyway, among other differences this new release is quiet, doesn’t shake rattle or roll, handles and feels like a bigger car, and the heater – it even works. The dome light is missing from the high ceiling that is reminiscent and even higher than the original version, and unlike the original plain wrap, the new embellished version sports an interior that is almost luxurious. The dash lights are a blue/purple color with a splash of red for some of the indicators. I like it. It adds a touch of class…very pretty.

In spit of all the embellishments, it’s an experience that’s anything but elegant. It’s like a toy. It’s cutesy, a bit clumsy, and a little cludgey. It’s like Herbie is a nerd. It draws attention, but I fear it’s more because it’s a bit of a freak rather than because it’s good looking or desirable. When I was in college driving a Bug, they didn’t win any beauty contests either. It was ugly by comparison to the cars of the day. Perhaps it will grow on me, as did the four V-dubs I’ve owned over the years.

As you probably know, the Volkswagen Beetle was introduced in America in the late fifties and much like other cars from Europe and the rest of the world, practical was more important than the glitz so popular in the U.S. After all Americans had practical up to their ears with the Ford Model A that was mass-produced so everyone could own one. In fact Ford wrote the book on “plain wrap”, and the term “basic black” must have come from the fact that the Ford Model A only came in black. At least the VW came in a few other colors.

Well, I needed basic as a newly married struggling college student. And because the perception of “basic” was firmly implanted in my pea brain, I guess I expected VW’s re-emerging Bug to be more similar in that it would be more basic. But “different” is what we got in this radical departure from the concept of what drew me and lots of other young and / or poor people, to the Beetle, back then. It was popular because it was cheap to own and operate, relative to American cars of that postwar time. VW was the antithesis of the opulent, oversized sleds coming out of Detroit. They were right in what people wanted but not what they needed. VW proved Detroit wrong and the years that followed saw the proliferation of smaller cars. So much so, it forced American to downsize. Funny, today that word means you’re fired. Anyway, the fad and fashion, for once, was practical and fit the pocketbook to boot. Had Hollywood and GI Joe American’s totally lost their grip?

Well, here are a few more differences I noticed from the original Bugs. Because it is more car-like and has the power you need on the highways today, you can keep up with or pass traffic. If they don’t move, the horn even sounds like a horn. I almost never use the horn, but just had to see if it sounded different. Driving this new Beetle necessarily took me back in time and I recalled the 1960’s when we had a Karman Ghia (different shape, but still a VW) and we’d drive to Las Vegas often to visit friends. Miles of traffic would pass us going uphill and then I’d floor it and pass all of them going downhill. I must have felt it necessary to keep up, but it was a bit risky because if a puff of wind came up you’d likely get blown off the road. No kidding, those V-dubs were really light. The fact that this VW is more substantial was very noticeable.

Ok, so it’s a nice car but I couldn’t shake the feeling I was in a bumper car reminiscent of those you find at amusement parks like the Long Beach Pike. I know what a little kid senses, looking up at a grown up world. Remember Laugh-Ins’ Lilly Tomlin who portrayed a little girl with freckles and pigtails sitting on that oversized rocking chair. That’s what I mean. Michael Jordan would fit fine in this Bug, but he too may feel the posts hinder visibility a bit. I got the feeling of sitting a little too low but that’s what gives it stability even at higher speeds. It’s like VW got older but it still hadn’t grown up, completely. Yep, it’s like no VW you’ve ever driven. And by any measure VW has, and continues to be one of the most talked about cars in the world. Perhaps the new Beetle has drawn a lot of attention because there are too many boring cars these days. Are we too serious about our cars? Are we starved for fun in the cars we drive? Is that why there has been such a revival of the rods of the 1950’s and anxious waiting for the New Beetle. People want something different. Well this Beetle is different. In fact, when I stand in front of it, I half expect it to start talking to me in some animated way.

The very fact that the industry lists competition for the VW Beetle speaks volumes about the departure from the old Bug where there was no noticeable competition in the 1950s and early 1960s. It was simply in a class all by itself.

The Competition:

Chevrolet Cavalier $11,871 – $19,571, Dodge Neon $11,620 – $13,585, Ford Escort $11,455 – $13,290, Honda Civic $10,650 – $16,730, Mazda Protege $11,970 – $14,925, Nissan Altima $14,990 – $19,990, Subaru Impreza $15,895 – $19,195, Toyota Corolla $12,218 – $14,868.

Good News:

Pricing is fair for the quality. Responsive and fun to zip around in. Good road handling.

Bad News:

Departs from the super economy car class. Some visibility blind spots.

Standard Equipment:

2.0 liter engine, 4-wheel disc brakes, power rack and pinion steering, front engine/front drive, front and side airbags, power mirrors, tilt and teli steering wheel, stereo with 6 speakers, air conditioning, leatherette interior and power door locks with remote control.

Gas Stats:

22 City and 27 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

MSRP $15,200, and the model I tested had Cruise Control and Power Windows for $470, Sport Package / Alloy wheels and fog lights for $410, Anti-lock brakes for $300 and 4-speed automatic Trans for $875 for a total of 17,755 after destination charges.

Your comments are welcomed. My e-mail is movello@earthlink.net

1997 Volkswagen Passat GLS Sedan (169)

Overview:

Two years ago I drove the VW Passat and was impressed. Today it’s even better, which goes to show you that we do learn from history, contrary to popular belief. I found this newer evolved Passat to be a wonderful mid-sized 5 passenger family car. It not only has nice European styling; it has the toughness of German built cars for the autobahn.

I didn’t drive a VW on the autobahn, but they are a definite presence there. I suspect that is why they come standard with a turbo-charger. As you may recall, the difference between a Super-charger and Turbo-charger is that the Super-charger is belt driven, which is better off the line since it give instant boost. The Turbo-charger is more efficient because it is “exhaust driven”, but as you can imagine it takes longer for the exhaust to build up Rpm’s in the turbine.

I have to admit, I’m a little biased toward the VW because I cut my teeth on the old one’s while in college. I also had a Volkswagen Carmen Ghia. Bought it new for about $2,500. Ok, you figure the year and I’ll pay for a years subscription to the Pasadena Weekly. Those were simpler days and the cars were simple too. Most features were mechanical and with the VW Bug air conditioning meant you opened the wind wings real wide. I was well served by the VW and those impressions are lasting. We never wanted for things in those days, and that is probably, in part due to the efficient VW’s that we drove. Today, they have matured and put on a new face…and a new window sticker. They have streamlined styling and lots of high tech stuff today because that’s what we demand.

The 60’s are long gone and this generation doesn’t get excited about seeing how many bodies you can stuff into a phone booth or a V-dub. Remember those days. Remember when phone booths looked like phone booths. Boy, times have changed and I have to smile when I think of Steve Reeves’ portrayal of Superman looking for a phone booth to change into his tights and cape.

Well, even though the original VW’s were short on features, the model I drove this week was a little too long on options. I could have lived without the moonroof and didn’t find a need for the Tiptronic transmission and leather trim. I felt I could really find another use for the $3,300 bucks you’d have to pay for those features. In any case, this car has enough standard stuff that is more important. For example, 4-wheel disc brakes and a well balanced engine for economy and the availability of turbo-charged power. It also has a solid feeling that you usually only get from more expensive cars. Volkswagen pays a lot of attention to detail. When you go to see this new Passat, take a look at how close and even the joints and seams are, and you’ll see what I mean.

Standard Equipment:

150 horsepower 1.8 liter 4-cylinder turbo-charged engine, (later in 1998 the Passat will introduce a 190 horsepower V6 TDI for Turbo Direct Injection engine), front wheel drive, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, power rack and pinion steering, front and side airbags, air conditioning, cruise control, power locks, power windows, power mirrors, adjustable steering wheel, AM/FM stereo with cassette, trip computer and anti-theft system.

Gas Stats:

21 City / 31 Highway MPG.

Pricing:

Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price is $ 20,750 and with the addition of a glass sunroof for $1,000 and a 5-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission for $1,075, partial leather interior for $950 and a CD changer for $280 the total came to $24,555.