Three different models from Volkswagen have of late found their ways into my clutches (pun slightly intended) and here are my thoughts on them ranging in order from “No Thanks” through “Meh” to abject avidity with serious consideration of midnight re-painting, altered VIN numbers and batting-eyed denial that the car had ever graced my driveway. “Someone disappeared it.”
Then following those opinions a quick explanation of why VW is going to eat the noon meals of oh-so-many competitors.
Maybe this is what you’ve dreamed of—a sporting four-seater that can swallow its hard top at a moderately long traffic light then take you on a twisting black top with the sun spilling into your lap as pleasant engine sounds serenade you. This Eos (named for the Greek Goddess of dawn) is so fine. On paper. For 2013 there’s no manual stick but there is a 6-speed DSG automatic that is smoother and quicker than you’re likely to be.
The power plant is still a four-cylinder turbo – usually a favorite of mine but a possible worry as I see it is rated at 200 horsepower and recall this is a front-wheel drive car. Well we shall proof this pudding. And so we did.
OK, good things. First, the roof. Not only does it stow on orders it has an operable sunroof. I submit that the Eos is therefore the most convertible convertible on the road. Now not so good: the roof, whether up or down, annoyingly limits the amount of stuff you can take with you and where you dare put it. Consider that the roof-stowing Mazda Miata is designed so that it does not encroach on stuff-space when stored. Or put another way stowing space is the same whether the top is up or down. Where stuff is concerned I prefer consistency.
More good Eos things. Pleasant handling and a nice ride. But then come the deal-breakers for me. Two things I heartily dislike in a car are turbo lag and torque steer. And the Eos suffers from both. In my experience a well-designed front-wheel-drive car can route about 200 h.p. though the axle whose wheels both propel and steer it without those wheels starting to race each other to the next corner. The Eos is not one of them. It isn’t extreme torque steer like some Saabs of yore but it is more than I will tolerate.
And the turbo lag is more than I will accept as well. So those are my reasons for my “No thanks” to the Eos. Maybe you don’t mind manually selecting gears to cajole a quicker response from a sleepy turbo, or maybe you are casual enough in your acceleration that you never induce torque steer. And maybe you really want a top-swallowing convertible. Then go try an Eos. Breathe smoothly while checking the sticker because the price is a bit what the Brits call “dear.”
VW JETTA HYBRID
Just in case they missed someone’s preference VW now offers five Jetta models in the US. The Hybrid is the latest. And it is an admirable combination of a 1.4 liter direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine and a 27 h.p. electric motor and an all-new seven-speed dual clutch. The gas engine and electric motor together are rated at 170 h.p.
When the driver’s foot is off the accelerator the engine unhooks from the drive train and it’s coasting time. (Look, Ma, no gas.) The car also has a stop/start system that turns the engine off (and smoothly restarts) in the sort of traffic with lots of red taillights blinking or when dealing with lunchtime lines at a McDonald’s Drive Thru.
The new Jetta has a lightweight battery pack (80 pounds of lithium ion) and has saved weight elsewhere, too. And some aerodynamic tweaks have dropped the drag coefficient down to .28 from an already admirable .30. Even the new background of the VW logo is lighter (well – it’s blue instead of black.)
All this with the intention of getting impressive gas mileage and hanging on to a little sporting intent. Kind of a one-time jock in eased-fit jeans. And it kind of works. The mileage is 45 mpg (in contrast to 50 mpg for the best of the Prius models). They say this Jetta has claim to the measurably quickest acceleration of comparable hybrids. (Is that like being the best photographer for the Readers’ Digest ? ) Anyway, whee, 8.6 seconds to 60 mph. But generally speaking its generally fine.
When asked for an early impression this is what I said: “It is very good for what it is; but I have trouble with what it is.” The thing is I don’t like all the complications of hybrids and dubious life-cycle “greenness” of battery technology. I don’t like what regenerative braking does to the brake feel. I don’t like all that stuff on the dash that’s supposedly information. Not to me, it ain’t. Nor do I like the handling compromises that stem from tires designed to save gas, not grip the road. Nor do I like the holier-than-thou glow in the eyes of middle-aged women who never knew the name of any car until the pious Prius came along. And who drive 10 mph under the speed limit in diamond lanes in California.
I speak from my personal preference and unlike many people these days with personal preferences I make no effort to impose mine on others. A son gout and all that. I dig green but my shade is diesel. (Note: the Jetta diesel costs about two grand less.) If so moved I can drive a diesel to compete with a hybrid’s mileage numbers. And always enjoy the diesel more than anything I’ve driven that uses the stuff that sparked Franklin’s kite. (Except maybe the Fisker Karma which comes with some enjoyable side-stories to keep it entertaining. Besides a rigid good-handling chassis.)
My hero is Dr. Rudolph Diesel who ran an engine on vegetable oil and wanted to help the little guy compete with costly steam-powered factories. His engine was first made mobile in ships and locomotives and then trucks and in 1936 Mercedes put it in a passenger car. Amazing. He never saw it. In 1912 Dr. Diesel had left a neat pile of clothing on the deck of a channel ferry and was possibly seen once more floating dead in the sea by a fisherman in a very small boat. He was handsome, kind and innovative.
But I digress.
VW sells lots of diesels in the US but not as many as they could if they pushed harder. But they can sell diesels everywhere else in the world without pushing. So they shrug and offer a hybrid. I push. I used to hand out pins with Dr. Diesel’s picture on them but I ran out. I had baseball caps made that say “Torque and Range” on them. And “Gimme Clean Diesel.” (Buy one from our Store.) Diesels make such good sense stretching the fossil fuel supply cleanly until we transition into what, hydrogen? Or maybe someone can make algae or something (NOT corn, silly) into cheap, accessible bio-fuel.
Until whatever is the next big thing actually gets big I endorse diesel. And I support hybrid cars for all who think they want one (and recommend to those folks that they try the Jetta Hybrid). I cannot, however, stretch my imagination to see me ever being among them.
I like my refrigerator but when, after retrieving a bottle of San Pellegrino, I close the door and walk away I never ever look back at it…
VW GOLF R
I might have designed this car if I could design anything. Right to that slice off the bottom of the steering wheel. That makes me smile. But then this is a car in which you find yourself smiling a lot.
A gasoline engine, mind you, to prove I am not rigid in my preference for diesel. But it’s that 2-liter 4-cylinder turbo-charged engine you find in the Audi TT. How nice to have such smart relatives. The Golf R comes only with a six-speed manual gearbox and only in 4Motion all-wheel drive. Very good “onlys”. Seats for four people and in the Golf R I drove there were four doors to make getting at all of them easy. But get this: no power seats. Simple: adjust once to fit yourself and don’t let anyone else drive. Such a policy would prove how caring you are. Anyone who drives the Golf R will likely be struck with instant craving and these little beasts are costly. (Around $34,000.) So you are saving them from the agony of unrequited lust. (But surprising facts about money matters later.)
Oh yeah…VW intends to offer our market only 5000 of the Golf Rs.
The Golf R engine has 256 horses and 243 “torques.” It could probably reach 60 mph in 6 seconds, most certainly if it didn’t come with all-season tires. I would re-design that right away: summer spec tires for summer and four extra wheels loaded with Blizzaks for winter. That’s the way civilized people in mountain country do it…
In driving, the turbo does not join the fray until about 2800 revs. Still I did not discern that dreaded pause for power as in, say, the Eos (see above). Maybe the way I drive just suits certain turbos better than others. No lag here for me. And I like the steering. I like the brakes. I like the R’s quickness and aplomb. Well mannered. The Germans more than the Asians have learned the suspension trickery that allows both a comfortable ride and upright cornering. I like that.
The car is quick as in “I prefer a quick car over a fast one.” (Anyway, what moderately lawful driver sees top speed except at Bonneville?) So the Golf R is not as rally-ready as say, the Mitsu Evo or the Subaru WRX STI. But the R is neater, smoother. Elegant is a word not apt to come to mind with those other two assuredly fun machines, but it suits the Golf R. The Audi and VW folks know where on the shelf that elegance potion is stored and just what is the perfect dosage. Golly, they are good at it…
So do you understand this Golf R is a special car? Yes, for me better than the R32 by a significant amount. More nimble, dancier. I like its tight good looks and its fold-here interior flexibility. However. To a country full of car buyers who grew up being told that big was better and small was for economy and thus costs less many folk drop their jaw when confronted with the idea of luxury in small packages. And a sticker that reflects that high value…Secrets coming right here…
VW’s Way With Finance
And this is where I tell you how you might acquire a VW for a lot less than you expect to pay. The secret is in VW’s in-house financial service exclusive to VW. Buyers can finance or lease a car through this service. Yes, other car companies have similar set-ups but some of those were sold during the recent financial crisis. And anyway, maybe VW just does it best.
Here is one story about one man’s Golf GTI and how he is still shaking his head over what a good deal he got. Thanks to Fred.
Some background. Fred Vang is a car nut who lives a car life. He sold VWs when he was in college, drove anything in the all-night rally scene in southern California and had an Acura dealership in northern California before moving to Santa Fe NM. He now is a Personal Car Consultant. What that means is he’s a matchmaker. His aim in life is to put his clients (they come from all over) in the car that satisfies their needs, their budgets and their souls. And the cars come from all over, too.
Fred knows cars, knows the market, knows financing and leasing and cares about people so he gets to know them, too. He asks the right questions, and sets up a few “dates” between client and cars (even if they claim to be certain what car they want he suggests they “dance with a few others before you get married.”)
That’s how Doug came to own a Golf GTI. He danced. Doug had fallen for a Fiat 500 I had for a week’s test and decided he would order the turbo version in anticipation of its introduction. He asked Fred to start checking for the Fiat in his desired specs. Fred started dialing up Fiat dealers. But also stirred in a Mini Cooper S and a VW Golf GTI, both in the ballpark in price and amenities.
Fred is an advocate of leasing (“How else can you be guaranteed – guaranteed ! – what your car will be worth when the lease is up? That opens up a lot of choices for you at the end of your lease.”
I’ve told the story elsewhere so I’ll shorten it here: Fred’s research found that Fiat dealers either would not consider a lease at all or were reluctant to. But when he finally lined up for Doug three scenarios for the three cars on which he configured the facts, guess what? The VW Golf GTI was the most expensive in price by some two grand. But look here at what he would have to pay every month: the GTI was half the monthly payment of the Fiat. Half. And substantially less than the Mini as well.
And Doug had “danced” with the GTI as Fred suggested and found it suitably appealing. And now is thoroughly smitten.
Let me run through this again: with a lease you are not paying for the car, you are paying for its depreciation. So the payment is much less, the tax is less and you have that certainty of its value down the road. Even then, how can a car priced $2000 more be had for monthly payments half that of a less costly car? The secret is in a high residual value set by VW’s financial service.
To understand “residual value” think “resale value”. (Close enough.) And understand that VW’s in-house financial service is happy to guarantee a higher residual for its products than independent lenders will for any car. (In-house is good.) And a higher residual value means lower monthly payments. Much lower. Then there are others fiddle factors in the equation like discounts and interest rates. This, car shoppers, is part of VWs plan to rule the world. Armed with a varied and desirable stylish product mix and an undeniable improvement in build quality and reliability VW is ready. And you can get unbelievable deals on the V-Dub of your dreams. How cool is that?
VW, Toyota and General Motors are the chief arm wrestlers in the rule-the-world competition. Based on the dedicated nature of its financing arm VW is in the cat bird’s seat. Though the financing branch deals with money it knows it is not in the banking business – it is in the business of furthering VW’s status in the world.
Toyota’s system is also excellent and has helped rescue Toyota from a tsunami of troubles, including an actual tsunami. Toyota has come, well, given its cultural reticence let’s call it meowing back. As I said at the peak of its recall problems and struggles with nature’s extreme, never count Toyota out.
As for GM, they need a strong new in-house GMAC, one that understands how to play the financing and leasing games. The product is good though more limited than VW. GM could also use a more consistently “ept” management. And most certainly a more nationalistic automotive press. All the other countries have one…(Halfway kidding here…but that means halfway serious, too.)
Hey, it’s a tough league.
[all images © Volkswagen of America]
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