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Review: 2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

Friday June 6th, 2014 at 1:66 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

By David Colman

Hypes: Torque Master, Low Price, Nice Finish Level
Gripes: Needs Plus 1 or 2 Tires and a Rear Wiper

If you’ve ever owned a Volkswagen product, you’ll instantly understand the nostalgic appeal of this latest diesel powered Jetta. From its taut seats to its logical control array, to its bank vault fit and finish, this product distills years of VW tradition into a seductive new package that’s not only affordable ($25,545) and economical (42MPG/ highway), but fun to drive as well.

Even the diesel engine rekindles VW nostalgia, since the very first Rabbit the company built and sold 35 years ago in the USA was available with diesel power. Having driven that Rabbit back in the late 1970s, I can testify that diesel technology has advanced from its Ice Age to its Golden Age. Although the Jetta’s current 2 liter, four cylinder diesel produces only 140hp, the real wallop comes in the torque department, where this TDI (“Turbocharged Diesel Injected”) power plant twists the front wheels to the tune of 236 lb.-ft. of thrust.

You can look high and low in VW’s cupboard for another 4 cylinder engine that matches this diesel for torque. Even the vaunted GLI 2.0 liter turbo gas motor makes just 207 lb.-ft. of torque. The rest of the Jetta engine offerings don’t even come close to matching the diesel. For example, the base 2.0 liter gas motor makes just 125 lb.-ft., and the soon to be phased out 2.5 liter inline 5 cylinder gas motor, which is available only in the Sport Wagon this year, makes 177lb.-ft. of torque.

2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

In effect, this abundance of torque makes your job as a driver less demanding and more fun. You really need not worry about which gear ratio the DSG automatic 6-speed has selected, because there’s always enough grunt from the diesel to pick up the slack. Of course, if you enjoy stirring the pot on your own, DSG encourages you to do so by offering a manual gate that accommodates sporting override by the driver. No paddles on the steering wheel, however, and you need to remember that the diesel runs through its power band rather quickly and never needs to be wound past 4,000rpm.

The long standing appeal of the Volkswagen family lies in the fact that no matter which model you choose, you can rest assured that the furniture in the living room will be arranged the same basic way. There’s a lot to be said for such predictability in layout, instrumentation and touch surfaces. Familiarity is a strong point that keeps long time VW owners coming back to update their Wolfsburg fix. For example, you can depend on the fact that VW will always offer easily grasped, knurled knobs to control such cockpit essentials as fan speed, temperature setting and vent positioning. You’ll never find this company resorting to the ineffectual slide type digitized controls that have proliferated in so many Japanese products today. VW has also been loath to jump on the bandwagon celebrating the advent of lane departure warnings and cross traffic alerts. Kudos to this company, which still feels that the driver should play the central role in the operation of the vehicle.

2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

Of course, there are a few shortcomings that the owner of a TDI will want to address. The first issue is this Jetta’s diminutive tire size. Though equipped with handsome 16 inch, 5-spoke alloy rims, the accompanying 205/50R16 Continental Sport Contact tires look grossly undersize on this vehicle. While these tires ride quietly and afford excellent comfort, their modest tread width limits the performance of the Jetta when tackling back roads aggressively. Remedy this problem by upgrading to wider tires mounted on 17 or 18 inch rims. In fact VW offers 17 inch factory “Goal” alloys with 225/45R17 all season tires for $1,125 extra. Or you can bump up to 18 inch VW “Motorsport Alloy” rims and tires for $1,400. One thing this Jetta needs that is unavailable from the factory, however, is a rear window wiper to clear that flat, expansive pane of back glass when it rains or mists. But all in all, the short list of needs here is far outweighed by the many virtues of this efficient, affordable and handsome family sedan.

2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

2014 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter inline 4 cylinder turbocharged diesel
  • Horsepower: 140hp
  • Torque: 240 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 30 MPG City/42 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $25,545
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line

Tuesday May 27th, 2014 at 11:55 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line

By David Colman

Hypes: Stealth Bomber, Practical Yet Engaging
Gripes: Hood Stalk Can Cut You

Let’s say you love the endearing looks of the reincarnated Beetle, but you yearn for the performance of the Golf GTI. For 2014, VW has slipped the drive train and chassis of the outgoing GTI underneath the architecture of the Beetle, so you can look cute but go like a stink bug. The new code name for this potent combo is “R-Line,” a term formerly used to designate racing derived upgrades like flat bottom steering wheels and ribbed aluminum pedals. Now, VW has eliminated the “Turbo Beetle” name from its model range, in favor of the designation “Beetle R-Line.” When you lay down $32,030 for one of these, you get a 200hp GTI dressed in Bug clothing. The combination is a delight to drive.

VW stylists have revised the front and aft appearance of the Beetle R-Line by substituting stealthy looking new fascia and tail panels. The front splitter is now more angular, and the rear under tray features new diffusers. There’s also a massive back wing lurking just below the rear window, plus a bevy of R-Line identifiers on each side of the nose, at the base of the racy flat bottom steering wheel, and on both threshold kick plates. Visually engaging 10-spoke alloy rims hide cheeky red disc brake calipers. Gaping flared fender wells barely contain beefy 235/40R19 Continental ContiProContact tires at each corner. One look at the svelte Beetle R-Line is enough to remind you that VW runs a very competitive year long race series for these cars in Germany.

2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line

Yet once you’re seated inside the tidy cabin, it’s easy to slip into calm and casual motoring thanks to the DSG transmission’s fully automated assistance. Left to its own devices, the DSG 6-speed will seek out the highest possible gear and thus help you attain 24MPG in town driving and 26MPG overall fuel economy. Of course, you can always slot the DSG stick into its manual gate and make your own decisions about gear choice. Shifts in both directions are quick and crisp. VW provides a pair of tiny flippers behind the steering wheel to aid your gear changing, but I found it much more rewarding to knock the floor stick forward for down changes and back toward me for up shifts.

The turbo motor is so eager to spool up its 207 lb.-ft. of torque that it’s really easy to leave rubber when mashing the gas in the lower gears. When you do so, the front end of this Beetle lifts like a motor boat, steering response diminishes as the front tires lose adhesion, and the R-Line torque steers slightly as you struggle with the sudden surge of power. Although this VW may share looks with lesser Beetles, it’s really an adrenalin-inducing hot rod that’s an absolute blast to drive. The “Sport Suspension,” which is standard issue on R-Line Beetles, controls body lean in cornering, while still maintaining enough bump compliance to keep you comfortable. Such a compromise is a black art, and VW is well versed in the intricacies of the equation.

2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line

Given its low roofline and substantial tail spoiler, you might expect vision from the driver’s seat to be problematic. Such is not the case, since the wings lies flat enough to be invisible, and the view through the rear windows and excellent mirrors is good enough to allow freeway lane changes without hesitation. You could improve the direct rear sightline by removing the headrests from the rear seats, or folding them down until needed. While adequate for kids, the rear seats present painful entry, egress and seating prospects for adults. When you do fold the rear seats, the Beetle affords a surprising amount of storage space. In fact, a trip to Home Depot revealed that the interior dimension between the rear fender wells allows a 32 inch wide sheet of 48 inch long material to be comfortably accommodated. If not for the 3 inch intrusion of the Fender sub woofer in the trunk, you could slip a 3 foot wide sheet into the trunk flat.

2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line

The R-Line Beetle is very much the stealth bomber of VW’s flight group. It’s quietly handsome without being ostentatious. To looks at it, you’d never anticipate the level of performance it’s capable of doling out. Yet it’s one of the fastest cars on the open road, with enough performance reserve to make you smile broadly at the prospect of an early Sunday morning jaunt on an empty, twisty back road.

2014 Volkswagen Beetle R-Line

  • Engine: 2.0 liter turbocharged inline 4
  • Horsepower: 200hp
  • Torque: 207 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 24 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,030
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium

Monday March 24th, 2014 at 10:33 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Flourish-Free Styling, Beckoning Interior, 15.9 Cubic Foot Trunk
Gripes: Slow To Defrost, No Rear Wiper

Psst. Hey, buddy, want buy a German sports sedan? How about a German sports sedan that’s built in Chattanooga, Tennessee? With a Mexican engine and a Japanese transmission, no less. Regardless of where the components are sourced or assembled, one drive in this latest iteration of VW’s spacious family hauler will send you a singular message: this is a German sports sedan of the first order. Its handling is superb, its fit and finish impeccable, and its breeding long and distinguished.

For 2014, the SEL model I tested is currently the only Passat equipped with the new 4 cylinder turbo. VW also offers a 3.6 liter, 280hp V6 as an option on the SEL. The turbo motor makes 170hp from 1.8 liters and replaces last year’s 170hp inline 5. The turbo laso makes 7 more lb.-ft. of torque than the I-5 (184 vs. 177), and returns better mileage (28 MPG) than the I-5 as well. Thanks to the extra torque, the latest Passat feels livelier than its forerunner when you jump on the accelerator. A 6-speed automatic gearbox takes good care of torque management, with a sport override feature available to allow specific gear choices as needed. Gear selection is then digitally displayed in the central information panel between the speedometer and tachometer.

The SEL treatment includes standard 18 inch alloy rims which mount 235/45R18 Continental Sport Contact rubber. This generous footprint produces neutral behavior no matter how hard you press this VW in corners. Despite the fact that this is a front-wheel-drive (FWD) sedan with 60 percent of its of 3,450 curb weight pounds allotted to the front wheels, the Passat never understeers. In fact, it’s hard to tell that the layout is FWD, which is a high compliment indeed to the refinement of the suspension. Standard SEL handling-related features include an electronic differential lock (EDL) which synchronizes wheel speed from side to side, Anti-slip Regulation (ASR), which limits wheel spin, and Electronic Stability Control (ESC) which corrects driver error in extremis. The cornering limits limits allowed by ESC are high enough to permit you to have some sporting fun with your Passat.

Done up in “Candy White” with a “Cornsilk Beige” interior, the starkly handsome sedan comes off looking a bit like Tom Wolfe in a white pinstriped suit: dandy but inarguably handsome. Its fit and finish exceed what you’ve come to expect in a $30,000 automobile. VW has effectively banished the word cheap as a descriptor of this product. Once you slide into those comfy biscuit colored seats, activate their three stage cushion heaters, and finger the Fender Premium Audio for your favorite SiriusXM band, you’re excused if you confuse the Passat with something substantially pricier, like say a BMW 3 or an Audi A4. Not until you check the bottom line of the window sticker do you realize that this VW’s price range stops well south of where the others start.

Clearly, in a world where parts for the same car are sourced from locations as disparate as Mexico, Japan and the USA, it’s the overall vision of design that counts. VW calls this supervisorial role the “Power of German Engineering.” From the moment you operate the chunky control stalks of the Passat, you know you’re driving a German car. The multi-function steering wheel is fat rimmed, leather swathed, and responsive to the most minute change of direction. VW has adapted electronically controlled power steering in lieu of hydraulics for 2014, and if anything, the feedback at the wheel is even more informative than before. Such subtle touches make the Passat SEL more satisfying to drive than anything else in its price range, and indeed many competitors well beyond that range.

2014 Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium

  • Engine: 1.8 Liter Inline 4, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 24 MPG City/34 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $31,715
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Volkswagen Jetta SEL

Wednesday March 19th, 2014 at 3:33 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Fuel Efficient New Turbo Motor, new IRS rear underpinnings
Gripes: Blind Spot Monitor Unavailable

Though the 2014 Jetta may look identical to last year’s model, significant improvements have occurred under the skin that make VW’s best selling sedan better than ever. The first upgrade lies under the hood, where a 1.8 liter turbocharged straight four replaces the previous 2.5 liter inline five. Although the new gas fueled engine makes the same 170hp as the straight five, it produces more torque (184 lb.-ft. vs. 177 lb.-ft.), and returns substantially better fuel consumption as well (29 MPG overall). The other major structural change to the Jetta is substitution of an independent rear suspension (IRS) for the torsion beam rear axle that VW has been using in one form or another since the Rabbit was introduced in 1975. By freeing each rear wheel to react to road conditions independently, the new link style suspension improves handling precision and traction. It also dampens oscillation over bumpy terrain resulting in greater creature comfort.

The well finished cabin of the SEL Jetta defies its modest $25,990 price point. Where most German manufacturers inflate the base price of their offerings with more options than you want or need, Volkswagen has taken just the opposite tack: with the exception of an $820 Destination Charge, not a single extra cost item blights this Jetta’s window sticker. In today’s market, this is indeed a rare turn of events. Surprising standard inclusions are a navigation system with a color touch screen, a Fender brand premium audio with SiriusXM subscription, Bluetooth phone connectivity, and media device interface (MDI) with iPod cable. Additionally, you need not pay extra for remote keyless entry, heated front seats, heated outside mirrors or heated wiper/washer nozzles. Not even the sporting 6-speed double clutch gearbox (with manual override for ratio selection), nor the power sunroof are optional.

The turbo 4 which VW and Audi use in so many cross-branded products, is a delightfully efficient source of power. In freeway driving, you can expect to pinch pennies to the tune of 36MPG. Despite that stellar economy, the turbo spools up maximum power instantaneously on demand. If 170hp is insufficient for your needs, VW also offers a GLI version of the Jetta which raises output of the diminutive four to 210hp and 207lb.-ft of torque. But for real world driving, you’ll find that the base 170hp engine is perfectly suited to the newly refined handling of this front wheel drive sedan. At just over 3,200 pounds, the well balanced Jetta makes good use of the sizeable contact patches afforded by standard 17inch alloy wheels shod with Continental ContiProContact 225/45R17 tires.

While I would not go so far as to call the SEL Jetta a sports sedan, it rather earns top plaudits as a sporting family sedan. Appending the word “family” to the formula indicates the Jetta is much more useful and spacious than a tightly configured sports sedan. The back seat is luxuriously spacious, with seat backs that conveniently fold flat in a 60/40 configuration to open a load platform good for 16 cubic feet of goods. The trunk is so vast that I was able to transport three large plastic storage tubs without problem, plus another pair inside the cabin, splayed across the wide back seat. You can even tow a petite trailer weighing up to 1,000 pounds behind your Jetta.

Volkswagen offers a wide array of power trains for Jetta. In addition to the 2 versions of the TSI turbo 4 already mentioned, you can also select a base model Jetta S with 115hp from its 2 liter four cylinder engine, or a 2.0 liter TDI turbo diesel good for 37MPG overall. Jetta cuts such a wind cheating aerodynamic profile that a team from Motor Trend magazine was able to hustle a TDI to a top speed of 185mph at Bonneville’s salt flats last year. Now if that isn’t a sporting family sedan, I don’t know what is.

2014 Volkswagen Jetta SEL

  • Engine: 1.8 liter inline 4, turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25MPG City/36MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $26,410
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL

Thursday January 16th, 2014 at 4:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Creamy Electric Supplemented Torque Band
Gripes: Could Use More Rubber on Wider Rims

Generally speaking, you can’t put much stock in automotive advertising. But VW is right on the money when they say, “Most people don’t associate hybrids with being fun to drive.” In looking back over the many hybrids I’ve driven, from the first clumsy attempts by Toyota (Camry) to the latest from Ford (C-Max), the defining characteristic of the breed has been energy saving at the expense of performance. Again, to quote VW, hybrids are “Fuel efficient maybe, but definitely not something you’d actually want to drive.” With that frank admission out of the way, the marketers at VW go on to claim that their new 2014 Jetta Hybrid puts an end to that problem for good: “Now, instead of having a hybrid just to get you from here to there, our hybrids may be the first you’ll want to take everywhere.”

After having spent a week with the new Jetta Hybrid, I can recommend it without hesitation as a driver’s car first, and an energy saver second. Clearly, VW has their priorities right. As soon as you toe into the gas pedal on this Jetta, you’ll get the “driver’s car” bit because this little sedan lunges ahead with great brio as its combined sources of energy production meld together for instant zip. This Jetta is the world’s first turbocharged hybrid in the economy car class. Thanks to the instant surge of torque provided by the electric motor, the Jetta’s 170hp is more than enough to slingshot you past slower cars on 2 lane roads, or merge with 65mph freeway traffic instantaneously. Yet the fact that you’re feeding just a 1.4 liter turbo gas motor means you’ll enjoy exceptional fuel saving dividends. The EPA rates this hybrid at 42MPG city and 48 MPG highway. That puts it squarely in the highest rank of “10/10″ in the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Rating spectrum.

So you can rest assured that you’re doing your bit to combat global warming while still owning a sedan that’s so much fun to drive you’ll have a hard time believing the buy-in is just $29,845. VW has substantially upgraded the Jetta line for 2014 with electronic power steering, 4 wheel disc brakes, and multi-link independent rear suspension. For such a hot sports sedan, the Jetta is remarkably unprepossessing to behold. It makes do with just 16 inch diameter alloy rims, tall 60 series all weather tires from Michelin (205/60R16), and no obvious air expediters. In other words, no cop worth donuts will give this VW a second look. It’s the stealth express.

Yet fly it does, with that new rear suspension clinging like a leech to even the worst road surface. The sizeable sidewalls of those Michelins absorb bumps like an additional springing device, so the Jetta manages to glide over potholes without ever deviating course or jiggling the passengers. Inside, VW treats you to its eternal verities of sound design, with large knobs for manipulating heat, air conditioning, fan and radio. You never need resort to a touch screen to carry out commands because VW, in their infinite wisdom, depend on pleasingly plump knobs for basic operational needs. However, the SEL does include an RNS 315 Touch Screen Navigation System as part of its standard equipment. The cockpit is business like, handsomely done, and so finely crafted that its Mexican build easily rivals anything VW constructs in Germany.

This is truly a serviceable family sedan, with enough legroom in back to keep a brace of 6 foot adults happy over long runs. Once nice feature for rear seat occupants is the space VW leaves open under the front seats, which gives back benchers a place to park their toes. Rear windows that drop nearly flush into rear doors, center armrest with drink caddies and storage bin, and wide opening rear doors make Jetta the perfect bargain choice for the real estate sales brigade.

Because VW has managed to build a product worthy of their advertising hype, the Jetta Hybrid SEL is the first dual energy source vehicle worth serious consideration by the sporting driver. You can honk this sleeper around town like a GTI while kissing off every other trip the gas station. What more could you want for 30 grand?

2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL

  • Engine: 1.4 liter Hybrid TSI and Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: n/a
  • Fuel Consumption: n/a MPG City/48 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $30,980
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid

Monday November 25th, 2013 at 11:1111 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Drag race Champ, Build Solidity, Creature Comforts
Gripes: Inconsistent Brake Response

Most of the vehicles available for review show so few miles on the odometer that it’s difficult to envision problems that might develop down the road. This Touareg, however, arrived so late in the 2013 model year that it was already showing more than 10,000 miles of accrued travel. The benefit of driving such a relatively high mileage test vehicle is that it allows you to judge how well it wears its mileage. In the case of this VW, you could never tell it had travelled more than ten thousand miles if you didn’t sneak a peek at the odometer. The ingot like chassis had not developed so much as a single squeak. The massive doors still shut with the authoritative click you expect from a Zippo lighter cap. Lovely 5-spoke alloy wheels showed nary a curb scar thanks to the protective shielding afforded by the bulging sidewalls of the Michelin GreenX radials (265/50R19).

Unlike so many car chassis based crossover SUVs, the Touareg feels more like a truck than a car. For starters, you step up into the spacious cabin, which, by virtue of its height, affords you a commanding view of the road and traffic patterns. This visual superiority trumps any information conveyed by the lane departure warning systems that are all the rage today. Our test Touareg was not equipped with any of these annoying contrivances, nor did it need them thanks to the excellent 360 degree vision available from the driver’s seat. Touareg’s truck-like attributes also manifest themselves in the 7,700 pound tow capacity of this chassis. Although you can’t quite fold the 40/20/40 split rear seats flat, you can still gain 64 cubic feet of storage by tilting them forward. With rear seats erect, the Touareg still provides 34 cubic feet of space in its sizeable aft compartment. The key fob allows you to open the aft hatch, and a button near the liftgate lets you automatically shuts the lid.

VW only offers the Hybrid power train in its top model Touareg. At a base price of $62,575, you’re not wanting for anything in the comfort or luxury department. Beautifully upholstered front leather seats feature 12 way adjustability and 3 stage heating. The steering wheel is heated, as are the outboard rear seats. Deep door pockets, a vast glove box, and sizeable center console and dash face compartments all help keep clutter under control. Each front seat commands no less than 3 memory positions for favored seat position. Standard fitment on the Hybrid is an RNS 850 touch screen navigation and radio control panel. This graphic interface also provides rear vision when reverse gear is engaged. An enormous power sunroof remains eerily quiet even when open at freeway speeds. Bi-Xenon headlights swivel to illuminate turns at night. Standard Climatronic heat and air conditioning reacts swiftly to input changes and effectively distributes air on demand to individual tastes on separate sides of the cabin.

If you get the idea that this Touareg is just about enjoying an elevated level of indolence, you’re missing the point. What this VW really has in spades is power, lots of power. For starters, this is the world’s first supercharged Hybrid. A 333hp supercharged V6 combines with the added 47hp kick of an electric motor to produce 380hp and a whopping 428 pound feet of torque. When you slam the right pedal home, the Hybrid hurls its 5,000 pound curb weight forward like a Tim Lincecum fastball. Aided by an 8-speed automatic transmission, the Hybrid Touareg is never lacking for grunt. The only fly in the ointment is getting the ferociously fast rig stopped. Unfortunately, the regenerative brakes on our test vehicle felt spooky and inconsistent. This seems to be the hallmark of hybrids which transfer brake heat into energy.

The Touareg Hybrid is a remarkably sporting proposition. Thanks to its Goliath twin engine power train, it will run circles around lightweight sports cars, while looking after your every need with palatial solicitude. It’s really quite a bizarre combination of attributes, well worth the lofty asking price.

2013 Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid

  • Engine: 3.0 Liter Supercharged V6 + electric motor
  • Horsepower: 333hp + 47hp = 380hp
  • Torque: 428 lbs.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 20 MPG City/24 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $63,450
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

Wednesday October 16th, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Best Hybrid For Enthusiasts
Gripes: Poor Brake Feel

“There are Hybrids and there are Turbo Hybrids” intones the commercial for VW’s latest offering in the Hybrid field, concluding that this Jetta is “The first Hybrid that you’ll actually want to drive.” For once, the advertising is right. Given this Jetta’s proclivity for balanced handling, gratifying surge, and seamless transitions between gas and electric modes, the Jetta Hybrid is way more fun to drive than a Prius or a Volt. This Jetta’s turbocharged, 140hp, 1.4 liter, inline 4 will stuff you smartly into your sport seat when the auxiliary electric motor kicks in to generate a combined output of 170hp and 184 lb.-ft. of torque.

Despite the fact that VW has slapped a set of ultra hard (Treadwear rating: 500) ContiSportContact 205/50R17 tires on distinctive looking sluice-gate alloys, the Jetta Hybrid grips the pavement surprisingly well. Just one quick blast through a set of S-curves will convince you that the Jetta is geared more to driving fun than any other Hybrid currently available. Adding to the enjoyment is a real, 7-speed DSG transmission, with manual override available at the flip of the stick. With most other Hybrids, you must contend with the disconcerting whine and bumpy shifts of a continuously variable transmission. On the minus side, the Jetta’s regenerative brakes feel grabby and imprecise, a first-generation Hybrid trait that other brands have long since eliminated.

Thankfully, VW has spared you the self-congratulatory encomiums so prevalent in other Hybrid instrumentation. You’ll see no falling leaves to document wastefulness here, no confusing charts requiring you to take your eyes off the road. If you need to regale yourself with such corroboration, look elsewhere because this VW barely bothers with such self-aggrandizement. Instead of shrines to virtue, you’ll find a simple 10,000 rpm tachometer, which also doubles as an engine status indicator with colored zones for “charge” (green), “eco” (blue) and “boost” (white). Indeed, the cockpit of the Jetta is pretty much what you’ve come to expect from this company: top quality materials, expertly assembled into an environment that stresses keeping your eyes on the road rather than on the dash.

To be sure, there’s a standard touchscreen navigation system, but because that screen does not subsume all other control functions, you needn’t bother with it when you just want to adjust temperature or fan speed. For those needs, VW provides good, old fashioned ribbed knobs that look great, and work better than any touchscreen embedded pictograph. In keeping with the businesslike demeanor of the driving environment, the steering wheel is fat rimmed, with recesses cut at 9 and 3 o’clock for thumb grips. Understated matte aluminum appliqués to the door panels and dash look just right in this Bauhaus minimalist cabin.

Of course the bottom line to the Jetta Hybrid equation is neither Euro centric design, nor turbo zing, nor gearbox splendor, but its EPA/DOT Fuel Economy rating of 42 MPG City and 48 MPG Highway. The Combined figure of 45MPG is so good that the government estimates your annual fuel expense at just $1,250. Compared to the average new vehicle, the Feds claim you’ll save $5,350 in fuel costs over 5 years. Our bit to run the Jetta Hybrid dry ran out of time because we simply couldn’t drive enough miles in 1 week to do a real mileage check. Suffice it to say that after driving it almost daily, we still had half a tank left with an estimated mileage range of 250 miles still showing.

The Jetta Hybrid is a remarkably stout product. Braking issues aside, it generates the same kind of driving enthusiasm you’ve come to expect from other VW products. There’s a basic honest and consistency at work here that will not disappoint longtime enthusiasts of this brand.

2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

  • Engine: 1.4 liter in-line 4, turbocharged + electric motor
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 42 MPG City/ 48 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,010
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible Turbo

Saturday October 12th, 2013 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Kal Kustom Leather, Turbo Scoot
Gripes: Annoying Trunk Release, Poor Top-Up Vision

The latest Beetle may look like the familiar face you’ve known forever, but don’t be fooled by appearances. First of all, this Beetle is built in Puebla, Mexico rather than Wolfsburg, Germany. Although clothed in sheet metal designed to deceive you into thinking this is a rear-engine, rear–wheel-drive derivative of Dr. Porsche’s original 1930s design, the second generation New Beetle (Newer Beetle?) is in actuality a front-engine, front-wheel-drive Golf GTI successfully masquerading as a very Old Beetle. Thus, you can validate your nostalgia quotient for traditional VW values without sacrificing comfort or performance to outdated (rear-engine, air-colled) engineering principles.

Under the front hood of this diminutive convertible lies the same turbocharged 4 cylinder engine you find in so many VW and Audi family products today. When VW stopped producing their jewel-like V-6 motor several years back, the 2 liter turbo became the default GTI engine. Now, with direct injection, it’s found its way into the turbo Convertible, where it produces 210hp, 207 lb.-ft. of torque, and returns overall fuel consumption of 24 MPG. Coupled to a delightfully responsive set of 6 closely spaced ratios in the manual transmission, the Beetle Convertible will scald back road apexes with nearly the same aplomb as a GTI. Although the Convertible gives up some structural rigidity to the hardtop GTI, the loss is hardly discernible when you’re close to the limit of adhesion. The fat contact patches of standard 235/45R18 Hankook Optimo H426 tires help this drop-top stay planted through the twisties.

VW has done a commendable job of fettling the convertible with appropriate go-fast hardware. Five spoke alloy rims, which look like updated versions of the classic Porsche Fuchs wheel, decorously display the low profile Hankook tires. Inside the cabin, the aluminum brake, clutch and throttle pedals provide rubber strips for better adhesion. The matte aluminum of the pedal faces match the same trim used on the instrument cluster face, the door grab handles and latches, and the trim ring surrounding the shift mechanism. A carbon fiber emulation faces the dash front, while matte pebbled vinyl surfaces the dash top and door panels. Piano black plastic door panel tops add some 40s era pizzazz to the interior, but the real star is the stunning, bi-color seating. The front buckets feature wide whale ribbed red leather seating surfaces set off by black leather bolsters on all sides. As a finishing touch, VW trims the black bolsters with double stitched red thread. The rear buckets match the fronts. The net effect is jaw dropping, especially considering that all this custom tailoring is part of the base package.

You can tuck a couple of adults into those rear buckets, and they won’t mind the crowded leg room so much if the top is down. But the rear seats produce claustrophobia when the heavily padded top is up. The small back side windows and rear glass panel also inhibit vision and make parking a chore with top up. Those of you who recall the days when English roadsters like the MG and Triumph came fitted with tonneau covers will get a kick out of discovering the same archaic piece in the Convertible’s trunk. It’s designed to hide the roof apparatus when the top is down. It takes a good 5 minutes to install, and will bring back fond memories of an earlier era of motoring.

At $32,665 delivered, the Beetle Convertible represents solid value, GTI-level driving fun. It also admits you to an enthusiastic ownership group that sets VW apart from any other car company. This Beetle is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. How many cars can do that?

2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible Turbo

  • Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, Direct Injection, Turbocharged
  • Horsepower: 210hp
  • Torque: 207 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/30 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,665
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI

Saturday July 20th, 2013 at 8:77 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Cruise Range Exceptional, Kal Kustom Look
Gripes: Needs Rear Window Wiper and Stiffer Shocks

To give you an idea of just how efficient the new Diesel Beetle is, we round-tripped from Stinson Beach to Soquel (over 200 miles) in a single day, and when we returned home the trip computer indicated that 250 miles of range still remained. Now that’s a prodigious achievement for a small (2,939 lb.) coupe with a modest-sized fuel tank of just 14.5 gallons. Lately, Diesel fuel has dropped in price locally to a point where it’s less expensive than even the cheapest grade of regular gas, so there’s a double incentive to give this new addition to the Beetle line a good hard look. The other reason is that it’s even more fun to drive than the 200hp turbo version of the same car.

The reason is torque. VW offers 3 engines in the Beetle range. The base motor is a decent 5 cylinder unit displacing 2.5 liters and making 170hp. The 2.0 liter, 4 cylinder, 200hp turbo is a somewhat peaky, finicky engine which requires deft shifting to keep in its powerband. But the key to driving enjoyment is torque rather than horsepower, and here, the new 140hp Diesel outdoes its brethren thanks to the wallop of instant scoot it provides the moment you toe the throttle. Compared to the 170 lb.-ft. of the base 5, and the 207 lb.-ft. of the turbo 4, the Diesel makes 236 lb.-ft. of torque. Couple that to the sweetest shifting 6-speed manual you’ve ever operated and you’ve got a combination sure to please. If you’re not into shifting your own gears, the TDI can be ordered with a dual clutch automatic for an additional $1,100.

Aside from this Beetle’s spunky drivetrain, what else recommends the car to you? Thoughtful design and low price. For example, nice touches abound inside the cabin, even in the trunk. In a nifty replication of ‘50s Beetle design, VW cues painted sections of the dashboard, door panels and steering wheel to the car’s exterior color. In the case of our test car, the overflow of the striking Yellow Rush exterior color to interior surfaces turned the TDI into a genuine Kal Kustom show car. On the floor of the spacious trunk, you’ll find an extremely useful series of space dividers called CarGo Blocks. These modular plastic extrusions adhere to a special Heavy Duty Trunk Liner via Velcro connections. When arranged in the shape of a square, these 6 inch high dividers allow you to stabilize cargo in the trunk. It’s such a brilliant idea that it makes you wonder why no one has offered this before. The CarGo Blocks are part of an optional $235 set of 4 “Monster Mats” that also protect the interior floors.

The Beetle is no sports car. It’s so softly sprung that it heels over rather noticeably in corners. But you could easily rectify this problem by swapping out the standard mushy shock absorbers for aftermarket Bilstein or Koni units. Likewise, the adhesion of the standard Hankook Optimo tires (215/55R17) could stand the improvement that a set of stickier Michelins or Pirellis would provide. But even as it sits, straight from the VW factory in Puebla, Mexico, the TDI Beetle is plenty of fun to drive. The steering is amazingly responsive and accurate, and in our two runs over twisty Highway 17 from San Jose to Santa Cruz, the Beetle never drifted wide of an apex or ran out of grunt before cresting the summit. The manually adjustable front seats lent themselves perfectly to day-long stints in the saddle. Visibility is so good in all quarters that freeway lane changes are never problematic. The Beetle has no need of lane change warning devices.

The Beetle TDI is the perfect conveyance for the long haul. You will arrive refreshed and enthusiastic at your destination, and you won’t need to search for a gas station because this Beetle is good for an overall rating of 32 MPG. At a base price of just $23,295, the TDI Beetle is a top entrant in the new crop of elite and affordable rides for 2013.

2013 Volkswagen Beetle TDI

  • Engine: 2.0 liter, inline 4 Diesel
  • Horsepower: 140hp
  • Torque: 236 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 28 MPG City/41 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $24,360
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible ‘70s Review

Thursday February 7th, 2013 at 8:22 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

For: ‘70s Package Handsome and Brilliantly Conceived
Against: For More Grunt Go TDI or Turbo

Leave it to those kooky imagineers at VW to come up with yet another celebratory sales concept no one’s thought of before. This latest brainstorm marks the reintroduction of the Convertible to the redone Beetle model line that debuted last year. Of course, VW product planners weren’t content to offer just any old drop top when they could instead trot out 3 specific models that celebrate the long and storied history of this topless small wonder. The tasty trio pays homage to 3 decades in which VW produced Convertible Beetles. The ‘50s edition is black with a tan interior, while the ‘60s version is Denim Blue with groovy two-tone seats. The ‘70s Beetle, subject of this test, is Toffee Brown, with tan interior and perfectly vintage looking chrome disc alloys measuring 8” x 18” mounting Hankook Optimo 235/45R18 rubber. The exterior color – let’s call it BeeGees Brown – also covers interior dashboard panels. With its matching brown fabric roof, the ‘70s Convertible is understated but stunning.

You can order your VW Convertible with either the 2.5 liter inline 5, the TDI diesel, or the turbo 2.0 liter inline 4. VW equipped our test car with the 2.5 liter engine, which is available only with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Due to the very high rpm required by the 5 to achieve peak power (170hp at 5,700rpm) , this engine does not produce scintillating zip. The straight 5 is, however, perfect if you’re looking to reproduce the acceleration nostalgia of a vintage VW Convertible. Personally I would opt for either the diesel, which makes 140hp and 236 lb.-ft. of torque, or the turbo, which posts 200hp and 207 lb,-ft. of torque.

The Convertible’s top is so soundly constructed that there’s no wind noise whatsoever when it’s raised. Attribute the quiet to the fact that the top’s exterior fabric shell consists of 3 different layers covering 3 more layers of insulation plus a molded foam laminated fabric headliner. The only drawback to the raised top is the lack of rear vision it causes. You need to be very careful when backing a Convertible Beetle out of a parking slot. Of course, you could always drop the top for a better look back, as it takes only 9.5 seconds to stow it and 11 more seconds to erect it.

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