Review: 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

Thursday August 13th, 2015 at 1:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

By David Colman

Hypes: Luscious Power Curve, Impeccable Handling, Killer Seats
Gripes: None

Recently, MOTOR TREND conducted a comparison test of 2 seat sports cars, pitting the new Mazda Miata against Subaru’s BRZ. As an afterthought, they brought along VW’s GTI as a stalking horse to compare to the “real” sports cars. In the end, the GTI blew away both the Miata and the BRZ by posting the fastest acceleration times and lap times on the road course at Willow Springs Raceway. Of course, the experts at the magazine then had some explaining to do about how a modest $27,000 four seat sedan could possibly have beaten those certified sports cars in every verifiable test. Oh, they went on about how the GTI lacked the ride and steering perfection of the Mazda and the Subaru, but in the end, they couldn’t dispute the fact that VW’s long lived little hot rod, now in its 30th year, had managed to kick the stuffing out of the vaunted competition. In order to perpetrate the sports car superiority myth, MOTOR TREND should have left the GTI home.

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

Golf for 2015 is completely new, with new power sources, revamped styling, better safety features, and upgraded connectivity. The Golf range starts with the Launch Edition price leader at $17,995 and works through several gas (TSI) and diesel (TDI) powered variants. Most expensive Golf is the all-electric e-Golf at $35,445. The GTI we drove is the performance king in the model range, with a base price of just $27,395. Since there were no extras at all, our test car retailed for $28,215 after the addition of $820 for Destination Charge. In today’s market, an option free model like our test GTI is unheard of. Similarly unlikely is the fact that the base GTI wants for absolutely nothing because it is so well equipped in standard form. Start with the turbocharged, direct injected 4 cylinder 2.0 liter engine, the most powerful GTI motor in 30 years, at 210hp and 258lb.-ft. of torque. The surge this fuel miser is capable of generating will knock your lederhosen off. MOTOR TREND clocked it at 99.7mph @14.6 seconds in the quarter mile, with a 0-60mph time of 6.1 seconds. Yet despite the supercar punch, the GTI still returns 28MPG in overall driving.

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

Although you can option your GTI with a DSG semi-automatic gearbox, it will cost you $1,100 extra and you will be eliminating one of the best 6-speed manuals in the automotive world. I found the dimpled golf ball shift knob atop the GTI’s short stalk manual to be such a pleasure to shift that I made up excuses to run through the gears just for the pleasure of snicking that stick from gate to gate. The GTI’s electro-mechanical power steering is as precise as the weighted dial on a pricey FM tuner. The standard issue Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires (225/40R18) mounted on Cuisine Art bladed alloys, plant the GTI so firmly that side slip is never an issue, no matter how hard you press through turns. The stellar front seats, with copious side and lower back support, are miles ahead of the seats you’ll find in competitive vehicles like the Ford Fiesta ST. While the GTI’s seats may not look as racy as those in the ST, they are much more comfortable over the long haul. We spent five hours in them on a single day roundtrip from the Bay Area to the Sierra foothills without experiencing a moment of discomfort or tedium. Also, the standard Fender audio system proved easier than ever to use. Its new visual display shows pre-selected stations on the XMSirius radio in a bar format on the 5.8 inch touchscreen. This revised layout is easier to read than VW’s former telephone dial tuning system. Also easier to use is the simple overhead control for the standard tilt and slide panoramic sunroof. Instead of the twist dial VW used for so long, a slider button now gets the job done faster.

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

In the sub-$30,000 market, it doesn’t get any better that the GTI, the original German hot hatch. And if 210 hp are insufficient to your neck snapping needs, the GTI Performance Package is about to be released. This one, which will retail for $29,280 with manual gearbox, is rated at 220hp. There’s even an R Golf in the works with 290hp on tap and all-wheel-drive. But for those on a mission AND on a budget, the base model GTI just has to be the best Golf of them all for the money.

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI SE

  • Engine: 2.0 liter in line 4, TSI, turbocharged with direct injection
  • Horsepower: 210hp
  • Torque: 258lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25MPG City/34 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $28,215
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

Tuesday August 11th, 2015 at 12:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

By David Colman

Hypes: 500 miles to the 11.8 Gallon Tank!
Gripes: Spongy Brakes

May 2015 was a happy month at VW. U.S. sales soared by 8 percent to 34,758. Compare that to Fiat/Chrysler’s rise of 4 percent, GM’s 3 percent growth, flat sales for Nissan and Toyota, and Ford’s 1 percent loss, and there’s finally a reason for optimism at VW’s beleaguered North American outpost. If the 2015 Jetta Hybrid we recently tested is indicative of the company’s newfound attention to detail and quality, then VW has reason to be optimistic about May’s sales portending a sustained trend here. Unlike most hybrids, which require performance sacrifices to compensate for fuel savings, the Jetta Hybrid lets you have it all. Not only is it satisfyingly fast in acceleration, but it is also the exceptional at conserving fuel. This Jetta posts an astonishing 45 MPG overall rating, with 42 MPG available in city driving and 48 MPG on the highway. Given the Jetta’s fuel tank capacity of 11.8 gallons, your range between gas station pencils out at 531 miles. In view of the Hybrid’s moderate base price of $31,120, this VW offers affordability at purchase reinforced by economy throughout the ownership cycle. It’s no wonder that EPA/DOT’s “Fuel Economy & Greenhouse Gas Rating” confers a perfect score of 10 out of 10 on this Hybrid.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

But unlike so many other Hybrids with their dodgy steering, tiny rock hard tires, and futuristic interiors, this Jetta is no Jetson. Rather, it behaves like any other VW product engineered in Wolfsburg, Germany. The seats, dashboard layout, instrumentation, and shift mechanism will all look familiar to longtime VW owners. The super supportive front seats are exceptionally comfortable and nicely finished. The back bench seat works well for medium sized adults, with a useful drop down armrest available between the two outboard positions. Those taller than 5’8″ might find foot room restricted when the front seats are positioned at their mid-track position. Although the Hybrid unit necessitates a rather large hump intruding into trunk storage, you can partially overcome the problem by folding both rear seats flat to gain more space. That armrest between the back seats contain a handy knockout panel which allows you to carry elongated cargo like skis while still leaving the seat backs in their upright position. All in all, a typically useful VW smorgasbord of carriage options.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

Whereas most Hybrids inflict jerky power transitions in the switchover from electric to gas operation, this Jetta makes the switch quietly and unobtrusively. The only time you really notice the amalgamation of power sources is when you tromp the accelerator. That’s when the sudden infusion of turbo boost and electric motor thrust enables the Jetta to spring forward decisively. In fact, the seat of your pants will quickly inform you that this Jetta’s 177hp is more than enough to cope with any power need you may encounter. The first time I pulled out to pass a slower car on a 2 lane highway, I was gratified to complete the maneuver with a huge safety margin I frankly did not expect. You can drive this Jetta over challenging terrain, safe in the knowledge that it will handle crisply. The surfeit of adhesion is due in part to the Hybrid’s stable platform, precise electro-mechanical speed sensitive power steering, 17 inch standard alloy rims, and sportingly serviceable Continental Conti Pro Contact rubber (205/50R17).

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

From a performance standpoint, the one area where the Hybrid is deficient is braking feel. Like so many others of its ilk which depend on regenerative braking to recycle brake heat into energy, this one too suffers from a somewhat spongy and unpredictable pedal. When the same amount of braking force does not always produce the same stopping result, it leads to the inescapable conclusion that pedal feel is a crap shoot that varies from stop to stop. But in the big picture, it’s a relatively minor irritation that can be avoided by always braking earlier than you normally would.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

Aside from that caveat, the 2015 Jetta is a thumbs-up proposition all around. VW has done a minor facelift of the grill, and added Bi-Xenon adaptive headlights to the SEL Premium package, along with a new dash center stack, and upgraded interior materials. All in all, the Hybrid Jetta garners best-n-class honors by offering scintillating performance combined with stupendous fuel economy.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid SEL Premium

  • Engine: 1.4 liter inline 4, turbocharged & Electric Motor with battery Pack
  • Horsepower: 177hp
  • Torque: N/A
  • Fuel Consumption: 42MPG City/48 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $32,490
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

Friday July 31st, 2015 at 12:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

By David Colman

Hypes: Premium Build Quality, German Engineering
Gripes: Chintzy Door Pocket Straps

There’s only one VW model you can order in Yellow Rush for 2015. It’s also the only one you can order in Denim Blue. Let’s see, Rush Yellow and Denim Blue – colors that have kind of a Hippie ring to them, don’t you think? A nostalgic ring that’s not at all out of keeping for prospective buyers of the reinvented Beetle. After all, both owners and car came of age in the Age of Aquarius. For color loving Hippies and even their Hipster offspring, VW offers no fewer than 11 standard colors for the current Beetle. That’s nearly twice as many as you can select for the Golf (7) or the GTI (6).

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

Color is just the beginning of the long, strange trip you’ll take when you saddle up a new Beetle. Our test model, finished in a fetching shade called Reflex Silver Metallic, featured the standard engine in the Beetle line, a 170hp. 1.8 liter turbocharged 4 driving through a 6 speed automatic transmission. This model, replete with a sunroof, Fender premium audio system and RNS 315 touch screen Navigation, retails for $26,985. This affordable package is but one of no less than 30 (!) different options VW offers for the Beetle model line. Breaking things down to the simplest split, you can order a 1.8 liter turbo stripper, with manual gearbox, for as little as $20,195. The 150hp Diesel-powered Beetle TDI, making 236lb.-ft. of torque, starts at $24,795 for a manual gearbox version.

The top line 2.0 liter “R-Line” turbo, making 210hp and coupled to a DSG gearbox with full manual override, lists for $30,525 with sunroof, sound system and navigation. If you upgrade to an R-Line convertible, you’re looking at a $35,095 Beetle. In fact, although the test car we drove for a week doesn’t even break into the top half of the Beetle expense spreadsheet, it still makes for a very enjoyable ride. Its turbo 4, which benefits from direct fuel injection streamed at high psi, offers more than enough performance to make even rabid lane changers happy. The transmission happily accepts commands to hold gear choices, though it lacks the steering wheel paddles supplied with the expensive DSG option.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T .

Bearing in mind that the Beetle is really nothing but a re-clothed Golf, it should come as no surprise that its handling is nimble, accurate and pleasurable to control. The Servotronic speed-variable electro-mechanical steering achieves a happy combination of feedback, precision and intuition. The Beetle always obeys your positioning commands with grace and dispatch. Premium Continental Pro Contact tires (235/45R18) are well suited to the task of clipping apexes accurately. The 18 inch chromed hub alloy rims lend a retro note to the Beetle, looking a bit like the original model’s steel wheels and poverty chrome center caps. Especially appealing is the oversize VW logo featured on each wheel.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

There’s nothing poverty stricken about the Beetle’s interior. Its fit and finish are fastidiously delineated. The dash and doors feature a handsome sweep of Silver Reflex Metallic paint that matches the exterior color and lends an elegant complicity to the interior. The standard heated “comfort” front seats, new for 2015, look fetching even in the Titan Black leatherette application of our test VW. A diagonal pattern of stripes distinguishes the side bolsters from the seating surfaces in a look that mimics silk and satin. The glovebox features a delightful latch that owners of earlier Beetles will recall with fondness.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

But this interior is not showy at the expense of utilitarian virtue. After a shopping trip to Home Depot garnered a couple of 4′ light fixtures and a 10′ pole for cleaning windows, my wife and I debated whether some of the purchases would be poking through the sunroof on the trip home. I said no, she said yes, and when we got to the Beetle, we discovered that because both rear seats fold flat, everything would fit inside the car, including that 10′ long pole. Given its diminutive size, the Beetle offers an amazing compendium of space efficiency, fuel efficiency (28MPG overall) and driving joy for a very modest investment.

2015 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T

  • Engine: 1.8 liter turbocharged inline 4, DOHC, 16 valves, direct injection
  • Horsepower: 170hp
  • Torque: 184lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 25 MPG City/33 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $27,805
  • Star Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

Monday July 20th, 2015 at 2:77 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

By David Colman

Hypes: Super Clean Fit, Finish and Appearance
Gripes: Sloppy Throttle, V6 Needs More HP and Torque

Volkswagen has refreshed the appearance of the Touareg SUV for 2015. Most noticeable is the revamped prow, with seven horizontal strakes emphasizing the platform’s 76 inch width. New 20 inch alloy rims complement the new grill’s linearity with their triple ribbed five spoke design. All in all, VW has successfully infused the aging Touareg platform with a new visual vocabulary. Yet all the previous virtues of this luxury SUV remain: all-wheel-drive (4Motion), sumptuous accommodations for 4, excellent all-around visibility, and rock solid handling. The 4 Motion system benefits from a self-locking center differential that will extricate you from virtually any traction robbing situation. The grabby Goodyear LS2 Eagles (275/45R20) contribute high levels of wet and dry traction. And if you do get yourself well and truly stuck, VW provides 3 years and 36,000 miles of 24 Hour Roadside Assistance including towing, jump starts, tire changes, plus remedies for out-of-fuel and lock-out problems.

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

The upgraded interior of the Executive model rivals the best offerings from Range Rover or BMW for understated good taste. Our “Black Oak Brown Metallic” test model featured a “Cornsilk Beige” interior as easy on the eyes as it was on the torso. The enormous power lifting and sliding panoramic sunroof (standard issue) brightens both rows of the interior, even when shut. Both front and rear seats are trimmed with exceptionally pliant leather, carefully tailored into bolstered sections that look like recliners you might find at Scandinavian Designs. In fact, that same clean European design idiom permeates the interior, from the precision feel of the center console lid to the ancillary controls on the steering wheel and dashboard. VW charges $2,500 for the Executive Driver Assistance package, which adds Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Assist, a lane departure warning system. Both offerings add to the Touareg’s ease of operation and your own peace of mind. VW’s Lane Assist is one of the best on the market, with a mutable chime and a useful blinker under each exterior rear view mirror to remind you of adjacent traffic.

Also new is an 8-speed automatic transmission which VW imports from Japan. This unit insures decent highway fuel mileage of 23MPG, as well as manual gear override via a stubby floor mounted selector lever. Unfortunately, steering wheel mounted paddles are not offered as part of the gear changing system. Still, it’s easy to lock the transmission in a gear ratio of your choice. Doing so insures that the gearbox will not up-shift on its own accord, especially handy when you are pulling a trailer. Touareg is well equipped for such towing duty, with its standard receiver jack, and standard “Area View” camera system to help position hitch on ball. Trailer rating is a generous 7,700 lbs.

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

If you do plan on towing a substantial load, opt for the diesel engine or the Hybrid Touareg, because the base model V6 we tested is short on pulling power. Bear in mind that this VW weighs in at 5,060 pounds. If you select the TDI turbo diesel option (base price $62,200), you get just 240hp, which gives you a power-to-weight ratio of 21lb./hp. But the diesel’s exceptional torque output of 406 lb./ft. more than covers the horsepower shortfall. If you opt for the top model 380hp V6 Hybrid ($66,995), your power-to-weight ratio drops to a very lively 13.3 lb./hp. Our gas powered V6 Touareg Executive ($58,700 base price) makes just 280hp and 266lb.-ft. of torque. That’s a burdensome power-to-weight ratio of 18.07lb./hp. Further complicating the gas V6′s lack of thrust is a throttle pedal that is not linear in its application. When you mash the throttle, you encounter considerable pedal free play before the engine responds to your input.

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

The Executive version of the Touareg is loaded with comfort and luxury features you will pay dearly to match should you chose a similar product from Porsche (Cayenne) or BMW (X4 or X5). For example, standard inclusions from VW are adaptive Bi-Xenon headlights, park distance control, 10 speaker Dynaudio sound system, Climatronic dual zone automatic climate control, keyless access with push button start, remote power lift gate with easy opening feature, rain sensing wipers, and a dozen more useful additions. Life with this Volkswagen is pleasurable, and its promise of future benefit recently reached maturity with a full blessing from Consumer Reports. CR just conferred “Recommended” status on the Touareg, since reliability has finally improved to “average” after many years in the sub-par category.

2015 Volkswagen Touareg Executive

  • Engine: 3.6 liter VR6, 24 valve narrow angle V6 with FSI direct fuel injection
  • Horsepower: 280hp
  • Torque: 266lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/23 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $62,110
  • Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

Tuesday October 21st, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

By David Colman

Hypes: Tremendous Range, Low Speed Torque, Luxury cabin
Gripes: VW lags competitors in JD POWERS IQS (Initial Quality Survey)

It’s really too bad that you can’t use your X-ray eyes to look through the engine shroud covering VW’s all new turbo diesel EA288 engine. If you could, you would realize just how much more sophisticated this new diesel is than its predecessor, the EA189. Only the cylinder bore center dimension remains the same. Everything else about the EA288 is new and improved. Inside you’ll find a cast iron block mated to an aluminum cylinder head, with overhead camshafts operating both intake and exhaust valves from the same cam. This novel arrangement promotes greater air delivery and swirl in the combustion chambers. Net result to you is improved performance and better mileage than before. The new diesel bumps horsepower output to 150 hp (from the EA189′s 140 hp). Torque is abundant, with a wallop of 236 lb.-ft. hitting home at just 1,750 rpm. Best of all, the new diesel’s intelligent architecture yields an eye popping mileage dividend. If you order your TDI with 6-speed manual transmission, expect 44MPG on the highway and a cruising range of 814 miles between refueling stops.

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

Our test TDI was equipped with VW’s dual clutch automatic DSG gearbox, a no-charge option on the SEL Premium model. Although the DSG slightly lowers highway mileage to 42MPG, you can still expect 34MPG in overall driving. The DSG is unquestionably one of the best automatic transmissions on the market today. Like the manual, it also offers 6 speeds, with an opportunity to select individual ratios by slotting the floor mounted stick into the manual segment of its gate. However, because the diesel affords so much torque so low in its rpm range, manual gear control is hardly ever necessary. Just press the accelerator and feel that gratifying rush of instant torque.

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

The rich interior of the Passat SEL belies its reasonable $33,585 window sticker. If you opt for the SEL Premium version, you will receive leather, rather than vinyl seating surfaces, comfort sport seats, rain sensing wipers, Fender premium audio with 8 speakers and sub woofer, RNS 510 navigation system, 8 way power seats for both driver and passenger, and wood grained dash and door trim. In other woods, the appropriately named “Corn Silk Beige” cabin of this Passat matches up well with BMW and Mercedes products costing twice as much. We put the Fender audio to the test by slipping Linda Ronstadt’s new Starbuck’s CD into the dash slot and cranking the volume way up. The 8 speakers and sub woofer translated her old standards into concert hall sound while conveniently displaying the name and time of each cut on the navigation screen panel. In an increasingly digitized world, the Passat’s interior strikes a calming classic note, with its analog clock face prominently displayed atop the center stack of the dash. Large, round, easily read instrument faces of the 6,000rpm tachometer and 160mph speedometer also fly in the face of the flashy, confusing TFT dials that have become so popular today.

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

Handling has long been a VW asset, and the latest Passat continues the tradition, with its finely balanced strut front/multi-link rear independent suspension design. Ride comfort is excellent, thanks in part to the cushy all-season Continental Pro Contact tires (235/45R18) which stress bump absorption over ultimate grip. New for 2015 is electro-mechanical power steering, which places a premium on feedback and precision. Turning radius of the Passat is a scant 36.4 feet, making this sizeable four door feel more like a sports car than a ponderous sedan.

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

VW stresses horizontality in the styling of the Passat. Strong chrome grill bands emphasize the sedan’s substantial 72.2 inch width. A swept back roofline culminates in a nearly flat rear window which gives this sedan coupe-like grace. Understated elegance characterizes the interior and exterior design language of the Passat. There is a certain timeless quality to good design, and the latest Passat enjoys that ephemeral virtue. Build quality from VW’s new plant in Chattanooga, TN matches the best output from Wolfsburg, Germany. Doors open smartly to pre-determined detents, interior trim surfaces mate precisely, even the glovebox door glides open slowly and deliberately. No obvious corners have been cut in fabricating this VW.

2015 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL

  • Engine: 2.0 Liter inline 4 diesel with Direct Injection and turbocharging
  • Horsepower: 150ho @3,500rpm
  • Torque: 236lb.-ft.@1,750rpm
  • Fuel Consumption: 30 MPG City/42 MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $34,405
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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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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