The Truth About Cars » Volkswagen The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Jul 2014 16:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Volkswagen Clean-Diesel Sales Up 25 Percent In The US For 2014 Mon, 21 Jul 2014 11:00:18 +0000 2015-Volkswagen-Jetta-13

Though hardly any of the offerings can be found in a brown wagon with a six-speed manual pushing power to the back, U.S. sales of clean-diesel vehicles have climbed up 25 percent this year.

Autoblog Green reports clean-diesels are set to double their current 3 percent of total vehicles sold in the U.S. by 2018, according to Diesel Technology Forum. The group also noted the 25 percent jump is besting overall sales thus far in 2014, having only seen a boost of 4.2 percent in comparison.

As for the cause of the leap into oil-burning, consumers seeking better fuel economy find a 30 percent gain when the engine quietly purrs, especially when 27 of the 46 available clean-diesel models for the U.S. market are cars and SUVs. Winners include Audi and Chevrolet, both moving 8,100 and 3,000 units through the first half of 2014. Meanwhile, Volkswagen, lost 8 percent in sales during the same period, though still lead the way with 42,000 vehicles leaving the lot.

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Review: 2015 Golf TSI Auto Sat, 05 Jul 2014 12:00:36 +0000 IMG_6400

Who buys one of these things instead of the brilliant GTI? Sure, in Europe the Golf is a default-mode transportation device the way the Corolla is in the United States — but that doesn’t change the fact that anybody who buys a German(-branded) hatchback on this side of the Atlantic is trying to make a statement, the same way that anybody who eats “Pocky” in the United States is trying to make a statement.

Perhaps the Mk7 Golf TSI, particularly in the metallic blue exterior/cream interior variant we drove in San Francisco, makes the right kind of statement to the right kind of people. The one that says, “I’m not a GTI racer wannabe, I just want to drive exactly what someone in our perfectly enlightened and cultured and correct mother continent of Europe would drive.” Driving a GTI is kind of like eating a salad with a lot of dressing — there’s a suspicion that you might not be into the spirit of the thing. Driving the TSI, on the other hand, is much like telling everybody that you don’t own a television.


The real-word pricing on these 170hp/200lb-ft tq Golfs is between $19,800 and $28k. On all but the “S” trim, you can get the TDI for an extra grand or so. From a resale and longevity standpoint, it would be wise to do so. Everybody knows that diesel VWs have a very different retained-value profile from gas-powered ones, particularly as they approach their tenth birthday and beyond. As soon as I find my photos of the TDI I’ll do a review on that, but the gist of it will be this: there’s virtually no penalty for the diesel in daily use. In the meantime, let’s go driving this newest 1.8t.


The combination of light upholstery and the extremely convincing metal-look trim in the Golf is just so right for NorCal. It’s hip, fresh, airy, upscale-feeling, and not at all aggressive. The GTI isn’t classy like this; the GTI is try-hard with its piano-black sportlich dash and golf-ball shifter and extra GTI logos and whatnot. Imagine you were taking a user-interface designer for Facebook on a first date: do you want her to see you in a light-blue Golf or a bright-red GTI? Exactly.

Into “D” and the TSI is immediately impressive with plenty of low-end shove that doesn’t completely strangle a nice rush to the redline. This is a sporting motor in execution if not intent and it has a lot of the revvy friendly character that made the old five-valve 1.8t such an unexpected joy in the MkIV Golf GLS four-door. (Removing completely incorrect paragraph about the transmission, brought on by mis-reading my notes — JB)

This being the widest, most spacious, and most rigid Golf in history, it’s no surprise that the TSI is an exceptionally pleasant companion in traffic and on side roads. The space (up front, anyway) and the refinement are easily on par with the Camcord class above it. That’s reasonable, because when you equip it like a Camry SE it kind of costs Camry SE money. So what do you get in exchange for going down a segment at the same price?

Well, you get the exceptionally tasteful interior, although the temperature knobs wobble a bit too much for my taste and some of the plastics around the seat are very obviously hecho in Mexico. You get the “V-Tex” leatherette which is very good and likely to wear pretty well. (Side note: Calling it “V-Tex” is sort of like of me calling my occasional band “Uranium Zeppelin”. If you want to riff on the legends, you’d better come correct. I’m not sure VW has earned the name.) You get a turbo four and twin-clutch transmission that are more responsive than the big-inch one-bar four-bangers in the Camry and friends and considerably more enjoyable to push hard.

You also get a remarkably composed chassis. A run up a few canyon roads revealed that even without the stiff springs and thick swaybars of the GTI, this is an inherently enthusiastic automobile. It likes to turn, it can be steered with the throttle in the midcorner, it reliably swallows bumps on unfamiliar roads. The brakes seemed solid enough but at the top of one hill they exhaled plumes of smoke through the wheels so perhaps that was pushing them too hard. In deference to my predecessor in this E-I-C position, I should also say something about how the MQB chassis didn’t squeak or rustle (true) and how it’s going to take over the world in the next three minutes (not sure about that one). There is a difference between the old Golfs and the new ones; they felt solid but this one is halfway to a Phaeton in the way it refuses to flex under load. And remember: this is a hatchback. Having that big hole in back doesn’t help matters when it comes to stiffness.

Of course, the latest generation of Camcords is also pretty stiff and light and in the case of the Trope Namers they’re both pretty enthusiastic steers with the proper options selected. So not only is it difficult to make a case for the VW over our market defaults based on the numbers, it’s kind of tough to make it based on the intangibles of chassis stiffness or suspension tuning or back-road charisma. True, you need an “SE” or “Sport” version of a Camcord to keep up with this not-explicitly-sporting Golf, but you won’t have to look very hard to find them at your local dealer.

I wouldn’t buy this particular car. I’d buy a GTI, public image be damned. Or I’d buy the manual-transmission version of the TSI, which Volkswagen continues to offer. Or I’d buy a Camry SE, knowing that it’s just as quick and handles just as well and has more room and will last approximately forever and will be worth real money to any CarMax I can roll it down a hill to in ten years.

But I’m not the market for this car. I’m too old, too track-focused, too unhip, too flyover, too everything. The people who are buying these cars don’t care to acknowledge the existence of the Camry SE. They’ll buy this VW because it’s like a tie from Hickoree’s or having Sun Kill Moon on vinyl or using the word “Murica” ironically in conversation: it sends the right signals to the right people. In that respect, the sacrifices one makes to own a Golf over a Camry — in size, in likely durability, in having to endure the VW dealer body, in resale — are positive because they ensure that no stupid mother of two from Iowa is going to accidentally buy the same Golf TSI that you, the San Jose-based social media consultant, have just purchased.

Go ahead and buy one, then. It’s the right car for you. And more than ever, it’s also a pretty good car. Just know this: that distinct feeling of superiority you get when you see some prole in a Fusion… well, you should keep shaded, because it might not stand the light of day.


(Volkswagen provided travel and accommodations for this test.)

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VW Will Begin Production Of Beetle Dune In 2016 Thu, 03 Jul 2014 10:00:27 +0000 vw-beetle-dune-concept-10-1

Remember the Beetle Dune Concept we showed you a while ago? It’ll be in showrooms sometime in 2016.

Car reports Volkswagen announced production of the concept through a promotional video instead of the usual press release. Pricing for the new Beetle — which will come in coupe and convertible forms — will be €2,800 ($3,800 USD) over the standard Beetle.

Though no form of power has been specified — the concept had a 210-horsepower 2-liter turbo-four mated to a six-speed dual-clutch pushing those ponies to the front wheels — the production model will receive the concept’s 2-inch ground clearance and 1.1-inch wider track.

As for when the Dune will be seeking out its Kwisatz Haderach in the United States, Autoblog says VW of America has no official plans ready for announcement as of this writing, according to representative Mark Gillies.

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Reader Review: Skoda Octavia vRS Wed, 18 Jun 2014 13:31:02 +0000 DSC_0120

All the way from Santiago, Chile, reader Carlos Villalobos invited us to drive his Skoda Octavia vRS. Sadly, none of us could make the 12+ hour flight to the other end of the globe, so Carlos sent us his review instead.

Lusting after forbidden fruit isn’t a concept known only to North Americans, salivating over diesel hatchbacks and hot VAG variants. Here in South America, we also are afflicted with the same problem every other human being has: wanting what they can’t have.

Except in my case, I am lusting after a Jetta GLI.

You might think I’m crazy – apparently, the GLI is not considered a “real” Volkswagen by many American enthusiasts, since it’s based on the unloved MKVI Jetta. But here in Chile, we don’t have the GLI. We do have the GTI, but it’s extremely expensive, and frankly, I prefer the practicality of a sedan to a hatchback, even though that statement is considered heresy by the B&B.

So when I heard that Skoda was bringing the vRS line to Chile, I started to think about how I can afford it without starving my wife and three children . I like to have cars for 5 years or 100,000 km. When my 2009 Jetta hit that milestone, I ended up replacing i with a 2011 Sonata. It was a great deal, but also impossibly boring. I even crashed it, which I attribute to sheer boredom. The next day, I saw a nearly new Octavia vRS with 7,000 km. Some groveling with the wife ensued, but I had my dream car.

I really only have two complaints. First the driver’s seat doesn’t go quite low enough. Even a couple of centimeters would be fine. The second annoyance is that in the position I use the steering wheel, it obstructs the lower part of the IP display, so I can’t see the fuel gauge except when it’s marked as full.

The rest of the car is amazing. It literally has everything the VAG parts bin has to offer, except for radar cruise control and massage seats. But it does have Xenon headlights that can angle the beam into a corner, LED DRLs, heated mirrors, heated front and rear seats (the fronts are Recaros), dual zone climate control and a bloody massive trunk with folding rear seats.

The fit and finish is excellent, the hard plastics are top notch, the fake carbon inserts look pretty nice and the handles to open the doors look like aluminum and feel solid. The floor mats are thick and the seats are very supportive, with lots of adjustments. The sound system is great for my untrained ears. In general the look and feel is business like.

But I can’t say it’s pretty. I preferred the long tail proportions I of the Mk5 Jetta, but I do love the stance it has, hunkered down in a way that reminds me of Skoda’s old WRC cars. The 17 inch wheels look right without disrupting the ride quality.

When I bought it, I used to work and they paid for the fuel, so I didn’t mind too much the fuel consumption and traveled along the country in 500 km trips eating 335s and A4s. Now it is a weekend car because I don’t need to drive to work, so I enjoy it in short trips.

It accelerates very well in straight line and once the turbo comes on at 2,000 RPM, the acceleration is very strong. The brakes are not progressive and the faster you go the better they work. I had to learn to modulate them, but the ABS just activates when it is needed. In medium to fast corners it feels very planted and neutral, without too much understeer. It is different in slow corners, where if you turn and accelerate at the same time, the boost comes in and the tires can’t manage the power and the push can be surprising. After that you learn to go in a higher gear and use the torque to pull you out of the corner. The car should use the brakes to act as a LSD under 50 km/h but it does not.

People who only want the brand recognition go for the BMW 114 or Audi A3/A4 with a 125 hp engine for the same price, but for me the intelligent choice it is this car, which has a lot more of equipment, more power and is more exotic, for the same money.  In the real world, nothing this side of an M3 can touch you, at the traffic lights, highways or B road. If you are smart the with throttle, it’s actually fairly economical too

Now, if only Skoda would bring the diesel vRS …

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UAW Will Spend Less On Transplant Organization Campaigns Mon, 09 Jun 2014 13:00:45 +0000 UAW + UniteHere Protest June 2014

Though the United Auto Worker’s fight for organization of the transplants in the Southeastern United States rages on, the union will not be taking as much from its war chest to fund the fight than in previous years.

The Detroit News reports UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel informed reporters at the end of the 36th UAW Constitutional Convention that there would be news this week of the union’s plan to organize the Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Ala. despite the lack of support for the UAW. He also says he will remain in Tennessee to help with the renewed fight for the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, where the union lost in a contentious election back in February amid allegations of anti-union interference.

As for what those plans entail, or how much less the union was willing to spend on them, Casteel did not offer specifics; the UAW spent $15 million under the term of former union president Bob King, whose term ended with the election of new president and former secretary-treasurer Dennis Williams. He also said his union would not be affected by Canadian labor union Unifor’s efforts to organize Toyota’s plants in Ontario, nor did he believe if Chattanooga had been won, all of the remaining transplants would soon follow:

I don’t really believe in the domino effect. If Volkswagen had been successful, I didn’t see this domino effect with the other transnationals and vice-versa.

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Volkswagen To Triple SUV Lineup In Fight Against Toyota For Total Global Sales Wed, 04 Jun 2014 11:00:24 +0000 Volkswagen-T-ROC-Concept-02

With Toyota still in its sights, Volkswagen plans to triple the number of SUVs in its lineup in its fight for the top sales podium among the Global Three.

Bloomberg reports the current offerings — the midsize Touareg and compact Tiguan — will soon be joined by the upcoming seven-passenger CrossBlue-based SUV that will either be assembled in Mexico or Tennessee, coupe and long-wheelbase versions of the Tiguan, the Touareg and a subcompact based on either the Taigun or T-ROC concepts. The strategy would provide VW with the opportunity to meet Toyota across the latter’s range on its way to beat the Japanese automaker in global deliveries by 2018, and would build brand strength in the United States and emerging markets such as China.

Meanwhile, Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini and Porsche are also moving further into the SUV market, ranging from the Cayenne and new Macan — both of which are expected to account for 64 percent of all Porsche sales by next year, according to IHS Automotive — to the Q1 in 2016 and Urus in 2017. The overall game would net Volkswagen an operating profit boost over 6 percent of sales over the current rate of 2.9 percent, as SUVs are considered to be more profitable than other vehicles.

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VW Pulled By Competing Incentive Offers For New SUV Assembly Tue, 03 Jun 2014 13:00:28 +0000 Volkswagen-CrossBlue-Concept

Though the seven-passenger SUV based upon the CrossBlue concept is ready to be built, Volkswagen is being pulled by incentive offers in the two locations fighting for the right to build the SUV: Mexico and Tennessee.

Reuters reports VW would have made its decision by now as to where the new product would be assembled, but sources close to the issue have said the automaker will likely announce the location by the end of June at the earliest. Though Tennessee originally offered $300 million for the SUV, the state government now has to match or better what Mexico offered once the original deal was abruptly pulled off the table in January 2014 ahead of a contentious organized labor election at VW’s Chattanooga factory.

In Mexico, VW invested $700 million toward refurbishing its 50-year-old Puebla plant for production of the new Golf, which will be made alongside the Jetta and Beetle already in production by the plant’s 15,000 employees. If the nation is chosen, the new SUV would be made there or in Audi’s San Jose Chiapa, where the Q5 will be built beginning in 2016.

As for what VW knows about Tennessee’s new incentive offer, the automaker remains silent on the issue beyond confirming they are talking to state officials.

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Review: 2015 Volkswagen GTI Performance Pack (Mk7) Tue, 03 Jun 2014 13:00:22 +0000 IMG_6137 (Medium)

After the first one, the second one, the worst one, and the star-crossed one, we’ve finally arrived at the Mk7 GTI.

Good news: it’s worth the wait.
IMG_6140 (Medium)

After the mild update that turned the Mk5 into the lowered-expectations Mk6, this MQB Golf feels the entirely different car that it is. Longer, lower, wider, lighter, more spacious, better-equipped, but still recognizably a Golf both inside and out. A focus on Mexican production is at least partially responsible for Volkswagen’s ability to offer a $25.215 “S” model that offers slightly more equipment than the Mk6 it replaces. Those of us who remember the Rabbit S as the tape-and-stripe pre-GTI from 1981 will no doubt be slightly confused that there is now a Golf GTI S.

Let’s go over the equipment right quick, straight from the press release:

The Golf GTI S features the following standard equipment: 210-hp 2.0-liter TSI engine; 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels; Bluetooth® connectivity; a touchscreen radio; Sirius XM® Satellite radio; a Media Device Interface (MDI) with iPod® integration; a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, handbrake, and shifter knob; VW Car-Net® connected services; ambient and footwell lighting with LED reading lights; cloth sport seats with heritage GTI design; LED foglights; heatable front seats; and a new driving mode selection feature.

The SE starts at $27,395 for the two-door manual transmission model. It adds the following standard equipment: a power tilt and slide sunroof; Keyless access with push-button start; a rearview camera; automatic headlights; rain-sensing windshield wipers; the Fender® Premium Audio System; and leather seating surfaces.

The Autobahn is only available as a four-door model, priced from $29,595 with the manual transmission. This adds navigation, a 12-way power driver’s seat, and automatic air conditioning to the list of standard equipment on the SE.

The GTI S I drove had the Performance Pack, which adds big brakes, an electronically-controlled limited-slip (which I believe to have a mechanical component, not just brake programming) and 10 extra horsepower over the standard 210. It will be available later in the year. Car and Driver‘s Tony Swan could be reliably counted on to write “Know what? We’d wait for it” in regards to this sort of thing, so consider that written. You want a Performance Pack. Even if you don’t care about it, when you go to sell the car in five or ten years from now, each and every email and phone call you get about it will start with “Does it have PP?” As the song says, make it easy on yourself.

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All the first impressions are good: this is a car that follows the same dark-materials-and-shiny-trim playbook as everybody else from Mazda from BMW but the execution is exceptionally good. While the standard Golf perhaps offers a bit more Ikea-chic with its full brushed-metal dashboard and center console (and we’ll cover that car later in the week), the GTI interior does not disappoint and it looks and feels more than a bit above the $25k sticker.

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The control efforts are light but predictable and there’s more than a bit of Audi A4 to the GTI as I pull out for the “Long/Aggressive” drive loop. Time to boot the throttle. Directly prior to getting on the plane, I’d let the leash out on my 2014 Accord V-6 stick-shift for calibration purposes. I’m more than surprised at the way the new turbo engine out-torques the Accord from low revs; with 258 lb-ft across a very broad electronically-managed plateau, it has the twist of an ’83 Mustang five-point-oh delivered at pretty much the same place on the tach.

What a surprise to find that torque steer is mostly absent; the GTI simply runs hard until the small turbo runs out of puff in typical small-turbo style. Now, as the revs approach 6k, is when you’d really prefer to have a big Japanese six under the hood, but instead you get a lot of sound and fury, mostly artificial, signifying that it’s time to shift and ride the torque curve yet again. The net effect is bizarrely like the VR6 MkIII GTI, only played at fast-forward pace.

The Performance Pack suspension, brakes, and rubber all conspire to make the Volkswagen far too capable for our test loop. Letting the engine spin only results in running up more quickly against the next group of tourists or cyclists. What this needs is a track, but surely it would prove to be just as hapless as most Golf-pattern cars in that environment. Suffice it to say that you won’t easily reach the GTI’s limits anywhere that you wouldn’t reach the limits of something like a BMW 328i with the Sport package. This GTI probably runs semi-close to the Scirocco R for raw pace, assuming you select the DSG. As ever with these cars, no matter how many letters you use to describe the platform, the manual shift action is slow and steady at best, so you’ll have to take in satisfaction what you lose in over-the-road speed.

On the move, the GTI starts to feel distinctly mid-sized, particularly with regards to that nearly seventy-one-inch width. Still, visibility is decent enough given the considerable beltline draft. The same kind of dimensional gaps that made the Mk2 feel so much bigger than the Mk1 are at work here as well vis-a-vis the Mk6. Thank goodness the BMW 3er keeps getting bigger, or this Golf would catch it. As wide as an E90 and taller, slathered liberally with cold-to-the-touch metal trim, it’s light-years from the old GTIs. The proportions just keep drifting from the original, and at some point it starts to really matter that the perched-on-the-seat, elbows-on-the-doorsills feeling of the early cars is completely gone. VW did itself no favors bringing the “heritage” cars along, because they remind us of when the Golf was a compact car, not an Accord sans trunk. Why would you get an A3, other than for the rings on the grille and the guarantee that assembly took place without the involvement, direct or indirect, of a drug cartel?

It’s at this point that I want to suggest that you read Jason Cammisa’s review of the same GTI I drove. I want you to do this, not just because I want to prop up Jason’s career in the interest of receiving free drinks from him in the future, but because he’s such an unabashed fan of this car and I want you to hear all the good things about the car from a fan before I talk about it in a less than positive way.

Okay. You’re back? Let’s continue. This new GTI is, by any measure you can objectively apply, the best GTI in history. From the three-dimensional court and spark of the complex and gorgeous steering wheel to the video-game power delivery, from the considered retro chic of the upholstery to the absolutely vice-free way the nose turns even under braking, it is damned near flawless. If you envision the GTI customer base as people who cannot afford an M3 but demand a large subset of that car’s virtues at well under half the price, well… mission accomplished.

You can’t fluster it, not with idiotic midcorner braking, not with lazy shifting choices, not with pitch-and-catch attempts at adjusting its attitude around a turn. It’s effortlessly fast and frankly it would work just fine with a four-speed manual box, or possibly even a three-speed automatic, such is the flexibility and might of the engine.

The only problem with this car is that I’d rather have a Fiesta ST. Imagine that the GTI was slow-roasted until all the joy dripped out of it. Then imagine that all the joy that dripped out was caught in a drip pan. Then imagine that the drip pan was emptied into the Fiesta ST. The Fiesta is everything the Golf isn’t: deliberately unstable at speed, hugely involving, capable of returning vast differentials of pace depending on driver commitment and talent.

“But wait a minute,” you say, “the proper competition for the GTI is the Focus ST.” Well, I’m not totally sure I wouldn’t take the Focus. It’s not nearly as good of a car on the road but it has some racetrack desirability to it and I prefer the Rude Ford look to the A3 Lite one. This GTI feels awfully grownup. There have always been two groups of buyers for this car: literature professors slumming it with a campus-friendly rocket and kids looking to start trouble with Daddy’s money or the entire proceeds of their McJob. With the Mk7, Volkswagen has tilted the balance drastically towards the former.

What we really need here is the Renault Megane, which is everything you really want in a front-wheel-drive enthusiast car. The GTI could have been a Megane competitor. Instead, it’s an Audi competitor, which seems odd, because VW owns Audi.

Unto the seventh generation, the sins of the original Golf have been long expiated. The problem is that the virtues, and the character, were dispensed with as well. What’s left is a fast, competent, useful car from which to sit back and watch the Bimmer drivers paying too much for the same experience — and the Fiesta drivers having unadulterated fun.

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Volkswagen Will Bring US Product Faster To Market Beginning 2017 Mon, 02 Jun 2014 11:00:48 +0000 2015 VW Golf Main

In an effort to keep its U.S. customer base satisfied — and to potentially boost sales — Volkswagen is planning on delivering the goods to the market at a faster clip than current.

Bloomberg reports VW U.S. CEO Michael Horn expects new models to arrive every five years with major refreshes after three years; currently, new models arrive in showrooms every seven years, while major refreshes come in the fourth year:

Customers want quicker change. We’re working to shorten the life cycle of the products to bring more new features and design elements, in terms of face-lifts, to the market quicker. We believe we have a positive business case. It commercially makes sense that we move.

The new product cycle won’t begin until 2017 at the earliest, and must still meet management approval before implementation can commence, further diminishing hopes of moving 800,000 units out of U.S. showrooms annually by 2018; Horn recently stated VW’s U.S. operations would focus more on “realistic targets in the short-term.

The CEO also said he and a number of execs within the parent company had been meeting every other month since January to discuss how best to get a handle on the U.S. market, while 50 individuals from the automaker’s various departments attended a two-day summit to throw in their two cents on the matter. The summit focused on fleet fuel efficiency, product lineup and speed of product cycle.

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Capsule Review: 2002 Volkswagen GTI 1.8T Tue, 27 May 2014 13:00:27 +0000 vr6

What a long, strange trip it’s been! By the year 1999, the VW GTI had been a flop with the critics for fifteen of its seventeen years in the market. Yet the car still had credibility with the people who actually bought it, and it was still considered to be a desirable, premium vehicle. More importantly than that, the hardcore fans had noted the release of the G.O.A.T. and expected that the Mk4 Golf would feature the same helping of Piech magic.

It did—sort of.

T.S. Eliot could show you fear in a handful of dust (and that’s the second reference The Waste Land in just three reviews, I must be losing it) but I can show you the excellence of the fourth-generation Golf in a single photo. Behold:

No, not the stupid wheels! Look at the line formed by the back door. Now look at the line formed by the rear hatch and taillight cutout. Now try to tell me this car wasn’t designed with the same care that Giugiaro gave to the original. Finally. After fifteen years of indifferent, bulky-looking compact VWs, this was a hurricane blast of fresh air, inside and out. With this car, Volkswagen finally embraced the “premium” thing with both arms and the result was spectacular. Better than that, the Mk4 finally felt like a value proposition. Nobody else offered a car with this kind of interior, this kind of style, this kind of attitude, for this kind of money.

Your humble author wasted no time in becoming the owner of a Brazilian-built 2000 GLS 1.8t four-door, a car that was such a cult classic that I sold it for what I’d paid for it new when it was two years old and had 25,000 miles on it. The 1.8t that had enlivened the Passat worked similar magic in the Golf, allowing it to run more or less heads-up with the 5.0 Mustangs that still roamed the streets at that time. A whole generation of young people fell in love with the Mk4 — girls with the stylish Jetta 2.slow, boys with the 1.8t, old men with the VR6, which picked up a four-valve head and broke the 200-hp mark halfway through the model run. The whole “Dubber” culture, which had been tottering along unsteadily on the last legs of the Boomer air-cooled freaks, picked up the kind of momentum commonly found by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge and never looked back.


(Apologies for the stock photos — JB)

Our test example is part of VW’s “heritage” fleet, a two-door 2002 GTI 1.8t, with the upgraded 180-hp engine that arrived for that year. Ooh, this one’s just as nice as I remember. These cars were subject to a sort of Holy Trinity of failures — window regulators, coilpack failures, and peeling plastic — but a test roll of the windows fails to see one drop into the door and the response to the throttle is proper strong.

Compared to the VR6, the 180-horsepower 1.8t is better in all respects. It spins faster, makes more power under the curve, and demonstrates more flexibility. Most amazingly, it has five valves per cylinder, something that Yamaha had done in its motorcycle engines to great acclaim and the engineering of which was an unequivocal shot across the bow of the Japanese automakers who hadn’t managed to do it despite sharing a country of origin with the technology’s originators. The only problem is that it sounds terrible, replacing the Italian-supercar growl of the six with the asthmatic wheeze of the blown four. Blech. Roll the windows back up, luxuriate in the silence of the thoroughly insulated cabin, and hustle along.

Which you can do. Finally, a GTI that kind of handles by modern standards. On a racetrack, it would grind the outside sidewall with the single-minded determination of an Amish carpenter but on the open road these cars are a good mix of ride quality and usable grip. I remember years spent thrashing through Ohio’s Hocking Hills in these cars, abusing the trustworthy and granular lift-throttle rotation, using the torque to pull me up the grades and then bouncing the redline in long exhilarating moments before standing on the nose for the next corner. The only caveat was the brakes, which could pick up a lot of heat in a relatively short time and take an unannounced vacation as a result.

This isn’t a light car — 2,950 pounds compared to the 3,397 of my Accord Coupe, which brings another hundred horsepower and a wealth of additional features to the party — but what you pay in weight you receive back in solidity. Oddly, the Golf felt heavier, more inert, more solid, than the B5-generation Passat. Perhaps it’s not surprising, since the larger car didn’t actually scale that much more.


Regrettably, the Mk4 didn’t reverse the Mk3 trend of smaller window openings. This is the darkest interior yet, the least visibility, the thickest pillars. That C-pillar that satsifies so in the aesthetic sense turns out to be a bit of a hassle on the road, particularly in the two-door models. The windowsills, too, are a bit higher than I’d like, a problem made more explicit by having recently driven the earlier, airier cars.

If you can live without the character of the VR6, the Mk4 1.8t possesses a superset of its predecessor’s abilities and throws in a double helping of design excellence as a bonus. Finally, VW had a winner on its hands. The Euro and Brit press fought tooth and nail to compose the most symphonic of encomia to the Golf and its almighty father, Dr. Piech. To own a turbo Golf in those days was to be a man beyond reproach, identified as an aesthete and tastemaker far above the crass material statement of BMW ownership yet deeply versed in the corksniffing snobbery of “German-engineered” automobilia.

No, it wasn’t as good a car as the Passat. It didn’t handle as well, it was less spacious, it had some cheaper bits on the inside, it wasn’t as slippery, the fuel economy in real-world use was actually worse. But it was so much classier-feeling than anything else in the market that it didn’t matter. The Civic, Sentra, Focus, Cavalier — none of them even came close. VW sales continued to shoot through the roof and company spokespeople started to babble about doing a million units a year in this country.

And then, disaster struck. VW’s attempts to address its price and cost issues through the supplier-pinching magic of a certain J. Iganacio Lopez, a man who was so good at creating profit where there had been none that VW gladly paid General Motors $100 million for poaching him and considered it money well spent, started showing through. And now, let’s quote John Updike’s Piet Hanema, from the brilliant 1968 book, “Couples”:

Let me tell you about houses… Everything outs. Every cheat. Every short cut… Don’t think because you cover something up it isn’t there. People have a nose for the rotten and if you’re a builder the smell clings.

The first big problem with the 1.8t-powered Volkswagens was, strictly speaking, not VW’s fault. The engine was designed to take just three quarts of oil, a specification cheerfully ignored by lazy dealer personnel who filled it with five anyway and caused all sorts of havoc. The company bowed to the pressures of reality and changed the oil pan to accommodate what the service monkeys were going to do anyway.

After that, however, it was all downhill. The cars developed a reputation for being stranded on the road and even the faithful started to make jokes about it. When the ultra-premium soft-touch interiors started disintegrating into pockmarked foam, the bloom went well and truly off the rose for good. The expansion of VW’s customer base in the Mk4 era naturally meant that it would now include some people who expected the Golf to be as bulletproof as a Camry and who took it personally when that didn’t turn out to be the case. A lot of young people had a Mk4 for their first, and last, Volkswagen.

This was a candle that shone brightly but not long; the first truly great Golf in twenty years but also one that couldn’t shake the worse parts of its predecessors’ legacies. The rest of the story, you probably know: The fifth-generation GTI was a “Fast” and brilliant automobile that traded a bit of premium feel for a lot of dynamic capability and some reliability improvements, and the sixth-generation capitalized on those improvements in incremental fashion, becoming a very good car in most respects.

Stay tuned for the true end of this tale: a test of the new Mk7 GTI, coming later this week.

(Disclosure: VW provided travel and accommodations to TTAC, one half of that travel being a red-eye flight in the back corner of a 767 where a not unattractive young Indian woman put her bare feet up against the interior wall of the plane and used your author as a pillow in a manner best described as “nonconsensual”.)

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Capsule Review: 1995 Volkswagen GTI VR6 Mon, 26 May 2014 11:00:45 +0000 mk31

All the stereotyping of Germans as uncompromising people dedicated to engineering ideals and whatnot aside, it’s slightly terrifying to see how willing the automakers of the Fatherland have been to adjust their product and presentation to fit customer misconceptions. Example Zero: The “E” at the end of Mercedes model designators like “280E” meant Einspritz. Fuel injection. This was meant to distinguish Benzos with injection from the sad-sack 230 and 250 models, which despite costing as much as a house in a decent neighborhood failed to ingest their fuel under any pressure beyond that of gravity.

This makes perfect sense, but to Americans who never saw the carbed models in showrooms, “E” came to mean mid-size. Like 300E, 500E. The proper response to this blithe country-club idiocy would have been to complete the Amerika Bomber and to use it to saturate America’s upper middle class with leaflets and/or cluster munitions, whatever worked better to drive the correct usage home. Instead, however, the men of Mercedes-Benz simply decided to create the “E-Class”, which is why the automobile that should be known as a 460E TURBO is currently mis-badged “E550″. What a disgrace.

Example One: the worst GTI in history.

Even Generation Xers have a hard time remembering that Volkswagen originally broke into the US market because its products were cheap. As late as 1970, VW maintained a monstrous price advantage, selling the Beetle for $1995 against an average new-car transaction price of $3600. (A well-optioned Corvette could stretch to $8k.) If you wanted an American car for that kind of money, you had one option: the Pinto.

The reasons that VW failed to keep its costs and pricing under control could fill a book and range from currency fluctuation to the outrageous adventures of TTAC’s previous Editor-In-Chief, but the bottom line was that by the time the Nineties rolled around, a Volkswagen was a premium product by virtue of pricing. I should know: I bought a Brazilian-built Fox with a sticker price of $10,200 in 1990, when a Tercel EZ sold for $6995. Even with production subcontracted to borderline Third World countries like Brazil and Mexico, VW couldn’t manage to match the price of Japanese competitors.

Those of us who purchased Volkswagens liked to believe that we were buying Autobahn-ready panzerwagens of unprecedented sophistication despite the obvious evidence of four-speed transmissions, CIS fuel injection, and half-lives comparable to that of fermium-257. Back then, Dr. Karl Benz had yet to invent the CLA250, so proles with low bank balances who wanted the distinctive smell of German plastic had no choice but to be funneled into VW dealerships like cattle in a Chicago slaughterhouse. The prices kept going up, but as long as they were below the ask for, say, a 318is, we continued to buy, and sometimes the dealership threw in a “fahrvergnügen” T-shirt.

The Mk1 and Mk2 Golfs were far from luxury goods, but even as the third-generation model was in the planning stages it was grimly obvious that not even building the things in Puebla, where the average wage wouldn’t keep a Tijuana donkey in feed, could keep them from being priced as the Patek Philippes of compact cars. Nor was it possible, or even desirable, to reset Americans’ idea of the Volkswagen brand from “German car” back down to “cheap car”. It was decided, therefore, to make the Mk3 Golf a premium vehicle, and the Mk3 GTI even more of one.


The first thought you’ll have when you sit in the 1995 Golf, having recently sat in its predecessors, is this: they changed all the hardware. Prior to 1994, most water-cooled VWs felt about the same to the touch. From the Dasher to the Quantum to the Rabbit to the Scirocco, they had the same trigger-pull door handles, the same steering wheels, the same switchgear, the same instruments, the same smell, the same mouse-fur on the seats, the same plastics. The third-generation Passat, the first to be called “Passat” in the United States, had a significantly upgraded interior, with all-new touch points, and the Mk3 shared many of those. All of a sudden, you’re in a modern Volkswagen: thick doors, thick pillars, a dash that bends around you, and the earliest forms of the infamous VW soft-touch plastic that feels like a million dollars and wears like paper-mache.


The interior in the 1995 GTI that VWoA has provided for me to drive hasn’t held up nearly as well as that of the beat-up Mk2 that I’d driven immediately beforehand. It’s faded, cracking, revealing colorless alien flesh behind the thin black epidermis of the door rests and various switches. The plastic key feels fragile, but twisting it brings the mighty two-valve VR6 awake. Oooh.

What’s a VR6? It’s a 15-degree narrow-angle V6 designed to fit where a four-cylinder fits. It sounds frankly magnificent and as I pull away from the rest of the forlorn “heritage” GTIs on display, the torque is immediately present and fully accounted for. After the wheezing 16v, this feels like a big-block Corvette. Which was the intention at the time: VW knew the new car would be yet again heavier than its predecessor and decided to address the problem with cubic inches.

In no time, the VR6 GTI is sprinting for the first right-hand turn, where it all falls apart. The old cars had balance but no grip; this has a small amount of grip but the balance is miserable and it heels over like it’s in the America’s Cup. And there’s torque steer in spades, yanking me off-line with no inconsiderable strength. Surely ninety percent of the weight in this car is over the front wheels. (It’s actually 64/36.) Best to straighten out the front wheels and just revel in the torque and the rush to the low redline, accompanied by that unmistakable snarl.

From the advertising of the time, you get the sense that VW was aiming the GTI at the E36 325i. That may be, but they missed that car and hit the E39 540i instead. It’s big, comfy, with great seats, and it grunts out of every corner after grumbling all the way through it. It’s not really a GTI, and no wonder: the oh-so-superior Europeans got a 150-hp four-cylinder GTI. Overseas, this car was known simply as “VR6″, not GTI.

I’m hugely fond of the car immediately, but remember, I’m the moron who used to have two Phaetons. The idea of a luxury Volkswagen doesn’t shock me. And that’s what this is, really: the most luxurious and powerful version possible of a compact car that has lost any pretense of being an “economy car”. It makes brilliant sense for the way Americans really drive their cars; it’s at home on a freeway or sprinting from stoplight to stoplight. On a twisty back road it would be a mess but hey — when this car was new, original Rabbit GTIs were a dime a dozen in the classifieds and you could have had one of those for less than the cost of the VR6 upgrade from a standard “2.slow” liter Golf. At 2800-plus pounds, it’s nearly as heavy as the current GTI but somehow it manages to feel like it weighs more.

Having delivered a GTI that actually felt and drove like the premium item the Monroney indicated, VW must have felt bewildered when it failed to receive positive opinions from the critics or the buyers. Nearly all the reviews complained about the suspension and refused to acknowledge the car as a true GTI. (Attentive readers will notice that, by the time, the GTI had been getting negative reviews for nine of its eleven years in the United States.) Still, 1993 would up being the absolute nadir of Volkswagen sales in the country. The Mk3 reversed the tide, although it was $199/month teal “Jetta ///”s that did the trick, not high-dollar GTI VR6es.

The stage was set for VW to push even further upmarket, a push given a push of its own by the arrival of Imperial Leader Piech on the scene in 1993. The next Golf would be a masterpiece of sorts, making this Mk3 the most forgettable of all. Unless, that is, you have a straight road ahead and the windows down.

(Disclosure: VWoA provided transportation and accommodation for this event, said accommodation being willfully misused by this author for the purpose of enjoying the company of a single mother from New Mexico, leading him to arrive late for the morning briefing and earning him the “stink-eye” from at least two journosaurs.)

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Capsule Review: 1992 VW GTI 16v 2.0 Sun, 25 May 2014 05:38:21 +0000 gti

(Sorry for the stock photo — had some camera issues during this trip — jb)

Moby Dick. Beethoven’s Ninth. Led Zep’s debut album. As much as we’d like to think that greatness is immediately recognized when it appears, the truth is that most of the time it’s widely pilloried. Such was the case with the second-generation Golf, which was widely considered to be absolute junk for most of its production run yet is now considered by many to be the apex of Volkswagen’s water-cooled production.

Everybody loved the first-gen Volkswagen GTI. But when the Westmoreland-built Mk2 (pronounced “Emm Kay Two” by the charmingly zaftig young blonde assigned to the “classic” portion of VW’s press fleet) debuted, the press turned vicious in a way that they rarely did even back then. Start with the styling, courtesy of VW in-house design director: far from replacing the timelessly creased Giugiaro Mk1, this car appeared to have eaten it, bulging unattractively at the waistline with tumblehome, sticking its ass up in the air like Miley Cyrus backing it up to a Beetlejuice-suited Robin Thicke. Up front, it was your choice of poverty-spec single sealed beams or the world’s least characterful DOT-approved “Euro” lamps.


The 100-horsepower GTI came in for the most criticism: slower than the car it replaced, less characterful, heavier, blander, and shot through with the notorious quality defects of American assembly, it was widely regarded as a disappointment. To address the issue, VW added the must-have fashion item of 1986: four valves per cylinder for an additional 23 horsepower.


The critics weren’t appeased in the slightest, moaning about the new lows in nose-heavy handling displayed by the “16v” and spitefully noting that the extra power appeared to be tucked into the last fifty revs on the tach. To address this complaint and several others, VW finally released the “Big Bumper” GTIs in 1990, along with a displacement bump to two liters and 134hp. The Big Bumpers traded the generic Jetta face of the old GTI for a quad-round arrangement. The resulting car was eventually considered the ne plus ultra of water-cooled Dubs, particularly in Montana Green.

And that’s what VW’s set out for us at its test day: a 1992 “Monty” 16v. The last time I actually laid eyes on a Monty, some six years ago, it was in the possession of a brilliant and mercurial young woman who would later on lose it to flooding. Death by water.

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

But as Townes once sang, it don’t pay to think too much / on things you leave behind. Before its Biblical reckoning, that GTI had been in meticulously fettled condition, but Volkswagen’s “heritage” car is, to put it mildly, beat to shit. It’s reluctant to start as I settle into the coal-black interior and twist the key in the traditionally flimsy ignition. Man, this brings back the memories, over a hundred thousand miles traveled in the Volkswagens of this generation. It’s all there: the upright seating position and the worryingly effort-free church-organ pedals, slightly less extreme than what you get in the Mk1 but startling in the modern context none the less, the shifter nearly on the floor in the narrow space between the seats, the flimsy turn signal, the doors that are thin enough to fit in the web of your hand, the syrupy smell of the HVAC.

The extra pounds and inches over the original Rabbit are well spent; this car feels just spacious enough. There’s useful extra space between the seat and the door, courtesy of that tumblehome, and the GTI feels significantly less vintage than its predecessor as a consequence. Until it comes on the cam, however, there’s simply no useful tug from the engine. It’s almost laughable how slow this 16v is. It’s at least “Prius slow” from a rolling stop, hampered further by gearing that feels much taller than what you’d find in the ’84 Rabbit. Eventually the cams arrive and the groaning underhood acquires a bit of an edge, accompanied by a mild pull from the front end. It’s easy to see how torque steer simply wasn’t a concern, even with the strut-front suspension geometry.

As with the other “heritage” cars at this event, this GTI is burdened with despicable rubber, slewing wide at a cornering speed that wouldn’t have taxed a Buick Enclave. Still, since they’re equally handicapped it’s easy to see why people liked the Mk1 better back in the day. There’s just too much weight over the front wheels. My old Fox, with its longitudinal engine, had balance that this chunky two-box hatch can’t shade.

It doesn’t help that this particular example might as well have come from a VWVortex for-sale ad: it has everything from peeling paint to a clutch that is certainly enjoying its last weekend on earth. And yet, in the course of just a few miles I’ve mostly forgotten the condition as I revel in the simple correctness of the Mk2 Golf. Sporty it’s not, at least not in any way we’d recognize in the modern era, but it’s honest. Volkswagen might have styled the thing with a rubber model of the original Golf and a bicycle air pump but they sweated the details that count. The radio: it’s at the top of the dash. How many lives have been saved by the simple expedient of putting the most distracting part of the car near the windshield? The instruments are clean and straightforward, white on black. Same for the hazard button. There’s a single blinking bulb for the turn signal indicator. Why have two? Surely you know which direction you pushed the stalk, right?

Control efforts are light but accurate. Visibility remains excellent, if a touch less outstanding than the Mk1. The seats are good. This was the era when Volkswagen strove for competence and usability rather than faux-BMW upscale appeal. Thirty minutes in this car will change the way you view your own; surely the Mk2 is about all the vehicle 95% of people need. Heresy time: the monstrous trunk of the Jetta is probably worth the extra weight and size, particularly since it wasn’t that much slower than this already lackadaisical hatch.

It’s easy to fall in love with the unvarnished virtues of the second-generation Golf. The only problem is this: in 1992, this was a mild update of an eight-year-old platform that was little changed in basic structure from the 1974 original. An eighteen-year-old car, without much power, selling for a premium price. If you only shopped Volkswagen, as many people did and still do, it was fine. But in 1992, it was possible to spend less and get a Sentra SE-R. The difference on any fast road between a Mk2 GTI and a Sentra SE-R is only marginally less humiliating for the VW driver than it would be were the competitive car a modern Nissan GT-R. Should we even mention the DiamondStar turbos, which were so quick as to be in a different world entirely? The Mazda 323GTX would show taillights to the GTI in all conditions. Hell, your local Ford dealer sold a 127-hp Escort GT that was a better handler and just as quick, for considerably less.

Volkswagen knew they were selling a pig in a poke, and they had plans to blow the competition into the weeds. But the best laid plans often go awry, as we’ll see. Today, the 1992 GTI 16v stands as the best expression of the original water-cooled VW ethos. Simple, tasteful, competent, desirable. The paint has faded on most of them, but their well-earned reputation retains its luster.

(VWoA provided transportation and accommodation for this event, including at least six shots of Ketel One that led to a rant on the part of your humble author about a purported similarity, if not kinship of a sorts, between himself and the fictional character “Avon Barksdale” from The Wire.)

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Volkswagen’s Cervone Returns To GM As Global Communications VP Tue, 20 May 2014 10:00:01 +0000 GM Next

Autoblog reports Volkswagen Group of America executive vice president of group communications Tony Cervone is returning to the GM fold as the automaker’s senior vice president of global communications. According to CEO Mary Barra, Cervone “brings an ideal mix of outside perspective and experience that compliments a deep background in GM and today’s global auto industry.” Prior to his return, he also served as the vice president of communications for United Airlines and Chrysler Group, where he spent 14 years before his decade-long previous service to GM. Cervone succeeds Selim Bingol — who resigned from the company in April “to pursue other interests,” and will report directly to Barra.

Speaking of “outside perspectives,” Automotive News chronicles the story of how a trio of Southern gentlemen helped to bring the spotlight upon the out-of-spec ignition switch at the heart of the February 2014 GM recall. Leading the charge, attorney Lance Cooper had sought answers into the death of Brooke Melton at the wheel of her 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt. Cooper retained a number of experts in his case, including auto shop owner Charlie Miller and materials engineer Mark Hood, both of whom discovered the switches in Melton’s Cobalt and related vehicles performed differently than those found in 2007 and later models. The evidence gathered would help cement the settlement for his client’s family, as well as pave the way for the recall.

Moving toward the present, victim compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg may end up sorting through a mountain of data as he works out the details for a compensation package between GM and the 35 families affected by the switch. Between the time the first vehicles left for showrooms in late 2002 through 2012, 1,752 individuals died in accidents involving the vehicles under the February 2014 recall. Though the link may be tenuous in most of the cases, each one may open an opportunity for affected groups to lay some of the blame at the door of GM’s comptroller.

Looking toward the future, GM and AT&T will offer a number of 4G LTE connected-car packages beginning next month to consumers, ranging from $5 for a few hours of streaming music to $50 for several showings of “Frozen” for the little ones in the back. However, demand for the service may not be what the automaker expects, as consumers who don’t have company on the road often may wonder why they need a connected car with 4G. The concern isn’t helped by the delay of an app suite — featuring offerings from NPR and The Weather Channel — which would allow owners access without using their smartphones; the delay is over quality concerns, according to GM.

In brand news, GMC is doing very well for itself as of late, being the healthiest among GM’s four brands left standing after the 2009 bankruptcy. The “professional-grade” line of trucks, SUVs and crossovers are leaving their bow-tied brethren behind for the premium market, bumping into Cadillac more often than may be comfortable for some within GM’s hallowed halls. That said, GMC’s demographic prefers to remain low-key in opposition to the flash that brings the celebs to Escalade’s yard, even if the Yukon XL Denali is within spitting distance of the Caddy’s $72,690 base price.

Leading the charge is Buick-GMC boss Duncan Aldred, who is looking forward to where GMC will go while shaking off the shadow of Buick’s “senior citizen” image within the United States. The former Vauxhall managing director sees similarities between Buick and Vauxhall/Opel, and aims to rehabilitate its image through a marketing strategy that may use “shocking and polarizing” messaging to prove his point. As for GMC, Aldred says he sees its future “as really exciting in an Audi-esque kind of way,” with plans to push the Denali line further up the mountain toward the summit.

Finally, CarNewsChina has the first official photos of the facelifted Chinese-market Chevrolet Aveo, which takes its looks from the upcoming Cruze. The Aveo will be priced between 81,800 yuan and 114,800 yuan ($13,113 to $22,732 USD), with power from 1.4- and 1.6-liter engines under the bonnet. Made by the GM Shanghai joint-venture between GM and SAIC Motor, the newly styled compact will arrive in showrooms in June for the sedan, July for the hatchback.

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Volkswagen Dials Back On 2018 Milestone Mon, 19 May 2014 12:00:39 +0000 Volkswagen-CrossBlue-Concept

Though Volkswagen had plans to move 800,000 units annually out of U.S. showrooms by 2018, the automaker may now opt to dial back its ambitious plan in light of slow growth and falling sales.

The Detroit Bureau reports VW’s U.S. chief Michael Horn said his goal with the company for now is to focus on “realistic targets,” especially as sales fell against the harsh winter weather earlier this year, and though the main goal is still there, it will be reached in the long-term.

According to industry insiders, the automaker wants to be sure it builds the kind of vehicles the U.S. market desires — such as the upcoming CrossBlue Concept-based full-size SUV — even if it means holding back on products until they are ready for production. Another diversion from the 800,000/year road is China: financing meant for the U.S. market was diverted across the Pacific in VW’s fight to dominate the emerging market, which it hopes will happen by decade’s end.

That said, VW will likely turn more of its focus back on the U.S. in order to shore up its stake in the fight to take the top podium in global sales, such as the impending announcement of where the aforementioned SUV will be built. There, the plants in Chattanooga, Tenn. and Puebla, Mexico are in the running, though the former may be out due to the fallout surrounding the February 2014 battle between the UAW and anti-union forces over organization of the plant.

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Capsule Review: Rabbit GTI Mk1 (USA Model) Sun, 18 May 2014 16:00:14 +0000 IMG_6120 (Medium)

In a couple of days I’ll have a review of the US-market seventh-generation GTI. Spoilers for that review can be easily obtained by checking out my drive of the Euro GTI from last fall. I’ll also have two articles on the new “TSI” 1.8-liter base Golf and the next-generation TDI, all from the same drive event.

VW’s eager to emphasize the history of the Golf in America, and part of their plan to do so involved having examples of all six previous GTIs available to drive for short loops. Naturally, I started at the beginning.

IMG_6125 (Medium)

The original round-headlight Golf GTI was the proverbial “class killer”, offering 110 fuel-injected horsepower to move just 1,800 pounds of Giugiaro-creased steel. We didn’t get that car in the United States, but the buzz on the car was so good over here, even in a pre-WWW era, that VW decided to add some luster to the rather dismal Westmoreland Rabbit by creating a GTI variant.

With ninety horsepower to push 2100 pounds, plus the unlovely square headights, dual-purpose corner markers, and wide taillights, the Rabbit GTI wasn’t exactly a perfect isomorphism. Still, to a nation starved for amusing automobiles, it was meat on the bone.
IMG_6134 (Medium)
This particular example was in robust and tight condition, with a noisy aftermarket exhaust but no other obvious alterations. I hadn’t driven a Mk1 in something like twenty years, so it was with considerable and cheerful surprise that I realized that I was immediately comfortable in the car. There’s no tumblehome, which means no wasted space, and it’s possible to put one’s arm on the windowsill without pulling a ribcage muscle or dislocating one’s shoulder. The shifter falls ready to — oh, sheesh. If we’re going to get all DED, Jr. about it, why not just let the man squick, er, speak:

[T]he Volkswagen GTI is probably the most entertaining car ever assembled by American workers. If the GTI were a woman, she’d have an IQ of about 130, play scratch golf, break 25 at skeet with a .410, know how to carve a leg of lamb, never miss a Jay Ward cartoon festival, and have an inexhaustible and playful curiosity about sex.

Alright then. One thing that Mr. Davis fails to mention — were the GTI a woman, she would have already been eight years old by the time she arrived on American shores. In car years, that’s far too ancient to rouse the interest of Roman Polanski, you know. The Rabbit was an old car by 1983 and the 1984 Honda Civic was about to make it look prehistoric. Still, freed from the very strict lens of contemporaneous competition, the Rabbit is impressive and handsome, with the red velvet interior somehow managing to avoid offending the sensibilities.

IMG_6129 (Medium)

On the move, this old car can easily hit the 50 mark in about nine seconds, which is what was promised back in those days when publishing a 0-60 statistic was both depressing and a not-so-tacit invitation to break the law. It sounds simply brilliant, spinning freely through the short gearing and conveying enthusiasm in a way that is difficult to describe without resorting to cliche. This isn’t a fast car, but it wants to go as fast as it can and better yet you can uncork it in pretty much all conditions outside an active school zone.

The no-brand tires on the fourteen-inch wheels barely have enough grip to make wide right-angle turns at 25mph, but the behavior of the car is outstanding at those very low levels. It doesn’t handle as well as my 1990 Fox did on thirteen-inch Pirelli P4s, but that has be due to the miserable rubber. Regardless, it’s not as “pushy” as most modern FWD cars. Both cornering attitude and actual lean angle can be adjusted with a quick lift of the throttle in midcorner.

Driving this old Rabbit simply makes you feel good. The reasons are easy to understand. After years spent in the dank black cave of the modern automobile, the 360-degree greenhouse, tremendous natural lighting, and bright red interior offer salvation for the enthusiast soul. Sit upright! Work a nonassisted steering wheel! Reach down and stir a shifter with just five gears! Even the three pedals work differently than you’d expect, being far more up-and-down than back-and-forth. It’s involving, and brilliant, and tremendous fun.

Problems? Sure, there are a few. It probably has the crash-test strength of a wet grocery bag. The engine, for all its in-your-face vigor, is too weak to make merging on the 80-mph modern freeway anything but a terror. It has a “RoadReady” tape deck by Craig but it can’t even think about keeping up with the tremendous noise from the wind, the road, and the Westmoreland-assembled interior. A long freeway trip in this car would rival a Harley-Davidson Sportster for discomfort. Still, I’d take one in a heartbeat despise its shortcomings.

Alas, too soon the drive is over and it’s time to return the Rabbit to its lineup, where it will sit untouched for the rest of the day as dozens of journalists walk right by it to get an extra serving of coffee or post-lunch treats. They say you should never meet your heroes — but if this GTI occupies a place in your automotive Pantheon, feel free to try it for yourself.

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Corker: VW SUV Production Announcement To Come Sooner Than Later Wed, 14 May 2014 12:00:47 +0000 Senator Bob Corker

Though no word yet has come down from Volkswagen on where the confirmed seven-passenger SUV for the U.S. market will be assembled, U.S. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee says that decision would come “in the very near future.”

Detroit Free Press reports the senator couldn’t put a time frame on when VW would deliver its announcement, but did believe the automaker’s plans were “moving in the right direction,” despite Tennessee governor Bill Haslam stating no meetings were set up between his administration and VW since the end of the tumultuous fight over the Chattanooga plant between the United Auto Workers and anti-union opposition earlier in the year.

In response, Corker proclaimed:

I think if you had that conversation with the governor today he’d give you a different response. Again, the election was just certified within the last few weeks and you know things are moving in the direction that we thought they would.

He further stated that while the plant may not be the clear winner it once may have been, he had no indication that anything else has changed.

The Haslam administration offered a $300 million subsidy to VW if it chose to build its CrossBlue Concept-based full-size SUV in Tennessee, only to withdraw the offer in January 2014 ahead of the contentious organization election at the Chattanooga facility.

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VW Delivers New Details On 10-Speed DSG, No Set Debut Date Tue, 13 May 2014 10:00:11 +0000 2014 Volkswagen Touareg

Volkswagen enthusiasts could soon have a 10-speed transmission to go with their 10-speed bicycles, as the automaker released more details on its 10-speed DSG unit currently in the works during this year’s Vienna Motor Symposium.

Autoblog reports VW brand development chief Hans-Jakob Neusser informed symposium attendees that the transmission would see service in both transverse and longitudinal configurations under the bonnets of VW’s and Audi’s premium offerings, such as the Touareg and A8 according statements made by CEO Martin Winterkorn during last year’s affair.

The 10-speed will be a replacement for the current six-speed DSG, designed for “higher-powered engines” producing over 184 lb-ft of torque, being able to handle 369 lb-ft while helping to lower emissions by as much as 15 percent by 2020.

As for when the new transmission will debut, Neusser did not offer any word on a time of arrival.

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Volkswagen May Announce Location Of New SUV Production Next Week Fri, 09 May 2014 13:00:12 +0000 Volkswagen CrossBlue Concept SUV

Volkswagen appears ready to announce where its upcoming mid-size SUV — based upon the CrossBlue concept from the 2013 Detroit Auto Show — will be assembled.

Automotive News reports the decision could come as soon as next week at the earliest, though execs either don’t know or cannot say for sure, citing the automaker’s board’s tendency to keep things close to its Teutonic heart. Two locations up for nomination include Mexico and the beleaguered-by-politics plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. Either way, the new SUV will be produced and sold for the U.S. and Canadian markets.

The only roadblock for production in the U.S. is whether or not a $300 million packaged offered by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development — pulled off the table in January of this year ahead of a then-impending United Auto Workers election at the Chattanooga facility — will actually be offered. Department PR chief Clint Brewer stated in an email that his department has attempted to contact VW, but nothing more has come of it thus far.

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Stuttgart Prosecutors Call For Appeal In Wiedeking Market Manipulation Ruling Tue, 06 May 2014 13:00:10 +0000 wendelin-wiedeking

Two weeks after the Stuttgart Regional Court threw-out charges of market manipulation levied at former Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking in December of 2012, prosecutors have called for an appeal of said ruling.

Automotive News Europe reports the prosecutors filed a motion to gain more time to review the case prior to deciding whether to appeal the ruling made in favor of Wiedeking and former Porsche CFO Holger Haerter.

The charges in question came after an investigation of the October 2008 announcement that Porsche, under the former CEO and CFO, would use options to boost its ownership of Volkswagen from 74.1 percent to 75 percent, effectively taking control of the latter. The announcement briefly caused a run on VW stock among short sellers on the basis that the automaker would fail. The charges claim Porsche misled investors during the failed takeover.

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Chinese Market 2015 VW Passat B8 Caught Unclothed Thu, 01 May 2014 11:00:53 +0000 volkswagen-passat-china-2-660x501

For European and Chinese customers awaiting the 2015 Volkswagen Passat B8, the following spy photos should hold them until the sedan’s debut at the 2014 Paris Auto Show in October.

CarNewsChina reports the Chinese model in the photos will have a wheelbase 10 centimeters longer than the European version, but both will otherwise be identical. The MQB-based sedan in Europe will see power from an assortment of four-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines, as well as a rumored V6 pushing over 300 horsepower under the hood of a high-performance model.

Meanwhile, the longer Chinese version — to be produced by the FAW-VW joint venture as the Magotan — will make its debut the following April during the 2015 Shanghai Auto Show, and will only come with gasoline powerplants due to cities prohibiting diesel fuel use in passenger vehicles. Local consumers should expect to pay anywhere from 200,000 yuan to 350,000 yuan ($32,000 – $56,000 USD) once the B8 arrives in dealer showrooms; no word on what Europeans will pay for their B8.

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VW, UAW Consider Options Surrounding Chattanooga Plant Mon, 28 Apr 2014 12:30:33 +0000 092112_WEB_a_VW_Sign_t618

After backing out from its appeal over results of the February 2014 organization election at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn. plant, the United Auto Workers is considering options to organize the plant, just as Volkswagen itself is considering several options outside of Tennessee for its new SUV.

The Detroit News reports VW attorney Alex Leath sent an email in late January 2014 to Tennessee’s Department of Economic and Community Development during negotiations over incentives to build the SUV in Tennessee that, while there were “non-deal” issues delaying “the TN solution,” the automaker had been successful in “reaching agreement on terms” at a number of unidentified locations. Leath also had been drafting a memorandum of understanding which included proposed incentive figures from several months prior. Amid opposition toward the UAW establishing a presence in the plant by Republican politicians and affiliated outside parties, and in response to the memorandum, the agency withdrew the $300 million in incentives it planned to offer VW in exchange for for the seven-passenger SUV.

Moving ahead to this week, UAW president Bob King stated the biggest factor in backing down on its appeal before the National Labor Relations Board was to help VW and the workers in Chattanooga land the deal for the SUV. In the meantime, the union is considering options to bring organized labor to the plant, including a private vote to be held sometime this year. King added that the UAW still had representatives working with the workers on the floor in Chattanooga, vowing the union would continue to push for representation.

As for the deal that had been cast aside, Tennessee governor Bill Haslam hopes to quickly reestablish talks between the state and VW for the SUV, though Mexico has made an offer to bring the product into one of its factories.

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UAW Ends Fight For Organization Of Tennessee VW Plant Mon, 21 Apr 2014 20:30:02 +0000 volkswagen-chattanooga-solar-park-08

The Huffington Post reports the United Auto Workers has withdrawn its petition with the National Labor Resources Board challenging the results of the February 2014 election regarding organization of the workforce at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.

UAW President Bob King said the decision to withdraw was made “in the best interests” of all parties involved, citing the “historically dysfunctional and complex process” such a challenge before the NLRB would entail. King added that resistance met by both Tennessee governor Bill Haslam and U.S. Senator Bob Corker regarding the union’s effort to subpoena the politicians also factored into the decision to stand down:

The UAW is ready to put February’s tainted election in the rearview mirror and instead focus on advocating for new jobs and economic investment in Chattanooga.

Though the challenge — which would have led to a new election at the factory had it been successful — has been withdrawn, King said the challenge did shed light on the election by “inform[ing] the public about the unprecedented interference by anti-labor politicians and third parties,” such as the number of documents gathered by Nashville, Tenn. CBS affiliate WTVF-TV linking Gov. Haslam’s administration to incentives made to VW for a new factory on the alleged stipulation that the Chattanooga plant remaining unorganized.

Had the UAW stood firm with their petition, the first hearing would have been held Monday.

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Horn: VW Phaeton To Return To US In 2018 Fri, 18 Apr 2014 11:00:18 +0000 phaetons

In an interview with Bloomberg at the 2014 New York Auto Show, Volkswagen America CEO Michael Horn says the Phaeton will return to the United States market as early as 2018.

Autoblog reports the full-size luxury sedan — which last sold in 2006 on our shores — has been under consideration by the automaker for a return sometime between 2018 and 2019. No word has been given on whether or not the 2018 Phaeton will be underpinned by the Bentley Continental Flying Spur, as it was the last time the sedan was sold.

Whether the return will be marred once more by customers scoffing at the idea of paying Audi-A8 money for a VW badge depends on what Horn does to improve dealer relationships, which are strained between the automaker and the network as of late. Currently, both sides are in negotiations regarding improvements to bonuses, marketing and other issues in the hope narrowing the “great distance” between the two parties.

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New York 2014: 2015 Volkswagen Jetta Live Shots Wed, 16 Apr 2014 21:59:34 +0000 2015-Volkswagen-Jetta-13

Though the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta bowing at the 2014 New York Auto Show may be refreshed, most of the work may just be too subtle to notice at first.

Updates to the outgoing model include LED running lights for daytime cruising, new tail and trunk lighting, revised rain gutters, and underbody shrouding.

Under the hood, three gasoline engines and one turbodiesel help move the Jetta along. The all new 2-liter TDI with a six-speed manual holds a combined 37 mpg while pushing 150 horses with 236 lb-ft of torque through the front wheels.

Inside, the biggest change is an upgrade in technology for the Jetta, including blind-spot monitoring, adaptive front lighting with Bi-Xenon headlamps, and rear cross-traffic alert. Other interior upgrades include new fabrics, air vent controls and ambient lighting.

The new Jetta will arrive in U.S. showrooms Q3 2014.

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Leaked Documents Link Anti-Union VW Incentive Offer To TN Governor’s Office Wed, 02 Apr 2014 14:15:09 +0000 092112_WEB_a_VW_Sign_t618

Leaked documents linked to the United Auto Workers battle for the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. point to a connection between Governor Bill Haslam and the German automaker regarding a $300 million incentive in exchange for over 1,300 jobs at a proposed SUV plant within the state.

WTVF-TV reports the incentives were contingent “to works council discussions between the State of Tennessee and VW being concluded to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee.” By the time Volkswagen entered into election talks with the UAW in January, however, the Haslam administration formally notified the automaker that it was withdrawing the offer, citing that it had kept the offer on the table past the 90-day window normally reserved for incentives when the incentive in question had no such expiration date.

Though Haslam has denied any such connection to the incentive — dubbed “Project Trinity” — U.S. Senator Bob Corker claimed as early as February of this year that the offering would be made should the workers at the Chattanooga plant vote against representation by the union.

As for the UAW, organizer Gary Casteel stated the following in response to whether the now-public documents were a game-changer in the union’s appeal to the National Labor Relations Board over the election results:

To me, it puts pressure on the state to do what they should have done in the first place — and that’s give the incentives with no strings attached, just like they would any other company, union or non-union.

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