The Truth About Cars » Volkswagen http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 31 Oct 2014 14:42:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 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 editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/reviews/volkswagen/ Track Tested: 2013 VW Passat SE 2.5L 6A http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/track-tested-2013-vw-passat-se-2-5l-6a/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/track-tested-2013-vw-passat-se-2-5l-6a/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 12:30:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=927834 When I reviewed the most recent Passat 1.8TSI I confessed to liking the car, even if it wasn’t anywhere close to being the G.O.A.T. Therefore, when one of my driving students told me that he’d been unable to source my first recommendation for a non-premium trackday rental — the Camry SE — and had been […]

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When I reviewed the most recent Passat 1.8TSI I confessed to liking the car, even if it wasn’t anywhere close to being the G.O.A.T. Therefore, when one of my driving students told me that he’d been unable to source my first recommendation for a non-premium trackday rental — the Camry SE — and had been stuck with a Passat instead, I was not immediately concerned about our prospects for the weekend.

In hindsight, that was probably incorrect.

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Until recently, most of the Passats sold in this country arrived with the 170-horsepower straight-five, pushing about 3,250 pounds through a six-speed automatic transmission. This was considered to be quite the dynamic package back when you could only get it in an Audi 5000 Turbo, but we live in an era where, ahem, the humble Accord Coupe can be had with 255whp and a 13.9-second quarter-mile. So this VW feels like the proverbial Poky Little Puppy at pretty much all times.

With tires that were worn-out on arrival, brakes that required some trackside bleeding just to be safely usable during the second day, and a pronounced inability to out-pull a Miata 1.6 on Summit Point Shenandoah’s uphill “ski jump”, my student and I weren’t exactly having hot times out there on the ol’ racetrack. It would have been difficult for him to find a car that was less suited for this sort of thing, even among the sad cafe of an Avis lot. Yet I come to praise the Passat, not to bury it.

The key virtues of VW’s aging big sedan remain present even when you’re doing 95mph down Shenandoah’s back straight. To begin with, the visibility is excellent and the beltline is low. This makes more difference than you’d imagine when a driver is just starting his trackday career. Being passed and passing (yes! that happened! We passed someone!) other cars at speed on a track is a profoundly disconcerting thing and it’s hard not to imagine there’s a charging Z06 Vette in every blind spot, even if your instructor has the mirrors and has assured you that he’ll watch for traffic. Therefore, the big greenhouse and good sightlines of this Passat are truly useful.

The same driving position that works so well for long trips is also comfortable for racetrack use, and it’s easy to get the seat and steering wheel in the correct relationship. All the controls fall readily to hand, as the old saying goes, and the efforts associated with those controls are predictable and reassuring. There wasn’t much grip to be had, but what there was could be clearly discerned. The same goes for the brakes — you knew how much you had left and there was usually a little bite available at the end of the travel.

As fate had it, I was driving a considerably more modern and feature-filled sedan at Shenandoah myself this past weekend and I was impressed by the Passat’s feedback and honesty when compared to that sedan, which shall remain nameless for the moment. As a tool for teaching the basics of racetrack driving — consistent brake pressure, single turn-in, unwinding the wheel early, providing predictable and minimal inputs — it really isn’t that bad. If everybody in the “Blue Group” had been driving a Passat, things would have been quite simpatico.

Naturally, however, no one else had a Passat. They had cars that went fast in a straight line, like turbo VWs, and cars that went fast in turns, like Miatas, and cars that do both, like the aforementioned Z06 in both C5 and C6 flavors. Compared to these cars, the Passat was pathetically outmatched and it wasn’t unusual for us to be lapped twice in a session by NISMO 370Zs and the like. It’s just too slow for anybody but the most committed and dedicated individual to use for this purpose.

Luckily for us, my student was both of those things and over the course of four full hours of track driving he improved tremendously, taking perhaps ten seconds a lap or more off his times. He did a good job of managing his brakes and his tires, he was thoughtful and interested when it came to making small improvments and keeping those improvements, and he was safe and predictable during his interactions with other traffic. Next time he’ll probably be driving something faster than a Passat and I’d like to think he’s going to have a lot of success in his future endeavors as a trackday driver and LeMons racer.

Though the VW was in no way rapid, and we had to pull the ABS/ESC/airbag fuse just to keep it from freaking out in Summit Point’s remarkable scale-model concrete Karussel, it was perfectly durable during the weekend. One thing stands out in particular to me: Because the Tiptronic gearbox was relatively slow-witted, and because most drivers find that shifting is a distraction during their first few days on-track, I did all the shifting for my student. Since it wasn’t my car (or, to be fair, his car) I made sure to grab second gear for every slow corner even if it meant zinging the engine to 5000rpm or above. Again and again I grabbed second gear, six times a lap, and every time that poor five-cylinder ran right back up to redline before automatically slamming into third about three seconds after I made the downshift.

This sort of thing is absolute murder on automatic transmissions, transverse-mounted low-torque-capacity transmissions in particular. I would have been nervous about doing it with all but the most recent Hondas, as an example. But the Passat just kept on keeping on.

Due to difficulty with my GoPro and phone I was unable to get laptimes to compare with other cars I’ve driven around Summit Point Shendandoah, from the Corvette C7 (1:39) to the Camry SE (1:54) but I’d say this was the slowest car I’ve ever run on the course by far. Still, it was trustworthy and usable and finished the weekend no worse for wear. Could you have done that with a Dasher or Quantum? Probably not. So my affection for the big Passat remains steady, though if you can afford to get any engine but this one, you’d be silly not to. Good car, big car, decent car. Let’s hope for VW’s sake that’s enough. But if you’re meeting me at the racetrack, would you mind being a sport and getting a Camry?

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Paris 2014: Volkswagen XL Sport Unveiled, Powered By Ducati http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/paris-2014-volkswagen-xl-sport-unveiled-powered-ducati/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/10/paris-2014-volkswagen-xl-sport-unveiled-powered-ducati/#comments Thu, 02 Oct 2014 10:00:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=923001 What happens when you mashup Italian motorcycle power with German engineering? The Volkswagen XL Sport happens. The more metal version of the two-seat, hyper-efficient XL1, the XL Sport gets its power from the Ducati 1199 Superleggera sport bike. The two-cylinder 1199cc powerplant pushes 197 horsepower (at 11,000 rpm, no less) and 99 lb-ft of torque […]

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What happens when you mashup Italian motorcycle power with German engineering? The Volkswagen XL Sport happens.

The more metal version of the two-seat, hyper-efficient XL1, the XL Sport gets its power from the Ducati 1199 Superleggera sport bike. The two-cylinder 1199cc powerplant pushes 197 horsepower (at 11,000 rpm, no less) and 99 lb-ft of torque through a seven-speed dual-clutch auto to the back. The vehicle also receives upgrades to the chassis, sport suspension and ceramic brakes.

Aside from having more power and more aggressive bodywork, the XL Sport also sports more weight, coming in at 1,962 pounds — thanks in part to the Ducati two-pot — compared to the XL1’s svelt 1,700 pounds.

Inside, it’s still an XL1 for the most part, but now boasts a digital gauge cluster providing performance data to the driver as they shift the seven-speed via flappy paddle. Polycarbonate windows help reduce weight, but don’t expect to hit the Starbucks drive-thru: the windows are fixed in place.

Despite its supercar looks, the car is as quick off the line as a Ford Fiesta ST, moving from naught to 60 in 5.8 seconds, with a top speed of 168 mph.

Alas, much like the XL1, it’s not likely anyone outside of Europe — if at all, in this case — will ever bring home an XL Sport. Only 250 of the former will be assembled for sale in European markets — deliveries having commenced this summer — retailing for approximately $146,000 USD to start.

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AMA About My Phaeton Ownership Experience http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/ama-phaeton-ownership-experience/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/ama-phaeton-ownership-experience/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 13:03:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=917482 Ah, the Volkswagen Phaeton. Everyone has an opinion about it. It epitomized Piech’s hubris. It is an unmarketable $100,000 Passat. It is essentially a Bentley Continental Flying Spur, but without the bling. It is the greatest car man has ever conceived. Like Alfa Romeo, there’s always a rumor that the Phaeton 2.0 will be returning to […]

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Ah, the Volkswagen Phaeton. Everyone has an opinion about it. It epitomized Piech’s hubris. It is an unmarketable $100,000 Passat. It is essentially a Bentley Continental Flying Spur, but without the bling. It is the greatest car man has ever conceived.

Like Alfa Romeo, there’s always a rumor that the Phaeton 2.0 will be returning to the U.S. of A. in “a few years”. Again, this week, there is a lot of talk about it coming back.

There is a lot of conjecture and Monday morning quarterbacking about the Phaeton. But what is it really like to own one? TTAC’s own Jack Baruth had two. I, a new TTAC contributor, also owned one. I thought it would be fun to answer questions you have always had about the Phaeton. So ask away!

Just to give you a little bit of a back story, I bought a pristine 2005 V8 with barely 30,000 miles in 2011. Its previous, and only, owner was a car collector in Arizona. I had a blast owning it. Sure, I worried about catastrophic failure of the transmission or air suspension that would send me to the poor house, but it never happened. I sold it in 2013 to a local car enthusiast. I had no plans of selling it, but the buyer approached me and offered to buy it for pretty much what I bought it for back in 2011. A friendship was formed and he keeps me updated on our baby.

Some Phaeton trivia I picked up along the way include:

  • The HVAC system contains 25 servomotors to create four distinct climate zones in the cabin.
  • The instrument cluster glass reflects just 0.5% of light, compared to 8%, which is typical for regular instrument cluster glass.
  • Phaeton owners are among the most anal retentive. So many complained to Volkswagen about the uneven rate at which its ashtrays popped out, VW issued a Technical Service Bulletin to remedy the “problem”.

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What questions do you have about owning a Phaeton?

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Volkswagen: Hydrogen Will Struggle Outside of Japan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/volkswagen-hydrogen-will-struggle-outside-japan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/09/volkswagen-hydrogen-will-struggle-outside-japan/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 13:00:06 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=909146 While Toyota and the administration of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are going all in on hydrogen, Volkswagen Group Japan President Shigeru Shoji proclaims FCVs will struggle to make headway elsewhere. According to Bloomberg, Shoji says the government subsidies meant to push Toyota’s Mirai and other FCVs into the marketplace are likely too high for […]

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While Toyota and the administration of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are going all in on hydrogen, Volkswagen Group Japan President Shigeru Shoji proclaims FCVs will struggle to make headway elsewhere.

According to Bloomberg, Shoji says the government subsidies meant to push Toyota’s Mirai and other FCVs into the marketplace are likely too high for other governments to match. He adds that issues surrounding refueling infrastructure and the handling of hydrogen itself will add to the roadblocks awaiting the technology outside of Japan.

Those comments — echoing sentiments by Tesla CEO Elon Musk and other hydrogen skeptics — aren’t lost on either Toyota or the Abe administration. Company representative Dion Corbett says the subsidies are needed to help get hydrogen off the ground, citing the high cost of developing fuel-cell technology. That said, Dion believes demand will not only be the highest in Japan — where Abe envisions a “hydrogen society” of fuel-cells for homes and businesses as well as cars — but in Germany, California and the U.S. East Coast.

Though Volkswagen has its doubts, VW Japan representative Yasuo Maruta says the company is keeping its eye on Toyota’s efforts, planning to be no more than three years’ behind R&D work in relation to Toyota.

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Capsule Review: 2015 VW Saveiro CD Highline (Double Cab – Brazilian Market) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/capsule-review-2015-vw-saveiro-cd-highline-double-cab-brazilian-market/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/capsule-review-2015-vw-saveiro-cd-highline-double-cab-brazilian-market/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 17:36:51 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=904225 The car-based small pickup market was launched in Brazil by Fiat during the 1980s. Taking a 147 as its base, the Italians cut out the back seats, added a bed, beefed up the suspension and called it good. The market deemed it so, and soon, there was a whole new segment gracing Brazil’s roads, with […]

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The car-based small pickup market was launched in Brazil by Fiat during the 1980s. Taking a 147 as its base, the Italians cut out the back seats, added a bed, beefed up the suspension and called it good. The market deemed it so, and soon, there was a whole new segment gracing Brazil’s roads, with Fiat’s Strada dominating the segment. Since that time, nearly every challenger has been vanquished by the Strada’s unquestionable longevity – except for Volkswagen’s Saveiro.

According to VW do Brasil, the Saveiro is now the market leader in single and extended cab configurations. It has sold roughly 40,000 units up until the middle of the year while Fiat sold roughly twice that. Volkswagen says half of Strada sales were of the double cab line. So finally VW reacted and launched its own double cab (the Strada’s arrived in 2009).  Its take on this style of small pick up is different from Fiat’s. As of 10 months ago, the Strada now comes with three doors, which of course (in theory) helps entry. The Volkswagen offers just two. Getting in the car and reclining the seat, I wiggle my 6 foot, 220 lb  frame into the back seat.

Nice surprise. While the Strada seats just four, the Saveiro does it for five. There are three headrests and three point seat belts only for those who sit off to the sides. The middle passenger, besides fighting for space, has to make do with a lap belt. Space is larger than in the Strada, though I wouldn’t want to be there with two friends for more than short jaunts. The rear side windows open by popping out, while the back window is fixed. There are two cupholders and even an auxiliary jack and a compartment under the seats. Some thought was indeed put into it.

Getting into the front and sitting in the driver’s seat, the whole ambience is very typically Volkswagen. That means a sober, almost boring layout, hard but well assembled plastics, monotone decorations and lots of unmarked plastic covers where commands for optional equipment would be. All in all it is an ambience I don’t especially admire or find pleasure in being, while I can appreciate why others do. The seat is placed a little low, and the dashboard quite high leading to that sunken feeling that many nowadays equate with safety. What’s safer than driving a tank, right? As such, it’s good the Saveiro CD comes with parking sensors. That way you won’t smash the bed into anything.

Speaking of the bed, it has been reduced to 1.1 m in length and capacity is now 580L. The spare has been placed under the bed. Just to compare, the Strada has a volume 100L greater and can carry 50 more kilos (650 to the Saveiro’s 600). Though short, it is longer than the Strada’s and offers 10 tie-down points, a number its rival can’t touch.

The Saveiro Double Cab offers two engines. Both are 1.6L. One however has 8v while the other 16. The 16v is new and corrals 110 or 120 ponies (depending of fuel chosen, the first figure for Brazilian gasoline, the second for Brazilian ethanol) while the simpler mill makes do with 101 or 104 horsepower. While this output is relatively low, the multi-valve engine pulls well and vibrates less than the old one. Pulling power is steady and its capacity to rev higher makes it more comfortable to drive at high speeds on the highway. Top speed is 179 km/h, almost 10 more than the 8 valve unit. It has been on the market for a while now, and so far has not shown the same propensity of the old unit of going kaput at very low mileage. Keeping fingers crossed, one can hope Volkswagen do Brasil has finally figured out what kind of oil is needed to lubricate its 1.6 L motors.

Finally, and exclusively for its segment, the new engine also makes do without an auxiliary start up tank. In low temperatures, cars running on ethanol can have trouble firing. To avoid this, most cars here come with an extra tank you must fill with gasoline to aid firing. The new engine dispenses with this, aiding comfort and safety as there is no need for the extra tank, usually placed in the engine bay.

The Saveiro Highline comes with the 1.6 16v. I chose to drive it as I’m well acquainted with the 8v unit. It really helps the experience and makes the car that more enjoyable. Faster than ever, the little pickup has always been a handful to drive at high speeds with an empty bed. So much so that cars like these are known as caminito al cielo (road to heaven) in some South American markets. This time around VW has endowed the picape with stability control but only on the top-level Cross trim. Lower trim level buyers will have to be wary and drive with special care trying to make it around bends. While very sure-footed and planted in a straight line, the driver must not forget he is in a pickup and not a car. The bed will try to find the front of the car if the driver abuses it.

All double cab Saveiros come with disc brakes all around. Stopping power is of course enhanced, and emergency braking is done without drama. It helps that the Saveiro offers EBD throughout the Double Cab line. It’s very interesting how Brazilian cars are getting more equipped. Besides the mandatory airbags and ABS, the pickup comes with a hill holder function and special programming that allows VW to claim an off road traction launcher (depending on trim level). The Germans also claim their ABS and EBD have special programming offering better braking in muddy conditions. All of this was not present in the car I drove. For now, these are reserved for the pseudo-adventure Cross trim line.

The steering is precise as in most VW cars. In the city it’s not the lightest out there, but on the highway it beefs up nicely. Being a hydraulic unit, it offers more feedback than electric setups. The car comes with a manual 5-speed gearbox that remains among the best in Brazil. Its short and precise throws are better than the competitions and it can shift fast and true. Better yet, this time around the thumping noises of its engagement have been largely avoided.

I enjoyed this little truck. Pressure is now on Fiat to improve its Strada. Volkwagen pricing is in line with Fiat’s, but always offers just a bit more content. The drive is certainly modern and the use of an interdependent axle with longitudinal arms and springs in the back make it a less jumpy vehicle than the Strada. While the engine in the VW is smaller than the Strada’s 1.8, 16v, 132hp unit, it makes the car almost as fast and more economic, plus smoother than Fiat’s. Pulling power is aided by the hill holder function while the Strada has more torque. The Saveiro is now on par with the Strada and it will be interesting to be seen whether it will fulfill Volkswagen do Brasil’s prediction of taking over first place from the Strada. Though that will be a tough, uphill battle, the Saveiro now has what it takes.

 

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New Union Goes Up Against UAW For Chattanooga VW Plant http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/new-union-goes-uaw-chattanooga-vw-plant/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/new-union-goes-uaw-chattanooga-vw-plant/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 13:00:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=902153 In response to the United Auto Workers establishing a union local in Chattanooga, Tenn., anti-UAW Volkswagen employees have begun the process of forming their own union. Reuters reports Mike Burton, who helped in the effort to defeat the UAW’s attempt to unionize the VW plant in Chattanooga earlier this year, is leading the charge for […]

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In response to the United Auto Workers establishing a union local in Chattanooga, Tenn., anti-UAW Volkswagen employees have begun the process of forming their own union.

Reuters reports Mike Burton, who helped in the effort to defeat the UAW’s attempt to unionize the VW plant in Chattanooga earlier this year, is leading the charge for what he says will be the first local of the American Council of Employees. He claims that since the UAW lost in February, VW has strengthened its ties to the union, and wants ACE to become the alternative to Local 42, the local established by ACE’s opponents last month.

Meanwhile, UAW secretary-treasurer Gary Casteel believes Burton’s counterattack doesn’t have much of a chance because of the consensus between his union and the automaker, proclaiming Local 42 has “substantially more than 700 members” from the 1,500 hourly employees who work the floor in Chattanooga. He added that it would be up to VW to recognize ACE.

Though VW has said nothing regarding ACE thus far, it has repeatedly supported the establishment of a works council at its sole U.S. factory.

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Wiedeking Ordered To Stand Trial Over Market Manipulation Charges http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/wiedeking-ordered-stand-trial-market-manipulation-charges/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/wiedeking-ordered-stand-trial-market-manipulation-charges/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 10:00:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=901441 Former Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking may be facing jail time in the future if convicted on charges of market manipulation recently revived by a German court. Bloomberg reports the Stuttgart Higher Regional Court ordered both Wiedeking and former Porsche CFO Holger Haerter to stand trial in criminal court over the charges, linked to the failed […]

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Former Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking may be facing jail time in the future if convicted on charges of market manipulation recently revived by a German court.

Bloomberg reports the Stuttgart Higher Regional Court ordered both Wiedeking and former Porsche CFO Holger Haerter to stand trial in criminal court over the charges, linked to the failed takeover of Volkswagen AG in October of 2008. The court proclaimed it found “numerous indications” of a possible hidden agenda to increase Porsche’s stake in Volkswagen from 74.1 percent to 75 percent “as they could suggest the opposite evaluation by the lower court.”

Both Porsche and attorneys for the two defendants believe the charges to be without merit, especially as they were overturned in a lower court back in April due to lack of sufficient evidence. The regional court, however, states that as far back as 2006, Wiedeking had plans to take over VW in secret.

In addition to the criminal case, a few civil suits are waiting in the wings in Braunschweig, Stuttgart and Hanover. The plaintiffs — investors who believed Porsche had planned to assimilate VW months before the October 2008 takeover attempt — are seeking over €5 billion ($6.6 billion USD) in damages.

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Chinese Government Investigating Quality Issues Among Volkswagen Sagitars http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/chinese-government-investigating-quality-issues-among-volkswagen-sagitars/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/chinese-government-investigating-quality-issues-among-volkswagen-sagitars/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 12:00:26 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=893458 Amid complaints of broken rear shafts from Sagitar owners, China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine has contacted Volkswagen to fix the problem. Bloomberg reports 435 complaints were collected into the nation’s National Defective Motor Vehicle Recall Information Management Platform’s Defect Information Collection System, half of which were filed between July 30 and […]

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Amid complaints of broken rear shafts from Sagitar owners, China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine has contacted Volkswagen to fix the problem.

Bloomberg reports 435 complaints were collected into the nation’s National Defective Motor Vehicle Recall Information Management Platform’s Defect Information Collection System, half of which were filed between July 30 and August 12 alone.

FAW-VW responded late last month by claiming the problems were isolated incidents (via expert analysis) and not anything on their end. The joint venture also vowed to sue anyone spreading “untrue” information about their products.

The investigation is taking place at the same time an antitrust probe by the government over price-cutting by seven transplants, including Volkswagen AG’s Audi.

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VW Works Council Forces Out Consultants Amid Headcount Reduction Fears http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/vw-works-council-forces-consultants-amid-headcount-reduction-fears/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/vw-works-council-forces-consultants-amid-headcount-reduction-fears/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 13:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=889337 Volkswagen AG execs will have to go back to the drawing board to determine where to cut costs after its works council demanded outside consultants be shown the door. Reuters reports last month, CEO Martin Winterkorn informed his employees that he was seeking €5 billion ($6.7 billion USD) in efficiency gains by 2017 so as […]

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Volkswagen AG execs will have to go back to the drawing board to determine where to cut costs after its works council demanded outside consultants be shown the door.

Reuters reports last month, CEO Martin Winterkorn informed his employees that he was seeking €5 billion ($6.7 billion USD) in efficiency gains by 2017 so as to close the profit gap between his company and its rival automakers. In turn, VW brought aboard consultant group McKinsey to help determine where to find the needed gains. But the pricey consultants were a point of contention with VW’s labor representatives.

The concerns over McKinsey’s presence focused upon fears of potential layoffs at factories in Kassal and Wolfsburg, Germany, where a total of over 65,000 assemble components, transmissions and vehicles. Labor leaders suggested the company focus on cutting both R&D spending and its trimming its bloated model lineup rather than reduce headcount.

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Capsule Review: 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/capsule-review-2015-volkswagen-gti/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/08/capsule-review-2015-volkswagen-gti/#comments Mon, 11 Aug 2014 14:00:56 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=869586 There I was, all ready to do something that no automotive journalist ever does: purchase a brand new performance car. I was days away from going down to the local Ford dealer and signing on the dotted line for a brand new Ford Fiesta ST. I had it all picked out: an ST3 model, with the […]

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There I was, all ready to do something that no automotive journalist ever does: purchase a brand new performance car. I was days away from going down to the local Ford dealer and signing on the dotted line for a brand new Ford Fiesta ST. I had it all picked out: an ST3 model, with the Recaros, grey wheels and Performance Blue paint. And then I got a phone call from Volkswagen, offering me the chance to drive the brand-new, MK7 GTI.

For those of you still reading the buff books, the MK7 GTI has been out for the better part of a year – and every keen TTAC reader knows that this is the first GTI to be built off of VW’s MQB modular architecture. But what does it mean for the enthusiast who doesn’t live and breathe the ins-and-outs of modular architectures?

Well, quite a bit. The MK7 is longer, wider, more spacious inside, while packing more power and less weight. Length is up by 2.1 inches, while width is up by half an inch. Notably, the GTI loses 1.1 inches in overall height, while the front wheels have been moved forward by nearly two inches (thanks to the MQB chassis placement of the pedal box), which adds up to the much more pleasing “lower, longer, wider” look.

The overall effect is that of a substantial car. From the outside, the GTI still looks like it takes up the expected footprint of a C-segment car. Inside, the cabin looks nothing short of huge. The panoramic sunroof and generously bolstered seats give it an airy feel, while the uncomplicated center console feels like it belongs in something with four rings. The rear seats contain enough room for two full-size male adults, though three abreast might be a stretch. It’s better than a number of CUVs that I’ve recently come across, and would be more than adequate for the sort of “bro-trips” that many buyers of this car will undertake. Like most auto reviewers, I adore the tartan cloth and would skip the leather upholstery.

The added size appears to have no negative consequences for the GTI’s performance. Dynamically, the GTI has but one fault. The gas and brake pedals are spaced too far apart to properly execute a heel-toe downshift. Everything else you’ve read about the car is true: it is utterly brilliant, and possibly the best all-round performance car on the market.

The newest generation of Volkswagen two-point-oh-tee motor delivers peak twist at just 1,500 rpm, pulling all the way up to 4,500 rpm. That means all 258 lb-ft is easily accessible in the meat of the power band, right where you’d be most inclined to use it. Torque-steer manages to be mercifully contained, and describing the acceleration as “brisk” doesn’t quite do this car justice.

An optional Performance Pack adds another 10 horsepower, bigger brakes and a limited-slip differential. Does the GTI need it? I’m not sure. The example we tested did not have it, and I never wished for a second that it did. The brakes are strong and progressive, the handling beautifully composed with crisp, quick steering and the kind of sharp turn-in that you wouldn’t normally expect on a front-wheel drive car.

This performance is also fully accessible to the average driver on something as banal as a highway on-ramp, and you can tap into it while you’re averaging 26 mpg in spirited driving. Even with the low-profile tires and sharp handing, the ride is never punishing. If the light clutch and precise 6-speed manual gearbox are too arduous for your daily commute, there’s a dual-clutch gearbox available as well. What could possibly be wrong with a car that can truly lay claim to being the ultimate performance daily driver?

Well, as Jack said

 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.

When I was 17 years old, my father bought a MKV Jetta 2.0T, and I, entitled little brat that I was, scoffed at the notion that a powerful, front-wheel drive car could be any fun. After all, video games and endless forum flame wars had taught me, so it had to be true. As it turned out, I adored that car, and I adore the MKVII, which is faster, lighter sharper and more refined than the MKV, with its laggy motor and first-generation DSG, ever was. But even though I’m less entitled and (slightly) more mature, I still want the raucous, slightly unhinged brand of front-drive fun that the Fiesta ST offers, even at the expense of the GTI’s substantial rear seat and cargo area. For everyone else that’s gotten that puerile recklessness out of their system, the GTI is the one you want.

N.B. Our photography car has a DSG gearbox, but is otherwise identical to our tester. Thanks to AutoGuide.com for the photograpy.

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Reader Review: 2010 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/reader-review-2010-volkswagen-jetta-sportwagen/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/reader-review-2010-volkswagen-jetta-sportwagen/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 15:51:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=874393 Reader Phil Brown shares his experiences with his Jetta Wagon Volkswagen still has the temerity to sell a compact station wagon in an American market scarfing up CUVs, and bless them for it. I should have been in the heart of the CUV market when looking for a new vehicle in 2010, but I ended […]

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Reader Phil Brown shares his experiences with his Jetta Wagon

Volkswagen still has the temerity to sell a compact station wagon in an American market scarfing up CUVs, and bless them for it. I should have been in the heart of the CUV market when looking for a new vehicle in 2010, but I ended up in a MkVI Jetta Sportwagen. It isn’t brown and it doesn’t burn diesel, but after four years and 51K miles of ownership I can understand some of the fervor of wagon fans here on TTAC. There is just something so fundamentally sound and good about the way this car drives, the way it goes down the road, and the surprising utility it offers. With the recent ascension of the Volkswagen Golf to the MQB platform and the 1.8TSI engine on North American shores, I thought it would be an appropriate time to share my longer-term ownership experience of the outgoing platform.

The VW replaced a second-hand 1996 “champagne” beige Camry (how appropriate, for what better title could you give a 1996 Camry than the Champagne of Beiges?) which I had owned for 8 responsible years. Despite being the crème de la crème of 1990s sedans and exhibiting a build quality rarely seen in a Toyota showroom since, it was completely lifeless from behind the wheel and falling badly behind on safety features. Kids were coming. ABS, side airbags, and LATCH anchors were suddenly a priority, and I wanted at least a whiff of driver involvement. Time in a Focus ZX5 and the joker-faced Mazda 3 had opened my eyes to affordable driving enjoyment, and I wanted some of that in a package that could haul a couple of kids and their accompanying detritus.

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Turns out that was a lot to ask from a $21K budget when a hatchback/wagon body style was mandatory. Lightly used CUVs were ruled out after realizing they were as dull as the Camry despite acing the functional criteria. It’s hard to swallow 4 years of payments on a used vehicle when you don’t actually like it. Every other hatchback or wagon had a fatal flaw, whether too small in the cargo area (xB & Soul), too small in the backseat (Mazda3), or too cheap and nasty to warrant the asking price (Matrix). The Jetta Sportwagen was about the only offering left, and poking around one at an auto show left a really good impression. Subsequent test drives only improved on that.

I never thought I’d walk into a VW dealership after seeing the pages of Consumer Reports splattered like a crime scene with black dots from the infamous Mk IV days, but once those Mk Vs landed in 2005 the dots turned to white and red. So I put aside brand bias and worked with a very professional and low-pressure sales manager to order a base S model with the 5 cylinder engine and 5 speed manual from the factory. Five weeks later, the Mexican-assembled wagon arrived wrapped in bug-splattered plastic.

Most will openly wonder why on God’s Green Earth one would special order a gas Sportwagen instead of picking a TDI already on the lot. The answer is $4500, the price difference between the cheapest TDI with its obligatory bundled options and an already well-equipped base 2.5S. Being trendy and undersupplied, TDI Sportwagen inventories were low in my area that year and the dealers weren’t about to budge a nickel on them. I wasn’t seeing $4500 worth of value there, but time will tell if the higher depreciation and fuel costs wash out the initial price savings.

Regardless of engine choice, this car treats both the driver and passengers well. It provides some feedback and involvement without beating up or cramping passengers, and provides class-atypical levels comfort and refinement without completely anesthetizing the driving experience. The suspension and structure absorb broken pavement, potholes, and jarring ripples with poise and composure that no Civic or Elantra can manage, yet the handling is still responsive. The steering provides respectable feel and precision at speed, with no center dead zone and none of the tiring dartiness some quick ratio systems provide. The driving position is excellent and seat comfort is superb. It is hushed, stable and confident on the highway and just eats up miles for hours on end without fatiguing you. I’m six feet tall and can still find a good driving position with twin rear-facing toddler seats behind me, although anyone taller will have trouble. An SUV’s worth of cargo capacity resides behind the backseat so I can haul both kids and gear. Without the family aboard, I can turn off the traction control and dump-n-ride the clutch to shriek the tires across half an intersection if I’m feeling like an abusive imbecile. That is a smile you cannot get from a CR-V.

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The interior of this generation of Golf/Jetta received unanimous praise in the media, and it is well-deserved because the materials quality is closer to an entry-level luxury car than a $20K compact. Happy little details are hidden everywhere, from the glovebox lined in faux felt to the brilliant tilt-and-telescope center armrest to the standard heated seats to the real metal door pulls that release the latch with such a satisfying feel and sound. The speedometer is absolute genius, marked in 10 mph increments until 80 and in 20 mph increments beyond, so you can have your stupid obligatory 160 mph speedometer and not sacrifice legibility in the 0-80 mph range. The interior shows no wear on the touch points, so whatever shoddy craftsmanship plagued the MkIV interiors is not present here.

The interior and solid structure can perhaps be cheerfully compared to Audi, but several things remind you this car was built to a low price. The HVAC fan roars like a tornado and the air conditioning is a bit tepid. There is no modern infotainment technology to speak of. No trip computer. No Bluetooth. No USB integration. You get AUX and a CD slot with a stereo head unit that is laughably basic even if the sound that it routes through the eight speakers isn’t bad. My biggest complaint involves the brakes, which are mushy and require a surprisingly good stomp to extract all of the mediocre performance despite being four-wheel disc. The unparalleled bitching about the 2011 Jetta’s rear drums was amusing considering it stops in a shorter distance than my car.

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The engine won’t fool an Audi owner either, but for $20K why should it? VW’s 2.5 liter 5 cylinder is controversial, I believe it deserves a final defense. The 5 cylinder was never going to engender anything but irritation from journalists narrowly focused on acceleration stats or how vigorously the needle swings to redline. Well, ignore their regurgitated groupthink because this is an affordable workhorse that is more relaxed and well-suited to everyday driving than most C-segment engines it competed with. The oft-quoted torque peak occurs above 4000 rpm, but 90% of that is available at 2000 rpm, so it pulls better at those engine speeds than a GLI with its sleeping turbo. Going for a hole in traffic doesn’t usually require a downshift. You can move out nicely in 3rd gear at 30mph and that gives you an advantage against a lot of other average cars that need to wake up and downshift before they can provide much thrust. In Everyday Car and Driver Land, this is more important than a 0-60 sprint.

If those sprints still interest you, the tires will chirp going into second but the engine doesn’t really rev eagerly and feels pretty much done by 5000 rpm. Expect an automatic Sonata to keep pace with you. Expect the GLI to flatten you. You’re just not going to win many stoplight races. Rest in peace anyway, noble 5-cylinder. You were a decent effort considering VW has approximately zero interest in normally aspirated engines.

I find the notorious fuel economy of this engine to be…adequate, but getting less so each year, as the industry extracts more power from the same amount of fuel. I get 28-34 mpg on the highway depending on whatever. It’s a 3200 pound car with 170hp so I wasn’t expecting 40 mpg, but cars of this weight and power should be getting 10-15% better. A section of the brain fixates on that, even if it doesn’t really dent the pocketbook.

I suppose we need to discuss reliability. No VW review is complete without stories of hellacious repair records, preferably of experiences 10, 20, or 30 years ago extrapolated far beyond the proper scope of inference to every VW model and powertrain produced today. Look, either you believe data collected by Consumer Reports and TrueDelta or you don’t. Those sources show the MkV Golf/Jetta far outperforming the MkIV and achieving parity or better with the rest of the industry, particularly for 5-cylinder cars. This is my personal experience: in 51K miles I’ve had one repair stop, a faulty ignition coil at 15K miles that didn’t leave me stranded or make me late to anything. The rear seat ski pass-through likes to jam as well and I have had that addressed 3 times during oil changes. Apparently it is a model-wide design flaw, but it’s not as if the window is dropping into the door. Otherwise, the car has been flawless. I don’t expect an easy 200K, but if I can run it for 10 years and 150K miles without headache you won’t ever see me criticizing this model’s reliability on the comment boards. Bulletproof reliability beyond 200K is something for the second owner to worry about, as the Camry taught me that 15 years of perfect operation is a critical asset only if you want to keep the car for 15 years.

I’ll probably pay for that reliability gap when I try to sell this thing in a world where used Civics fetch such high prices, and I’m fairly certain the manual transmission will be a resale hurdle as well. That’s OK. The modest gain in resale at the tail end of the depreciation curve is not worth driving a car I do not enjoy for a full decade. Volkswagen converted a skeptic here, and should this wagon not implode on me in the next 100K miles and render me an embittered hater of all budget German metal, I may just move into a GTI.

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Clean-Diesel Sales Up 25 Percent In The US For 2014 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/clean-diesel-sales-up-25-percent-in-the-us-for-2014/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/clean-diesel-sales-up-25-percent-in-the-us-for-2014/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 11:00:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=869994 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, […]

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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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/review-2015-golf-tsi/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/review-2015-golf-tsi/#comments Sat, 05 Jul 2014 12:00:36 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=858777 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 […]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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(Volkswagen provided travel and accommodations for this test.)

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VW Will Begin Production Of Beetle Dune In 2016 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/vw-will-begin-production-of-beetle-dune-in-2016/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/07/vw-will-begin-production-of-beetle-dune-in-2016/#comments Thu, 03 Jul 2014 10:00:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=857937 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 […]

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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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/reader-review-skoda-octavia-vrs/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/reader-review-skoda-octavia-vrs/#comments Wed, 18 Jun 2014 13:31:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=845961 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 […]

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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 …

DSC_0120 DSC_0097 DSC_0115 DSC_0126

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UAW Will Spend Less On Transplant Organization Campaigns http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/uaw-will-spend-less-on-transplant-organization-campaigns/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/uaw-will-spend-less-on-transplant-organization-campaigns/#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 13:00:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=840466 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 […]

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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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/volkswagen-to-triple-suv-lineup-in-fight-against-toyota-for-total-global-sales/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/volkswagen-to-triple-suv-lineup-in-fight-against-toyota-for-total-global-sales/#comments Wed, 04 Jun 2014 11:00:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=836730 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 […]

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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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/vw-pulled-by-competing-incentive-offers-for-new-suv-assembly/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/vw-pulled-by-competing-incentive-offers-for-new-suv-assembly/#comments Tue, 03 Jun 2014 13:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=836113 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, […]

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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) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/review-2015-volkswagen-gti-performance-pack-mk7/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/review-2015-volkswagen-gti-performance-pack-mk7/#comments Tue, 03 Jun 2014 13:00:22 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=835977 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. 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 […]

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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.

IMG_6142 (Medium)

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.

IMG_6139 (Medium)

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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/volkswagen-will-bring-us-product-faster-to-market-beginning-2017/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/volkswagen-will-bring-us-product-faster-to-market-beginning-2017/#comments Mon, 02 Jun 2014 11:00:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=835569 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, […]

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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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/capsule-review-2002-volkswagen-gti-1-8t/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/capsule-review-2002-volkswagen-gti-1-8t/#comments Tue, 27 May 2014 13:00:27 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=832538 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 […]

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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:
mk4

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.

gti41

(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.

gti42

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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/capsule-review-1995-volkswagen-gti-vr6/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/capsule-review-1995-volkswagen-gti-vr6/#comments Mon, 26 May 2014 11:00:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=832401 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 […]

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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.

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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.

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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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/capsule-review-1992-vw-gti-16v-2-0/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/capsule-review-1992-vw-gti-16v-2-0/#comments Sun, 25 May 2014 05:38:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=831762 (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 […]

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(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.

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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.

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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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/volkswagens-cervone-returns-to-gm-as-global-communications-vp/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/volkswagens-cervone-returns-to-gm-as-global-communications-vp/#comments Tue, 20 May 2014 10:00:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=826618 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 […]

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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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/volkswagen-dials-back-on-2018-milestone/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/05/volkswagen-dials-back-on-2018-milestone/#comments Mon, 19 May 2014 12:00:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=826242 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 […]

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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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