The Truth About Cars » 2.0T The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sat, 26 Jul 2014 01:30:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » 2.0T 2013 Volkswagen Intramural League, Fifth Place: CC R-Line 2.0T Mon, 02 Sep 2013 13:15:23 +0000 IMG_3629 (Medium)

Let’s start with the good news: It’s still possible to purchase a German-made Volkswagen sedan with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a manual transmission. Your humble author did just that back in February of 1998, taking delivery of a 1998 Passat 1.8t and thoroughly enjoying the sleek sedan while it was in my possession. The current Passat is aimed at a different market, and quite successfully so; it’s the “CC” four-door koo-pay that is meant to carry the torch for all the old B5 Passat fans.

Which makes sense, because this is fundamentally an old Passat. An eight-year-old Passat. And that, as you might expect, is a bit of a problem.

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The “B6″ Passat that underpins the CC debuted in 2005. In Volkswagen-land, that’s not really a problem; the company is just now discontinuing Brazilian production of the original 1950s-era Transporter van. Compared to that venerable vehicle, the B6 Passat is a spring chicken. Still. Just to give you some context, here’s a 2005 Kia Optima:


and here’s a 2013 Kia Optima:


You get the idea? In fairness, however, the current CC has a different front and rear fascia from the original CC, which debuted in 2008 as a variant of that 2005 Passat. Still, when you consider what’s happened in the market since then… it isn’t just the Optima. The Sonata, the Fusion, the Malibu — quite a bit of chump-to-champ transformation happening while Volkswagen sits still.

Enough of that. Let’s go drive. The loop on which I tested these cars was a 33-mile assemblage of twisting roads running up and down the side of a mountain-ish hill in Napa, CA. The CC impresses at first glance: the proportions are familiar but they’re still correct and the interior is tasteful yet substantially identical to that of the B6 Passat. It’s not luxurious but it’s not cheap-feeling either. The R-Line’s price of $33,000 and change isn’t undermined too badly here, particularly if you like German minimalism. Just try to stay out of the competition if you want to remain happy with the features on offer.

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Yes, that’s a two-tone interior. The seats are familiar to anyone who’s been in the B6 but they’re outstanding in both fit and comfort. Everything’s pretty easy to reach and operate. I hadn’t driven a non-North-American Passat since I had them as service loaners in the last decade but I immediately figured out how everything worked. The head unit was unable to negotiate with my 160GB iPod Classic, however. Luckily the 1/8″ plug works fine.

Visibility isn’t as bad as it is in some of the other coupes-that-aren’t, but the “NMS” (New Midsize Sedan) Chattanooga Passat has it whipped six ways to sundown in that respect. Rear seat room was insufficient for your six-foot-two, thirty-two-inch-inseam editor and the trunk is unlikely to fit a serious guitar amplifier or a mountain bike with just the front wheel off. While the CC casts a larger shadow on the ground than the current Jetta, it feels less spacious inside. Compared to the aforementioned NMS, it isn’t even close.

With two hundred horsepower to pull 3400 pounds and a relatively precise-feeling (by VW and front-wheel-drive standards) six-speed manual transmission, the CC should be acceptably quick, and it is. While it struggled a bit to accelerate on Napa’s steepest grades, the CC is clearly stronger than the four-cylinder Japanese entries in this market. It would take a True Believer, however, to pretend that the V-6 Camry and Accord won’t leave it for dead. While VW has a third-generation 2.0T in the pipeline, this ain’t it, and even an artificially flat turbo torque curve isn’t enough to imbue the CC with any real sense of hurry.

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Not that you’d want it to be any faster than it is, because the brakes are flat-out terrible. Soft, deep, and slow to bite, the CC’s stoppers are not even close to being up to par for fast road work. I was the first person to drive this car and I was on the first wave of the press event, so it’s hard to blame abuse or wear for the problem. It materially affected the amount of speed I was able to hold on the long descents because I was never sure how close I was to having the pedal touch the floor followed by having the nose of the CC touch a tree at Michael Hastings engine escape velocity.

Just as well, because if the brakes weren’t fast enough for the engine, the suspension probably wasn’t well-damped enough for the brakes. Of the six cars I drove around this loop, only the CC regularly exhibited what I think of as a “floating extension”, which is when the rebound damping goes on vacation and the body hovers near the long end of the suspension’s stroke while the unloaded tires fiddle around for a very small slice of road grip. Some of the “whoops” on the downhill sections of Howell Mountain Road were sufficient to first pull the shocks all the way out then slam them into the bumpstops. While it was possible to exploit this behavior to get a surprising amount of “loose” motion from the back end around curves, it’s not reassuring and it conspicuously fails to deliver on the promises made by the R-Line’s aggressive exterior.

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I had thought that the CC might end up being the surprise winner of this comparison. As noted in the beginning of the review, it’s German-built (the Emden plant that built my ’98 also cranked this one out) and it has a third pedal that the competition has mostly stopped offering. Only the TSX and Buick Regal will let you have a stick-shift in this competitive set. The TSX punishes you for choosing the stick by limiting you to three color choices and base trim. The Buick punishes you for choosing the stick by being a Buick Regal. Guffaw. With that said, don’t think you’re going to see which way the retarded-sabertooth-grille Buick Regal GS went on a fast road from the driver’s seat of a CC — and the driver of the Regal won’t have paid any more for his considerably faster and more competent sedan. It’s tough to be a VW fan nowadays with Buick putting the boots to us like this. Not since the days of the Grand National have Buick sport sedans been faster than Volkswagens. Except for, um, all the years they sold the supercharged 3800 Regal. Okay, I take it back. Buick’s had the legs on the German brand more often than it hasn’t, and that’s just from the Seventies forward.

I’d still take the CC over, say, a Maxima, mostly because I can shift it myself and it looks cool. But against the non-VW competition it falls short. This being an Intramural League, however, we’re really only considering its merits against other Volkswagens. So here goes: Compared to other Volkswagens, the CC looks and feels old, it neither stops nor handles, and it costs more than other VWs that are more desirable and enjoyable. This old, bold soldier is ready for retirement — but what could possibly replace it? There’s nothing in the hopper at Wolfsburg. So if you want that list of qualities referred to above, this one is your winner and you might want to act while you still can. For everybody else: dead last.

Disclosure: Volkswagen flew me on Southwest Airlines to San Francisco and back for this test. Although I rented my own ground transportation and paid for all my own meals, those amenities were available to me courtesy of VW had I wanted or needed them. All expenses associated with operating the test vehicles were covered by Volkswagen, and I was put up for two nights in a very romantic little cottage.

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Review: 2011 Audi Q5 Fri, 16 Sep 2011 19:27:47 +0000

Tick off all the boxes on an Audi Q5 order form, and you’ll find yourself staring at a $58,350 tab. Too much for a compact crossover? Well, the example seen here will set you back $20,000 less. Now I know what you’re thinking: “A mere $38,400 for a right-sized chunk of German engineering? Sign me up!” Not so fast—to save twenty large you must give up something. But what?

The Q5’s outer shell is very much current Audi…except it also strongly resembles the latest Cayenne. (And the latest VW Touareg for that matter. Time for a Fortune cover?) If these lines are viable for the far pricier Porsche—and dealers can’t keep the peppers on the lot—then certainly they’re sufficiently upscale for this Audi. One wrinkle: the full tab nets the twenty-inch five-spoke wheels the designers had in mind when they penned the Q5’s exterior. At the other end of the spectrum, you get the 18s seen here. Not bad rims, and certainly far from tiny by historical standards, but ensconced in a clean-to-a-fault soap bar with wheel openings sized for dubs they take the whole downmarket.

When optioned with the Luxury Package, the Q5 contends with the Infiniti EX35 for the segment’s best interior, with soft leather covering not only the seats but also the door armrests and the hood over the instruments. But with this package the price jumps well into the fifties—it’s only available with the V6 and top trim level. The base interior, though it shares the same Teutonically tasteful design and solid construction, is a decidedly less opulent place. The door armrests are molded soft-touch plastic with hard plastic door pulls, and the seat upholstery, though technically leather, like much automotive cowhide easily passes for vinyl. (In fact, I have in my notes that “the vinyl isn’t as convincing as some.”) All-black with a smattering of wood trim not your thing? Any of the three two-toned color schemes, offered at no additional cost, warms the cabin up considerably. But even then the interior doesn’t have the cozy, custom-tailored ambiance you’ll find inside the Infiniti (assuming you can fit). My wife loved that Infiniti. She was not a fan of the Audi, to put it politely.

Keeping the price under forty means the standard audio system (pretty good, but no 505-watt 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen, that’s another $850) and no nav. The latter omission isn’t a problem for me personally, except it also means that the primary “MMI” (climate, audio, etc.) control knob and its surrounding buttons are on the center stack, where they’re not nearly as comfortable to reach or as easy to operate. With the nav these controls are much more ergonomically located aft of the shifter on the console. My wife’s comment on the controls: “Every time I had to do something new I had to sit there and think about it.” Even starting the Q5 poses a challenge for the unfamiliar. I was baffled for a number of minutes (I don’t want to admit how many) until I noticed a slot tucked up next to the center stack’s air vents. Stick the entire fob into it, push till it goes click, and—what do you know—the car starts. Want to keep the fob in your pocket? Then spring for the V6.

In general, automotive infotainment systems won’t let you do various things while driving. Click over to the Q5′s phone dialer, and you’re informed: “Distraction causes accidents. Never enter data while driving.” Click to accept this…and the next page lets you enter a phone number. Better than not being able to do this at all, but making habitual liars out of drivers one click at a time.

You get the same firm but supportive seats regardless of how the Q5 is optioned. If you want to feel like you’re sitting on a sofa, an Audi is not the car for you. The high, unobstructed view forward from the driver’s seat is a key reason people buy this sort of vehicle instead of the wagon (“avant” for those who speak Audi) most driving enthusiasts would favor. Huge mirrors do the same for the rearward view. The Q5 is only 182 inches long, about the same as a BMW X3 or Infiniti EX35 but much less lengthy than a Cadillac SRX or Lexus RX 350, which really compete with the others in terms of price rather than size. Still, unlike in the Infiniti there’s plenty of room in back for the average adult. A high-mounted cushion provides good thigh support and the seatback reclines. The compact exterior has a larger impact on cargo space, but there’s still more of it than in the Infiniti. More of a bother: the artfully shaped tailgate affords no good grips and opens so high that women of below-average height will need a step ladder to reach it. Or get one of the upper-level trims, which include a power tailgate.

The stopwatch will tell you that the 2.0T’s 211-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine is nearly as quick as the 3.2’s 270-horsepower V6, thanks to a plumper midrange (peak torque of 258 foot-pounds at 1,500 rpm vs. 243 at 3,000) and two extra cogs in the autobox (for a total of eight). But the six feels smoother and sounds far sweeter. The turbo four is more than capable of moving the Q5, but the six is much more likely to move the driver. With eight speeds, manually downshifting to second or third for a turn requires a lot of taps. The solution: shunt the shifter into S and the transmission will find a suitably low gear (or an even lower one) on its own.

The advantage of the turbo four + eight-speed combo: fuel economy. The EPA ratings of 20 city, 27 highway are tops for the premium compact crossover class, though BMW’s mighty turbocharged six is close behind. In casual suburban driving the (possibly optimistic) trip computer reported high twenties and low thirties.

Last winter I attended a comparison drive for the new BMW X3…and came away impressed with the Q5. The BMW had a steadier, more composed ride and more balanced handling, and when fitted with a (conservatively rated) 300-horsepower turbocharged six is much quicker. By any objective measure it’s the best performer in the segment. But the Audi’s chassis felt livelier and somehow more natural, and on curvy roads I enjoyed driving it more. The biggest difference: steering that clearly communicated what was going on at the front contact patches. This was the standard steering and suspension: a $2,950 “Audi Drive Select Page” offered only on the top trim substitutes active steering and adaptive shocks, but unlike on some other Audis doesn’t include an active rear differential. With the moderately rear-biased all-wheel-drive system and conventional rear differential a heavy right foot can coax the rear end to step out, but this is a more practical possibility with the BMW.

I wasn’t quite as impressed with the Q5’s steering this time around. Part of the reason could be that I didn’t have the other vehicles (X3, RX, SRX) on hand for a direct comparison. But the Q5’s steering also isn’t as exemplary during daily driving as it is when hustling along a curvy road. When driven casually, steering effort varies dramatically and somewhat unpredictably, and the feel is more artificial. The positive spin: when you most need the steering to talk, it talks. The Audi wants to be driven hard. Ignore its needs, and (like the high-strung, high-maintenance mistress I don’t have) it misbehaves while refusing to talk to you.

One mystery: the tested vehicle was fitted with W-rated Goodyear Excellence tires. Such “grand touring summer” tires, though commonly fitted as standard equipment in Europe, rarely appear in the all-season-loving U.S. On the Q5, we get performance-oriented rubber only with the “S Line” package, which is only offered with the V6. By accident or otherwise, the press fleet Q5 2.0T was wearing relatively sticky Euro-market treads.

So, to get to a $38,400 sticker (up $400 from the tested 2011 model), you’ve given up the wheels the designers intended, leather that feels like leather, ergonomic controls, a broad array of conveniences, the sweet sounding six, the trick shocks, and sticky tires. But do other cars offer more at this price point?

Not the related A4 Avant wagon, which lists for $800 more while including fewer features as standard equipment. You get a standard panoramic sunroof with the wagon—one’s an option on the Q5—but no power lumbar on the passenger seat, no wood trim, no three-zone automatic climate control, no automatic lights, no rain-sensing wipers, no trip computer. Tally up the differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, and the Q5’s price advantage widens to about $1,500. Detroit’s product strategy favored SUVs because they found car buyers were willing to pay more for them than for a wagon. The Germans didn’t get the memo. By this yardstick, the Q5 is a bargain: 380 pounds more car (4,090 total), less money.

The Infiniti EX35 that seduced my wife lists for $1,800 more, but includes a standard 3.5-liter V6. So is the Q5 3.2 a more appropriate comparison? Load up both the Infiniti and a Q5 3.2, and the Japanese crossover ends up about $5,500 less. The Germans charge top dollar for options, who knew?

A similarly-equipped BMW X3 xDrive2.8i lists for about $4,000 more, partly because you must specify the “Premium Package” to get the leather, wood trim, and dual four-way power lumbar adjustments standard on the Audi. This brings along some features not on the tested Audi, most notably a panoramic sunroof. Adjust for these, and the Audi retains a roughly $2,200 advantage. Enough to sway some buyers? Maybe. At a minimum the Audi is competitively priced.

So, with the Audi Q5 car buyers face a quandary. It’s fun to drive compared to any other compact crossover save the BMW, but anyone who makes this a top priority will (or at least should) go with the A4 Avant or BMW 3-Series wagon instead. So the Q5 is more likely to sell to those seeking the perceived superior comfort and convenience of a crossover. But a sub-forty Q5 lacks many comforts and conveniences. Check off the boxes to get these, and the price tag rapidly ascends into the mid-forties and beyond, at which point the Q5 isn’t as good a value.

Audi provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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