The Truth About Cars » 2.5 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 14:03:49 +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 » 2.5 2012 Volkswagen Beetle 2.5 Wed, 21 Dec 2011 19:51:48 +0000

I never was a New Beetle kind of guy. But then I am a guy. Unless a cute car handles like a Miata, I’m not interested. For 2012 Volkswagen has redesigned the New Beetle, dropping the “New” and the bud vase (every review must mention this) in the process of attempting to broaden the car’s appeal. And?

The new (not New) Beetle’s body is less far-out styling exercise, more faithful yet also better resolved and altogether more attractive update of the form-follows-function original. Except dimensionally, where a page has been ripped from Harley Earl’s decidedly contra-Bauhaus “longer, lower, wider” car design philosophy, with changes of +7.3 (to 168.4), -0.5 (to 58.5), and +2.3 (to 71.2) inches, respectively. Most notable among the now bent curves, the Beetle’s roof no longer traces a continuous arch from fender to fender. There’s enough of a flat roof surface for a much larger glass panel, but not enough for this panel to open even halfway. Disregard the brochure: “panoramic” it’s not. Paint the bug “autobahn appliance silver” and shoe it with wide, low profile treads (235/45HR18s, to be precise), and only men least sure of their manliness should feel uncomfortable driving this car.

The interior is similarly less style for its own sake and more a blend of the original’s minimalist aesthetic and today’s standard VW issue. Though the herringbone pattern in some of the off-black leatherette and the audio display graphics are kind of nifty, those seeking cheery, bubbly fun are much less likely to find it here. The potential for whimsy largely departed with the bud vase. Fans of functionality will adore the extra glove box and three-dial HVAC controls, though.

When I spoke of men being comfortable in this car, I was speaking figuratively. The hard, flat front seat put my seat to sleep, while the hard flat door-mounted armrest made my elbow wish for the same. The view forward is more confidence inspiring than that in the previous car, since the 2012’s windshield is much more upright and you no longer have to gaze across a vast expanse of instrument panel to see through it. But unless you’re especially long of torso it’s first necessary to crank the seat way up to avoid feeling trapped, Kafka-style, in the big bug body. Only the windows seem small. The new car arguably comes by its high belt and small windows honestly, as postwar Beetles weren’t exactly fishbowls. But the large feel from the driver’s seat? That’s new. No such novelty in back—it’s still a tight fit for adults, though the rear glass thankfully isn’t overhead. Cargo volume similarly remains in modest supply, though the hatch opening, no longer a fashion victim, is usefully larger.

I’m oddly fond of the much-maligned low-revving 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine in its latest 170 horsepower, 177 pound-feet iteration. Very torquey, it pulls strongly up to 40 miles-per-hour or so, and then more than adequately up to highway speeds, while sounding more substantial than a four (if not remotely like an air-cooled boxer) in the process. Too bad the six-speed automatic transmission, in a not terribly successful attempt to earn good EPA numbers (22 city / 29 highway MPG), is more than capable of lugging even this engine. Want to shift for yourself? You’ll save $1,100 with the five-speed manual. Or spend more and get the 200-horsepower 2.0T / six-speed stick combo.

Hopefully the steering and suspension are tuned differently with the turbo. The 2.5’s hydraulic power steering (vs. electric-assist with the 2.0T) communicates well as loads build, but feels sluggish and a touch sloppy on-center. Little happens during the initial quarter turn. The chassis feels stable but not at all agile. As with the second-gen Scion xB, the oversized feel of the 2012 Beetle really takes a toll. Frisky personality like that of a MINI or 500? Not at all. You could be behind the wheel of any 3,000-plus-pound German driving appliance. The car is all business.

Aesthetically, the 18-inch wheels are perfect for the car. Since those big shiny discs are hubcaps, the rims probably aren’t as hefty as they look. But they do feel as hefty as they look, pounding across all but the most minor road imperfections. Though the suspension tuning is hardly GTI athletic, the ride is jittery more often than not. Chassis refinement is uncharacteristically lacking for a VW. What were the engineers aiming for? To put a positive spin on it, those seeking sharp handling and those seeking a smooth ride will be equally satisfied.

The price of the bespoke body? Easy to figure, since the new Beetle is essentially the latest North American Jetta underneath. Okay, maybe not so easy, as the Jetta 2.5 isn’t offered with the 400-watt Fender audio system or 18-inch rims. The tested Beetle, loaded up with automatic, sunroof, and nav, lists for $25,965. A Jetta without the aforementioned bits but with enough other things to be worth a $680 feature-based price adjustment (according to TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool): $25,065. So figure about $1,580 for the bug body, larger rims, and rocking audio system. Not bad if the rest was good. A similarly equipped (but 121 horsepower) MINI Cooper costs nearly the same as the tested Beetle after adjusting for feature differences.

German coachbuilder Gunter Artz once highly modified a few Golf bodies to fit over Porsche 928 mechanicals. Driving the result must have affected severe cognitive dissonance. The same is the case, if in a less desirable direction, with the 2012 Beetle. Even butched up, it looks like it should be fun, or at least feel somehow special. Perhaps like a less mini MINI. Instead the latest Beetle drives like an American-spec Jetta with gangsta windows, sloppier steering, and less polished suspension. I actually enjoyed driving the Jetta mit 2.5 more. The Germans have never understood our American fondness for the car that, for them, can only have painful association with their immediate postwar condition. This might explain why, after masterfully crafting a more functional, more attractive, and more broadly appealing update of the iconic exterior, they phoned the rest in. The result certainly isn’t a bad car, but also isn’t the distinctive experience it could have been. The abandoned better idea: Think Small.

Volkswagen provided the car with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Piston Slap: Hello Kitty! Contouring the American Mondeo’s future? Mon, 10 Oct 2011 16:50:42 +0000  


TTAC commentator sastexan writes:


You proved yourself smart by changing over to the older rod shift transmission linkage on your Cougar SVT. My shift cables are broken again – although this time probably due to the 1st mechanic’s ineptitude and unwillingness to finish the job he started and align it correctly. The end that attaches to the shifter is worn out so the shifter keeps popping off the cable end – which was interesting to reconnect while I was driving in stop and go traffic on the (in)famous Washington Beltway. Unfortunately, the plastic insert on the Contour cables is not replaceable – the only way to fix it is to replace the entire cable set – which is a giant PITA. Oh well.

I also talked to Terry Haines, the transmission guy – if you haven’t heard of him before, he’s a former Ford engineer who has his own shop now, mostly working on MTX75 transmissions. He rebuilt my transmission at 100k, upgraded the shift forks, put in a quaife, replaced two syncros that were going bad. He walked me through the procedure to replace the shift cables (more than I can handle) and we also discussed why the Duratec V6s are puking rods – he unequivocally believes that it is due to the powdered metal connecting rods Ford started using around ’97 – he said that some spec must have changed because earlier Duratec have no con rod issues. In his teardown of motors, he said all the ones that have thrown rods had nothing to do with oil starvation – it all had to do with the con rods stretching out of spec and causing spun bearings then snapping the con rods. He also said SVT engines are more susceptible, due to higher compression and typically harder lives. And he said that the 3L upgrades everyone is doing has the same con rods and is just as at risk – Ford just ignored the problem in the Duratec.
Since you have plans for your Cougar, thought you would be interested in this line of thinking.

Sajeev answers:

Thanks for the heads up on Mr. Haines’ theory: it’s a direct contradiction to what I heard about bits of catalyst from the “pre-cats” in the exhaust getting sucked up, from a bad design of catalytic converter/exhaust manifold.

Either way, that’s just faaan-frickin-tastic.

I have yet to “buy back” my Cougar from Luke, the central Texas Ford Contour genius and all around cool cat. Even if he did put a Hello Kitty tailpipe on it, which implies I now have “Girl power” combined with the same connecting rod worries that decommissioned this Cougar in the first place?

It’s all good, because this Cougar will never be a daily driver. It’s a sleeper with quite a well sorted chassis that even Clarkson rather enjoyed. More to the point, the 3.0L Duratec swap fixes the only problem both myself and Clarkson felt: a lack of balls on this kitty. Try 250-ish horses, put down through that solid rod-shift transaxle and a Quaife diff.

I visited the Cougar last year, drove it around the block just to feel the catnip. SHO-nuff, this Cougar will hunt. There’s reasonable low end, with a smooth (and torque-steer light) powerband that screams all the way to 7000rpm like any other Contour SVT. Except with something approaching 12:1 compression, which sounds absolutely thrilling with every run to redline: I could really put the hurt on unsuspecting racers in this ride. Me likey everything about this plan…except the Hello Kitty Tailpipe.

Back to your points: old cars are such a pain in the ass! Granted the numerous cases of Duratec V6 failures are unfair to the thousands of people in Dearborn that made the rather awesome American Mondeo—and the rest of us who enjoyed them—there’s still the matter of driving a complicated car well past its “expiration date.” In general, bad stuff happens. Some dude won’t rebuild your tranny right, and the cables get fubar’d. And there you are on the beltway fixing your ride, hoping for the best.

It. Never. Ends. So when are you sidelining it and getting a more trustworthy daily driver?

Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

The Contour/Cougar/Mondeo is proof of two things. First, some cars win our hearts and minds…even if they didn’t do their job, ahem, as well as planned. Second, they will get better with age, if they aren’t driven as primary transportation.

Send your queries to . Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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Review: 2012 Volkswagen Passat 2.5 SE Mon, 15 Aug 2011 18:54:25 +0000

Volkswagen intends to become the world’s largest auto maker. Selling far more cars in the United States would accomplish this goal. Euro-spec cars haven’t been doing the trick, as too few Americans have been willing to pay the resulting semi-premium prices. So VW engineered a new Jetta compact sedan and a new Passat midsize sedan specifically for American tastes and budgets. Confident of the latter’s success, they’ve even constructed an all-new factory in Chattanooga, TN, to assemble it. Should the UAW’s latest targets expect to be working overtime? Today’s review evaluates the 2.5-liter five-cylinder gas Passat in SE trim, while Wednesday’s will compare the 2.0-liter turbodiesel in SEL Premium trim.

Apparently VW felt they were biting off enough risk with the new plant and the much higher sales volume needed to justify it, for the new Passat’s exterior styling could not be more safe. From the side the big sedan resembles the first-generation Toyota Avalon, itself tailored to the most conservative slice of the American car market circa 1994. The front end, like that of the new Jetta, does without the sort of overstyled, oversized headlights and grilles that have been fashionable for the past half-decade. But it goes too far in the other direction, giving the otherwise handsome (in dark colors) exterior an overly generic, “value” face not unlike that of the 1997 Camry.

The new Passat’s interior styling is similarly conservative to a fault. The instrument panel upper and parts of the doors are soft to the touch, but because many of the other surfaces and controls are composed of decidedly lower-grade materials the overall ambiance reeks of cost cutting. The climate control knobs, though easy to understand, feel especially chintzy. As in other recent VWs, the beltline (base of the windows) is fashionably high. But the pillars are thin by current standards and the windshield is comfortably raked, so the driving position is good if not commanding. The seats don’t have much in the way of contour, and the typical American posterior will find them short on padding. Compared to recent VW practice, the power seat lacks two adjustments: no tilt and no height adjustment for the lumbar bulge. For some people none of this will matter, for the new Passat’s interior has one literally large competitive advantage: limo-worthy legroom. Headroom is also plentiful. If you’ve been having trouble finding a sufficiently roomy sedan, your search is over—unless you also want your rear passengers to be well-ventilated. Though dual zone automatic climate control is standard in all 2012 Passats, rear air vents aren’t available. There’s plenty of room for your stuff as well, as the truck is large and the rear seat folds to expand it. VW clearly thinks Americans care about quantity more than quality, even as Ford and Chevrolet make a big shift in the opposite direction.

The 200-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four that powered the previous Passat costs too much for the new car’s lower price point. Instead, the 170-horspower five-cylinder engine initially created for the U.S.-market 2005.5 Jetta lurks beneath the hood of the Passat 2.5. While most definitely not the driving enthusiast’s choice (we want whatever Europe gets), the five excels at midrange torque and sounds more substantial than the typical four. Paired with a six-speed automatic it has no trouble getting the car off the line or accelerating up to highway speeds. It helps that the new 191.6-inch-long, 72.2-inch-wide sedan weighs only 3,220 pounds, over 100 fewer than the smaller, 188.2-by-71.7-inch 2006-2010 Passat. The new Audi A6, though only a little larger on the outside and less roomy on the inside, weighs nearly a quarter-ton more.

The trip computer reported mid-twenties in suburban driving and high 30s along a stretch of 70 MPH highway. Both numbers seem optimistic. The EPA ratings for the Passat 2.5 automatic: 22 city, 31 highway, same as the 2010 2.0T.

Stripping the Passat down to fighting weight also pays dividends for handling. The Passat 2.5 feels much smaller than it actually is. The chassis and especially the steering have a direct, honest feel lacking in today’s cars, with their relentless pursuit of Lexus. Feedback is plentiful and nuanced when it’s most needed, in curves. The steering is a little light on center, but progressively firms up as the wheel is turned (many current systems with too much new tech for their own good do the opposite). As a result, though the Passat 2.5’s limits are fairly low courtesy of unaggressive suspension tuning and 215/55HR17 ContiProContact tires, and front end could be better damped in bumpy curves, it’s easy and enjoyable to exploit every bit of the car’s potential.

Then, the flipside. Without the extensive use of budget-busting lightweight steel and aluminum, those missing pounds had to come out of the body structure and sound insulation. Perhaps for this reason, the new Passat sounds and feels insubstantial and unrefined compared to the emerging norm for the class. Mid-turn bumps elicited a clunk from the driver’s door. Even assuming a defect with the tested car, the body structure feels less than rigid across imperfect pavement. Build quality, noise levels, and refinement are those of a mid-pack car from a decade ago. Thought a modestly insulated driving experience was disappearing forever from the midsize sedan segment, for good and not so good? Think again. Slicker, quieter, more solid competitors sound and feel more expensive, a reversal of the situation when the 1998 Passat shook up the industry.

The 2012 Passat starts at an attention-getting $19,995—but the mandatory $770 destination charge bumps it well over the magic $20,000 mark. Opt for the $1,100 automatic transmission and the SE package (17-inch alloy wheels, heated leatherette power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, trip computer, satellite radio, and a few other niceties), and the sticker jumps to $25,595. No longer so attention-getting, but still $2,350 less than the 2010 Passat (there was no 2011). But the 2010 included more stuff, most notably a standard sunroof, foglights, and those no longer available power seat adjustments. Adjust for these using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool and the MSRP difference shrinks to only $750. Compare invoices and the feature-adjusted difference is less than $200—VW has cut dealer margins. So VW isn’t giving much away here. They’ve increased the size of the car, but downgraded materials and removed content, resulting in a wash (at best). Even with its lower price, the 2012 Passat still lists for $3,390 more than a Hyundai Sonata GLS with Popular Equipment Package. Adjusting for feature differences cuts the difference to a still sizable $2,900. The Koreans are admittedly outliers. Other competitors tend to be within $1,500 of the Passat once feature differences are adjusted for.

Don’t care for upscale materials or insulation from the outside world? Just want a roomy car at a competitive price? Then VW has developed a Passat for you. But as much as I like to feel the road, the Passat sacrifices too much refinement in pursuit of a low price and a low curb weight. The best current cars suggest that, with finesse, it is possible to have both driver involvement and passenger comfort. The new Passat needs more such finesse. But, if strong sales of the new Jetta are any indication, it’ll sell well regardless.

Vehicle provided by Dan Kelley, Suburban VW in Farmington Hills, MI, 248-741-7903

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of car reliability and pricing information.

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