The Truth About Cars » TDI The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 12:30:59 +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 » TDI 2015 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen Will Not Have AWD – Yet Tue, 13 May 2014 21:25:14 +0000 Golf SportWagen Exterior

Volkswagen officially announced their new 2015 Golf Sportwagen (nee Jetta Sportwagen) for the US market. And they’re still unclear about whether it will get 4Motion AWD.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Volkswagen told TTAC that they are still “investigating AWD”. For now, FWD will be the only option, along with a 1.8T gas engine (with a 5-speed manual or 6-speed auto) or a 2.0 TDI with either 6-speed manual or DSG gearboxes. VW says that cargo space will rival many small SUVs, and now it’s up to all of you to buy them, rather than just let the internet know how great wagons are.

Golf SportWagen Trunk Golf SportWagen Interior Golf SportWagen Exterior


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Volkswagen Delivers The Holy Grail With Golf SportWagen 4Motion TDI Fri, 11 Apr 2014 19:00:58 +0000 2015-Volkswagen-Golf-Sportwagen


This is Volkswagen’s Golf SportWagen concept, which the automaker will be bringing to New York’s Auto Show. The “concept” shown here is what we can expect when the car goes on sale in early 2015, save for two key details.

The upcoming Golf SportWagen is confirmed for the corporate 1.8T gasoline four-cylinder engine. This concept has a 2.0L TDI engine and all-wheel drive, satisfying the wishes of the Internet Product Planning Brigade by saving them from the horrific ignominy of having a front-drive, diesel wagon. And yes, it will have a manual gearbox and a DSG option.

Both the 1.8T and a front-drive TDI SportWagen seem like done deals. The prospect of an AWD version has been a long-standing rumor, with VW apparently looking at it as an alternative to the Subaru Outback.

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Review: 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI (With Video) Fri, 20 Dec 2013 14:00:17 +0000 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI

Once of the most frequent car advice emails I get is from consumers looking to cut down their fuel bills while still hanging on to a family sedan. Until recently, this question narrowed the field down to a few hybrid sedans and the Volkswagen Passat TDI. Today, there are more hybrid options than ever and soon Mazda’s diesel powered Mazda6 will enter the fray. While we wait for the Mazda’s new SkyActiv diesel to ship, I picked up a Volkswagen Passat TDI to find out if a little diesel could bring some cost reduction to my commute.


Click here to view the embedded video.

First off we have to dispense with the fallacy that buying a new commuter car will save you money. Of course we all know that is rarely true, especially if you are simply replacing one family sedan with another. (This disclaimer is just for the readers that may object to the forthcoming cost savings comparisons.) Second you must think about what kind of driving you do before you start looking at technologies to reduce your gas bill. If your commute is highway heavy, then a diesel or amvery efficient conventional vehicle may be the better choice for you. If your commute is balanced between highway and city or city heavy, then many hybrid technologies may be the winner.


While other VWs get expressive fascias, VW’s sedan line is pure conservative German design. We have a three-slat horizontal grille up front, a flat character line and little detaining on the side and nothing terribly expressive out back. The adjectives that came to my mind were simple, elegant, and unemotional. No matter how you park it, the Passat never strikes a pose that would offend a conservative mid-size shopper.If you want Euro flair, VW would be happy to sell you a CC which sports more aggressive bumpers, more chrome and sexier tail lamps. However the Passat TDI is competing with the hybrid versions of the Fusion, Camry, Accord, Optima and Sonata, as well as the “we hope its not a mirage” Mazda6 diesel. While some in the press have called the Passat boring, I would posit the sedate lines will help the Passat age more gracefully than some of the competition, most notably the Sonata and Camry, however I think the Fusion and Mazda6 are more attractive and dramatic.

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-012

Mid-size shoppers demand expansive rather than expensive cabins, and VW took note when they redesigned the sedan for the 2012 model year. Our Euro friends may notice that this doesn’t look quite like the Passat you know in Europe, and that’s because the American Passat isn’t the same car as the Euro Passat anymore. Although both Passats are related, the NMS Passat gets a 4-inch body stretch and a 3.7-inch wheelbase stretch, the beneficiary being the rear seat which goes from cozy in the Euro model to ginormous in the American model. Although the numbers would indicate that the Fusion and Passat’s rear legroom are similar, the devil is in the details of how car makers measure and the Passat is the clear winner here.

Sadly Camcord shoppers place fuel economy, electronic doodads and rear-seat leg room higher on their list than squishy dash bits and VW was happy to oblige. As a result the Passat’s plastics are attractive to look at but just as mainstream to feel as the competition slotting in below the new Accord and well ahead of the aging Korean competition. Speaking of attractive, I find the traditional “single bump” dashboard layout to be a refreshing change from the massive dashboards that are creeping into every mis-sized sedan lately. Front seat comfort proved excellent for long car trips, tying with the Accord and Fusion while the rear seats, although large, weren’t as comfortable as Honda’s sedan.

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-015


Because there is no “S” trim Passat TDI, base diesel lovers get a slight feature bump compared in the infotainment department. The base 6.5-inch touchscreen system is joined by 8-speakers, HD Radio and standard Bluetooth for a decent base package. The systems iDevice and USB integration offers no voice commands like you find in most of the competition, but it is reliable and intuitive. VW offers two different navigation systems depending on how far up the trim ladder you want to walk. SE models with the sunroof can get the “RNS-315″ which uses a 5-inch touchscreen and very basic navigation software.

Jumping up to the SEL model adds a Fender branded speaker package and a 6.5-inch high resolution navigation system with satellite radio and Sirius Travel Link live traffic and information services.  While most of the information is superfluous, the fuel pricing and locations proved handy as locating a diesel station can be tricky. The traffic and Travel Link features require a Sirius subscription and VW tosses in a 6-month trial for free. Sadly VW’s navigation systems predate the 2012 Passat refresh by a decent window and are among the oldest and least feature rich in the mid-size sedan segment barely scoring a win over the ancient system in the Chrysler 200. You won’t find smartphone apps, slick graphics and VW has even reduced the number of voice commands the system can recognize because the hardware was unable to handle it with reasonable performance. With Toyota and Honda recently launching their new infotainment systems and Ford’s MyFordTouch system getting a much needed refresh, this puts VW in next to last place, just in front of the dreadful navigation system lurking in the Mazda6. 

Passat TDI  engine, Picture Courtesy of Volkswagen

Drivetrain & Pricing

Powering the Passat is the same 2.0L turbodiesel found under the hood of every diesel VW in America except the Touareg. The small diesel engine features twin cams, 16 valves, aluminum head, iron block and a variable geometry turbocharger to deliver 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. Funneling the power to the front wheels via a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic, the Passat doesn’t feel as slow as 140 ponies might suggest. The gasoline electric hybrids on the market are peppier, with the Camry delivering 200 ponies, with the Optima and Sonata nearly tying at 199, while we get 188 from the Fusion and 166 from the Accord. Normally, the high torque is a bonus when you compare a TDI to a small gasoline engine. However, modern hybrids deliver diesel-like torque with flat torque curves thanks to their electrification. The Koreans serve up 235 lb-ft and the Accord cranks out 226 with both curves being more advantageous than the TDI. Ford and Toyota do not release official torque numbers, but I suspect they are both in the 220-230 lb-ft range.

Because of tightening emissions regulations in California, the Passat now comes with a urea injection system also known as “diesel exhaust fluid” or DEF to reduce NOx emissions. This is a significant difference from Mazda’s new SkyActiv diesel engine which they claim does not require this additive to achieve the same emissions compliance. This is significant not only because owners won’t have to buy DEF every few thousand miles, but also because VW decided to put the DEF filler port in the trunk rather than by the fuel filler on the side of the car (like other manufacturers do.) The result is an inconvenience on the VW side and, according to Mazda, a power bump on the SkyActiv diesel which they expect to come in around 170 ponies (if we get the high-output version) and 300 lb-ft of torque which should put the Mazda neck-and-neck with the hybrids.

The Passat TDI starts at $26,295 for the SE trim and tops out at $32,995 for the loaded SE. This price walk essentially mirrors the Passat V6 and feature for feature is substantially similar to the Camry, Optima, Sonata and Fusion hybrid sedans meaning the TDI doesn’t have a price advantage initially compared to the gas-electric competition. Honda’s Accord Hybrid starts at $29,155 making it the highest base price in this bunch, but the top-level Accord at $34,905 seems reasonable compared to a fully-loaded Fusion Titanium Hybrid at $38,870.

Because the mid-size sedan segment is so competitive, when you calculate the value of standard feature content, most of the pack ends up within a few hundred bucks of one another except for the Optima which undercuts the pack by nearly a grand. The higher top-end pricing on the hybrid competition is largely due to the availability of more features like radar cruise control, self parking, lane departure prevention that you won’t find on the Passat.

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-007Drive

The Americanization of the Passat has had an effect on the way VW’s large sedan drives. The difference is most obvious if you drive the VW CC and the Passat back-to-back. The CC has a more solid and connected feel and the handling limits are higher. That’s not to say the Passat will let down the VW faithful with Camry-levels of grip, but in the pursuit of higher fuel economy narrower tires we required. In the pursuit of rear leg room, the wheelbase and chassis had to get longer making the American sedan drive larger than the European model. The result is a Passat that slots below the Mazda6, Accord Sport and some levels of Fusion in terms of handling, but notably above the Camry and Korean competition  which have less refined suspension manners.

Diesels have never been known for spirited performance despite the modern crop of torque-strong turbocharged designs. Our TDI tester clocked 60 MPH in just over 8 seconds which is on the long end of the green pack with most of the hybrid competition in the low to mid 7 second range. Diesels have a dedicated following largely due to their high fuel economy, high torque numbers and the plateau like horsepower and torque curves. Today’s hybrids however deliver much the same experience thanks to electric motors that deliver their maximum torque at low speeds without the turbo lag experienced in turbo Diesel engines. This negates many of the claims popular in the TDI forums.

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-011

Once upon a time when Toyota’s unique planetary gearset power-splitting hybrid system was the only game in town, many shoppers and reviewers disliked CVT-like feel of the Hybrid Synergy Drive system. Despite the fact that CVTs are more efficient, I’ll admit that there’s something about gear changes that I find satisfying. If that describes you, then there are now hybrid options, like the Sonata and Optima, that combine electric motors with traditional automatics for a more “normal” feel.

This now brings us to fuel economy. During a week and 732 miles, I averaged 36.5 MPG, slightly higher than the EPA number and on a one-way level highway journey I managed 47 MPG on  a 50 mile trip with the cruise control set to 68 and the AC on. The more time you spend in stop and go traffic or on city streets, the lower your number will be. That’s a sharp contrast to most hybrids that excel in city and heavy traffic because they can keep the engine off for most low speed maneuvers. This segment is the poster child of “your mileage may vary.” If your commute is characterized by long highway stretches cruising at 70MPH, the Passat will be the mileage winner. If however you drive in moderate to heavy traffic or find yourself running around town on the city streets, a gasoline hybrid is going to be the mileage champ.

2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-009

A few short years ago the Passat TDI was the clear choice for high mileage cruisers that didn’t want a softly sprung Camry hybrid. Unfortunately today’s Passat has some serious competition from the handsome Fusion hybrid which posted similar economy numbers while being faster and costing less to operate. We also have the new Accord hybrid. The Accord may cost $2,850 more than the Passat TDI, but it delivers more feature content in the base model and an incredible (and personally verified) 50 MPG in the city with a combined 47 MPG score and road manners that equal or exceed the Passat. When you factor in the higher cost of diesel and the diesel exhaust fluid the VW requires, the Accord “breaks even” vs the TDI at 60,000 miles. Perhaps the biggest problem for the Passat TDI’s proposition as a thrifty commuter is the Kia Optima delivered the same mileage while drinking cheaper fuel, is less expensive to purchase and has a longer warranty. My experience with the Passat TDI left me wondering if I should really be as excited about the Mazda6 diesel as I am, or should I instead be hoping VW jams the Jetta’s hybrid system into the Passat? The Passat TDI isn’t without its charms, but after a week burning the midnight oil, my heart and my pocket book were dreaming gasoline hybrid dreams.


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

Specifications as tested

0-30: 3.0 Seconds

0-60: 8.01 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16.4 Seconds @84 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 36.5 MPG over 721 miles

Sound level at 50 MPH: 71 dB


2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-021 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-020 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-019 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-018 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-009 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-010 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-001 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-002 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-011 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-012 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-003 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-004 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-013 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-014 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-005 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-006 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-015 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-016 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-007 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-008 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI-017 ]]> 90
Review: 2014 Audi A7 Quattro TDI Mon, 16 Dec 2013 15:33:58 +0000 IMG_0062

If horsepower is the charismatic star running back, torque is the less heralded offensive lineman. Horsepower gets most of the attention while torque goes about doing the grunt work. Heck, most people don’t even know whether it’s measured in foot-pounds or pound feet. It does, however, get the grunt work done. You wouldn’t imagine a car that weighs over two tons and has but 240 horsepower as the Audi A7 S Line Quattro TDI does to be able to achieve a 0-60 time of 5.5 seconds. That’s because the 3 liter turbo diesel V6 also has 428 lb-ft of torque, most of it available in just about every driving situation. 



The base 2014 A7 TDI quattro is almost $67,000 and this car had about 15K worth of toys added. As the owner of a Chevy Volt once told me, nobody who is buying a $40,000 car is looking to save money on fuel. That literally goes more than double for a car that stickers out to be just shy of $82,000. The TDI A7 is not about great fuel mileage, though the figures are better than respectable, I recorded 26.7 mpg over 490 miles of mostly suburban and urban driving, and 32.3 on a 40 mile jaunt on the Interstate with cruise control set to 79-80 mph. Considering that it’s a big, heavy car, the fuel economy is remarkable.

If people aren’t going to buy the A7 TDI for fuel economy, then why are they going to buy it? In a word, range. As a recent coast-to-coast “record” drive showed, you can make great time on the road if you don’t have to stop to refuel. While I don’t think that most A7 TDI buyers will care that their car has annual fuel costs within spitting distance of those of the Dodge Dart I drove a couple of months ago, they will be interested in another figure on the A7 TDI’s Monroney sheet: 38 mpg highway. The A7 TDI’s fuel tank holds 19.2 gallons of low sulfur diesel fuel,  so that means that with a theoretical range of almost 730 miles, while you aren’t going to challenge any of Louie Mattar’s records, you will be able to make many trips non-stop. That’s enough range to drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and back without having to stop for fuel, and still have plenty of surplus fuel to tool around Vegas while you’re there.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Not having to stop as often for fuel and the minor inconvenience of finding a gas station with a diesel pump (2 of the 5 filling stations within a mile of my house have diesel fuel) are the primary reminders that you’re driving with a compression ignited engine. Sure, if you’re a gearhead, you can tell that the engine has a distinctive diesel clatter, and the tachometer redlines at 4,800 rpm (when warm, when cold it’s 4,200), but for the most part it drives completely normally. Normally, that is, for a car with that much torque.

There is another reminder that you’re driving a diesel, the A7′s stop-start system. Any stop-start system is going to be noticeable. Combustion engines shake when started and stopped, but diesels shake a little more, so when the stop-start system is activated and its algorithms call for shutting the engine off (it’s a complicated algorithm and I was never really sure when it would decide to shut off the motor) you get reminded that the A7 has a TDI under the hood. My guess is that the people who buy the A7 TDI want a little bit of a reminder that they’re driving a diesel so they won’t find that shake and rattle objectionable when they’re getting ready to roll.


Once in motion, all of that torque brings to mind words like effortless. You can accelerate from just about any prudent speed and even some imprudent ones (at least on public roads) as well. There’s no noticeable turbo lag, the longest you have to wait to go faster is when the ECU and eight speed Tiptronic transmission decide you need more leverage. The gearbox drops a cog or two and at that point the word evoked is locomotive.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The test car is an all-wheel-drive Quattro version in S Line trim. At first I thought the steering was a bit too easy driving around town but then I found the dynamic settings in the MMI infotainment system. You can select comfort, automatic, dynamic i.e. sport mode, and custom settings. Most of the time I drove in dynamic mode. The ride was stiffer than the Jaguar XF and XJ that I’ve tested, but not uncomfortably so. It handles well, though it’s a bit too large to say that it’s tossable. I generally didn’t drive anywhere near the limit, but while the steering is precise, and while it does have AWD, it’s still an FWD based Audi and it typically understeers a bit. When you do try to hang the back end out a bit, or enter a turn a little hot, the nannies are there to keep things on an even keel.


The was one flaw with the A7 TDI’s driving manners. It is sensitive to road grooves and expansion strips between lanes. The way the front tires grabbed expansion strips was so noticeable that I checked the tire pressures and they were indeed about 6 psi low on both fronts. Pumping them up to sticker specs made a big difference, but the A7 still danced a little on grooved pavement. I discussed this with our reviews editor, Alex Dykes, since he drives many more cars than I do every year, and Alex says that it’s something one finds with some European cars and that he’s seen the phenomenon come and go depending on the brand and model of tires used. The A7 TDI as tested was shod with 265/35 R20 Dunlop SP Winter Sport tires. I can’t tell you how sticky they are in snow or how well the Quattro system works in slippery conditions because though it was pretty cold out on Belle Isle taking the photos, we didn’t get any snow in Detroit till after they picked up the car.


Visibility was outstanding, helped by small triangular glass lights in the rear sail panels. Forward visibility was good and at night it was outstanding. Audi has been using lighting as a distinguishing feature both in terms of brand identifying LED layouts as well as technology. They’re currently trying to get approval for an intelligent lighting system that reacts to road and traffic conditions. In the meantime, the all-LED headlights on the A7 are the best I’ve ever used. Not only do they do an exceptionally good job lighting the path ahead when the road is straight, the combination of cornering lights and main headlamps that actively steer means that when the road curves, it will be well lit as well.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Other electronic gizmos worked just fine. The car has a collision avoidance system that also works with the adaptive cruise control so if you have the cruise activated, you simply cannot rear end someone. I tested it a couple of times, with my foot hovering over the brake pedal of course. I’m still undecided about autonomous automobiles, but the last collision I was in was my fault, rear ending someone while looking for an building address and I suppose it’s nice to know that the car will pay attention when you don’t. Still, it’s kind of eerie. The same braking effect is applied if you put the cruise into coast mode for longer than just a few seconds so out on the highway you practically won’t ever have to touch any pedals with your feet.


The MMI system, which uses a pop-up non-touch screen for a display and actual buttons and wheels to navigate, is intuitive enough that I didn’t have to RTFM even once to figure things out. Speaking of the pop-up display, since Jaguar came out with  shifter knobs that rise and HVAC vents that spin open upon power up, other luxury automakers have appreciated the need for a little theater, so not only does the A7′s infotaiment screen popup (it can be retracted if you want a smooth dashboard while driving), but also the tweeters for the Bang & Olufsen branded audio system rise up below the A pillars.

Click here to view the embedded video.

One thing that I didn’t like about the MMI system was that every time you shut off the car, it would default back to automatic ride mode. Also, and this is true about the Chrysler 300 S I drove not long ago, if you’re paying for the S badge on the side, I think you sort of expect an S button on the console, not have to use the infotainment settings. Another feature that I don’t like is how addresses are entered into the navigation system. You use the MMI knob to rotate through the alphabet and then select letters. It’s a bit awkward, like using a vintage Dymo labelmaker to enter data.


The way the MMI knob and buttons work on the infotainment system is a bit more intuitive. The audio system it controls is another feature of the car that is outstanding. Since Audi still offers a CD drive in addition to memory card slots and other audio sources, I popped in one of the discs in Frank Zappa’s Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar box set and the closely mic’d percussion on Stucco Homes sounded great. It’s quite possibly the best car audio system that I’ve sampled, but then for the $5,900 it costs, you can buy some very nice home audio gear, so it should sound good. Surprisingly, considering all the inputs, it was disappointing that I couldn’t find a standard 1/8″ stereo jack or a USB power tap. My Android phone’s audio easily hooked up with the car, though the phone side of things was more iffy and sometimes it could not initialize the phone.


The surroundings for that good sound and theater are luxurious, if not sumptuous. The dashboard and door panels are a symphony of textures and a subtle use of color: leather grain (both real and polymer based), brushed aluminum, dark grey plastic, and wood with exposed grain. You want to run your hand across it all. The upholstery is black leather, so the light colored headliner brightens up what might otherwise be a dark cabin. Fit and finish was perfect, but this A7 was part of a group of TDI powered cars that Audi designated for the press fleet, all of them white, with large “Clean Diesel TDI” decals on the flanks, so while the fleet management company folks told me they weren’t doing anything special, it’s possible that the A7 had received some special detailing. The seats were very comfortable, no complaints from my bad back. In back there’s plenty of leg room, but with the “four door coupe” roofline, anyone over 5’9″ tall will probably get to know that headliner well. That sexy rear end comes at a price.


Speaking of which, while I’m loathe to use the term “four door coupe” that automakers seem to love, there is a term that Audi seems to be reluctant to use: hatchback. Yes, that sexy rear end is a hatch. A very large and heavy hatch. Not surprisingly, Audi stashed a power lift/close button inside the jamb. The struts needed to hold up the large hatch are so stiff that if you try to close it manually, you’ll end up using much of your weight.


As mentioned, the ride is comfortable, though windnoise from the back part of the car was noticeable to both myself and a passenger. I kept checking to see if I’d left the glass moonroof open.


I also thought that I once left the hatch open, but it turns out I was just confused by the pictogram to activate the rear decklid spoiler. Normally it works automatically and will pop up at higher highway speeds (on a brief burst on an onramp I saw it in the rear view mirror somewhere north of 85 mph), but I confess to some automotive douchebaggery once I figured out how to raise it manually, but only when I was in front of Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs.


Everything was so good on the A7 TDI that I was left looking for things to criticize and you’ll note that most of the negative comments are for minor things like how tThe trip computer that displays in the middle of the gauge package could have more information. The instrument panel, by the way, is very nicely laid out, with that computer display flanked by round tachometer and speedometers, which are cleverly angled towards the driver.


At the top of this post I said that the A7 TDI is almost too perfect. I don’t know if it’s confirmation bias from knowing that it is a German car, but there was almost a clinical way in which is does everything so, so well. The latest version of the Forza racing video game/sim avoids the so-called “uncanny valley” effect in a lot of digital art and animation in part by ensuring that surfaces are not perfect, just as real surfaces in the real world have imperfections. I suppose that it’s a good thing that we live in an age where cars can be so good that you almost miss the endearing imperfections of earlier ages.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Volkswagen Confirms Golf GTD For America Tue, 02 Jul 2013 15:32:51 +0000 VW-Golf-VI-GTD-01

Having dangled the GTD in front of us for so long, Volkswagen has finally confirmed that the diesel powered sports Golf will come to America, according to Automotive News.

While Volkswagen claimed to have had a business case for the car, it wasn’t quite a done deal for the 7th generation Golf. VW is on track to sell 100,000 TDI cars this year, and thinks that the $27,000 GTD could account for 5-10 percent of diesel Golf sales. The GTD will go on sale in the summer of 2014.

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TDI Troubles In The Land Of The Rising Sun Wed, 06 Mar 2013 13:11:13 +0000

My TDI in Japan

The engine quit with a sudden un-dramatic snap, and the little Golf TDI began to slough off speed. Reflexively, I bumped the gearshift lever into neutral, flicked on my signal and began moving towards the left edge of the expressway. My exit was less than a mile away and, rather than stop alongside the highway, I used my momentum to coast up the off-ramp and over the small knoll that stood between the expressway and the toll plaza. I stopped there, on the back side of the hill where the road widened on the approach to the toll booths, to avoid blocking traffic and dug out my cell phone to call for a tow truck. I didn’t know it then, but it was the last time that I would ever sit behind the wheel of the little car, never mind the fact that it would follow me again around half of the globe.

I had purchased the dark blue VW diesel new before heading to Jamaica and the car had carried me faithfully, but not entirely without drama, during the two years I lived there. The problems were always small, window regulators, the brake like switch, an air bag light, and a check engine light among other things. They were more of a nuisance than anything else. There was a VW dealership in Kingston and they were quite professional but since I had purchased the car in the States, and then imported it to the island, none of these issues were handled under warranty. It was OK though, I really liked the car and so long as nothing big happened, I reasoned, I could foot the bill.

I check the map at a rest stop near Mt. Rokko in Hyogo Prefecture (2004)

After two years in the Caribbean, I moved to Japan, and the Volkswagen, after a delay that stretched into several months, followed me. It arrived in sorry shape, covered in filth and spattered with baked-on dead bugs from a trip across the USA on a car carrier. After so long apart, I was glad to see it and after a thorough cleaning, an oil change and a new set of tires, the car was road worthy. It was, I was told, the only Golf TDI in the country, and I enjoyed running around the Kansai region trailing a cloud of smelly black exhaust wherever I went. Unremarkable as it may have been in the USA, the car was a hit in Japan. VW fans often worked up the courage to bridge the cultural gulf to ask about it.

Times were good, for the most part. I had another broken window regulator, three out of the four VW logos spun off the center caps and I soon found out that there were no correct replacement batteries to be had, but I let these things slide. The car was unusual and quirky, after all, and inconvenience is the price you sometimes pay for cars like that.

Later when I transferred to Yokohama, I used the car to its best advantage to make the 5 hour drive down the Tomei and Meishin expressways almost every weekend to visit my wife who was at her parents’ house in Kyoto awaiting the birth of our first child. My little VW was not especially fast, but it ran well on the smooth high speed expressways of Japan. For once, it finally seemed to be just where it belonged.

On the Japanese expressway.

The car followed me to Okinawa in 2006 and, once again, it was put to work on my daily commute, a 20 minute drive that included surface streets and a bit of expressway. For the first few months, it seemed to be fine, but then, on one of my regular forays under the hood, I noticed that the coolant was low. Okinawa is hot, so I thought nothing of it and added some more coolant. A week later I got a low water alarm and, sure enough, the coolant was low again. Thus it began.

I have had to replace head gaskets before so I know what the signs are. I looked in all the usual places. There was no leaking water under the car, no sudden increase in my oil level, no oil floating on top of the coolant and no white plume out the back, so the signs were not obvious. It could be a weeping gasket, I thought, a leak small enough to suck the coolant slowly from the radiator without leaving a tell-tale trail of white smoke, so I took it to my local VW of Japan dealership to have them perform a test to see if I had combustion gases in my coolant.

It is a testament to my Japanese ability that I was able to use the language to berate the local VW technician well enough that he actually helped me. When first I arrived, he took one wide eyed look at the car and started to wave his hands. “We won’t service this.” He announced. But I wasn’t having any excuses and, after an ass chewing for the ages, he finally he agreed to perform the simple test I wanted. From the way he sucked air through his teeth as he worked, I knew it was bad news before he spoke. “It’s a head gasket,” He said sadly, “and there is no way I can fix it. We never sold these cars and we don’t have any training on them. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.” This time I didn’t give him any static, his words had the ring of truth.

A look at my garage.

At home that night I got out the rebuild manual I habitually carried and looked at the job. It was nothing I wanted to tangle with, honestly, but I felt confident I could do the work if I had to. The first step was parts so I got on-line and ordered everything the manual said I would need. It took weeks for everything to arrive and, in the mean time, I made sure the coolant levels stayed high and limited my trips as much as I could. Still, unwilling to commit myself to a project of that magnitude, I continued to examine my options.

Most Japanese mechanics are excellent and I was confident that, if I could find one who was willing to work on the car, they could fix it. The problem was none of them wanted to touch it. It was an unknown, and no one was willing to take the risk. There were no Japanese rebuild manuals for the car, and since mine was written in English it was useless to them. Eventually, I learned that my local Marine Corps Base had an auto shop, so I went down to see if they had a mechanic who could work on the car. Fortunately, or so I thought at the time, there was someone.

Photo I put in Craigslist

The kid looked like a typical grease monkey. He told his boss he knew all about VW diesels and that he had worked on them when he was based in Germany. His boss seemed convinced they could handle the job and agreed to take it ,so I gave them the little car, the parts and went off confident that my worries were over.

A month later the car had not been completed and I found myself back down at the shop looking around. The kid was nowhere in sight but my car was over in the corner with its hood ajar so I went to look at it. I raised the hood and found myself looking at the shop floor – the engine was gone and my blood pressure jumped. Unhappily I tracked down the ship manager and asked what the hell was going on.

The kid, it turned out, didn’t have the experience he had claimed and there had been a problem. The manager told me that they had already ordered new parts and the work would be handed over to the lead tech who, with my rebuild manual, would put the car back together correctly. Until then I could use a small Mazda loaner and was assured that when the car was ready I would not have to pay a dime for the work. Free is good, but it wasn’t like I could do much anyhow, so I accepted their offer as graciously as I could and left them to it.

Two months later the Volkswagen came home. There were still a few issues with it, most notably a couple of the vacuum lines had been misrouted, but at least it ran. It did OK on the highway but seemed a little down on power. It didn’t matter, I told myself, I was slated to rotate home in another two months and when I got back stateside, I could get the car sorted and decide then whether or not I wanted to keep it. My plan worked for three weeks.

After an uncomfortably long wait, the tow truck arrived, carried the car home and dropped it in my driveway. The VW remained there for the rest of my time in Okinawa and, a day or two before I headed back to the States, another truck came to haul it to the port. While I completed my move and enjoyed a vacation back at home in Washington State before heading on to Buffalo, the little car was put into a container, sent across the Pacific, through the Panama Canal and up the east coast to a port in New Jersey. The first I heard of its arrival was when the shipper called to inform me that one of the world’s best traveled car had arrived with a major case of mold on the interior.

Nice and clean inside!

Although I offered to sell the car to the shipper for a reasonable cost, they elected to clean it prior to delivery and three weeks later the Golf rolled off a ramp truck at my apartment in Buffalo. It looked pretty good for all the trouble it had been through and, together, the tow truck driver and I pushed it into a parking spot. The next day, I took some photos and prepared a brief Craigslist ad explaining that the car had a blown engine and was being sold “as is.” I figured it was a long shot, but I asked $3,500.

Long shot or not, my phone rang off the hook all day long and a guy named Hank was waiting for me when I got home from work. He looked the car over quite thoroughly and offered me $2,500. We dickered for a while and then met in the middle at $3,000. The next day he came back, laid down the cash and put it on a trailer. As he rolled away, I realized that the car had become just another unhappy part of my personal history. I was happy to be rid of it.

Hank called again in mid-December. My exportation and subsequent re-importation of the little car and wreaked havoc on the title process but since I had given him the Certificate of Origin we could sort it out with just a couple of signatures. We met at a local bank and while we waited for the notary he told me the rest of the story.

My TDI back in the USA – One of the photos that went on Craigslist

The un-dramatic snapping sound I had heard had been the catastrophic destruction of the engine. One of the valves, which had probably been damaged when one of the Marine Corps’ mechanics had turned the engine over without ensuring the timing was perfect, had broken off and fallen into the cylinder bore. Once there, it had wreaked all kinds of havoc. It gouged the cylinder walls, ruined the head, broke the piston into pieces and sent metal shards out the exhaust port and into the turbo where they destroyed that part as well. According to Hank, the engine was in such poor shape he had purchased a replacement drive train for the car.

The process had been expensive, Hank told me, but the little car, with less than 30,000 miles on it, would bring good money when he went to resell it. Someone, he explained happily as we shook hands on parting, would pay good money for it. Too true, I thought, and if they have the same kind of luck I had with it, they will keep on paying for a long, long time. I hope they like lemonade.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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The Audi SQ5 Should Have Been A Diesel Wed, 09 Jan 2013 15:10:50 +0000

A mix of good and bad news for fans of European forbidden fruit – the Audi SQ5 will be coming to our shores, but with the familiar 3.0T V6 rather than the Euro-spec TDI powertrain initially shown earlier this year. And I think that’s a big mistake.

I know what you’re all thinking. Derek Kreindler must have gotten into the last of the now curdled egg nog, because there’s no way that TTAC’s resident TDI-troll would ever write anything in support of a diesel car.

Go ahead, look outside your window – the sky is intact and there aren’t any airborne swine flying around either. The truth is, I don’t have any particular disdain for diesels. Much like wagons, my opposition to them – in certain cases – is rooted in the economic realities of the car market, and I refuse to pander to the peanut gallery like other outlets do by writing fallacious 800-word appeals to tradition about why we need these kinds of cars, lest Brand X withers and dies because consumers, god forbid, buy cars they actually want.

But there are exceptions, and the SQ5 is an obvious one. For starters, the North American-spec car is basically redundant  What separates this car from a Q5 3.0T S-Line, aside from some extra ponies and a badge on the tailgate? It is a massively cynical exercise in marketing and profiteering, since Audi knows that the S-cars, like AMG and M-Cars of the recent era, have now become just another trim level for affluent customers, rather than a separate line of serious performance cars. How else to explain the popularity of the S4 and S5 in wake of the death of the 3.2 powered cars? Sure, the looks and performance play a part, but you can’t tell me that there isn’t a significant demographic out there that bought them because they couldn’t be seen driving the prole-spec 2.0T model.

Unlike the S4 and S5, nobody buying the SQ5 will really be overly concerned with how the car performs, just how expensive it looks and whether they can one up their fellow yoga practitioners or their peers at the International Student Lounge. These same people are generally fond of two other things – telling everybody how much they spent on something, and appearing to care about “green” causes and products. Which is why the ultra-expensive, limited edition TDI version would have made so much sense.

Audi is set to launch four new TDI models, including a Q5, over the next few years, and what better way to kick things off than with a halo model like the SQ5? It would have been so easy to stuff a tuned up 3.0 TDI motor into a North American SQ5 and do a limited run, enjoying the double-whammy of positive press from the diesel-mad buff books and the celebrity set that has now adopted Audi as the cool luxury car of choice. Unlike, say, importing the RS4 Avant, the regulatory and logistical hurdles would have been minimal, since the Q5 TDI is already coming here anyways, while the PR angle could have been spun in any number of ways to make Audi look both exciting and socially responsible. Kind of like Tesla. Doing this in a sedan or a coupe would have been a cool but very risky move. But an alternative powertrain in a crossover would have been risk free; the real eccentric car dorks would have bought it because of its oddball powertrain, while henpecked husbands could easily unload it on their status-conscious spouses, passing it off as the most expensive Q5 that just happens to be more eco-friendly than all the others.


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Monday Mileage Midget: A Spring Chicken, And Two Old Cluckers Mon, 03 Dec 2012 14:00:30 +0000

A 2012 VW Jetta TDI Wagon.

It comes with the usual six speed stick that you would find among thousands of other Jetta wagons all over the world.

It has the ‘arrest me red’ color that always comes across as neon pink whenever you photograph it in the sun.

But there are at least two mysterious facets of this urea indulgent uber-wagon. A rare and unusual frame damage announcement in the run list, and only 815 original miles.

This Jetta TDI wagon was titled with all of 69 miles on it back in December 2011. The former owner resided in Marietta, Georgia. A pretty little all-American town that is right next door to my home base of Powder Springs, GA.

There it spent the next year and 746 miles in a near constant state of stillness. Why? I don’t know. The Carfax and Autocheck show absolutely no accident history. I’ll likely find out tomorrow though. But in the meantime, if you’re interested you can feel free to give me a call at (770) 262-9880. I probably won’t buy it. But with the way the prices are going I’ll at least enjoy the conversation. Or just guess the final sales price if you are so inclined.

As for it being the lowest mileage unit I’ve ever seen? It isn’t.

That honorwould go to a lowly Hyundai Accent that had all of 52 miles on it before it was repossessed. I don’t remember what that sold for. But I did once buy a two year old base 2006 PT Cruiser in white and a 5-speed for all of $7000. That sold for $9,200 on Ebay.

I always remember my profits.

The auction will also feature two golden oldies in surprisingly decent condition.

A 1982 Chrysler Lebaron convertible with 166k along with a creaky, crack-ridden interior.


And a 1974 Chevy Silverado 2WD. Automatic.

No Title. Miles Exempt. The last bidder owns this truck alone and nothing more, with a five digit odometer showing 96,290 miles.

Here in Georgia, vehicles that are 1986 and older only require a bill of sale. No title needed to register it.

You want a title? Then go to a title bonding company. It’ll probably cost you around $200 to $400.

Questions? Well, I guess the selling price for all three would be nice. But let’s throw a little lemon merengue into the usual pie. There is a game that I play with other dealers called ‘over/under’ where we bet a buck per vehicle during the more ennui driven moments at the auction.

Here are the respective estimates for selling price of all three vehicles. $21,000, $1,600, $2,400. I’m going out on a limb with the first two. The second may seem a little low. But out here in Georgia there often seems to be far more old trucks than old cars, and malaise era vehicles are not known to be prized collectibles just yet.


So what’s it going to be. Over? Or under? Feel free to throw in a story about a few Y2K era sorority girls in Jettas, K-car craziness, or that time you did some shaggin’ with that special someone while listening to Blue Oyster Cult. On second thought, please scratch the last one. But feel free to share a good story on the other two.

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Audi Launching Four Diesels For North America In 2013 Tue, 20 Nov 2012 14:00:38 +0000

Alas, no wagons among them, but Audi is launching four new diesel powered models for 2013, marking one of the biggest pushes for diesel in the North American market.

The A6, A7, A8 and Q5 will all receive a 3.0L V6 TDI engine, good for 240 horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque. The A8 will go on sale in the spring of 2013, with the other models following in the fall. Conspicuously absent was the A4 TDI, but if BMW ends up bringing over their diesel 3-Series, an A4 TDI should follow.

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Toyota Camry Hybrid vs. Volkswagen Passat TDI: Which Would You Buy? Mon, 02 Jul 2012 13:00:23 +0000

Hybrid or diesel? For peak fuel economy in a $30,000 midsize sedan you need one or the other. The Toyota Camry is the most efficient of the five available hybrids (until the 2013 Ford Fusion arrives). If you live in Europe, the diesel world is your oyster. In North America, you have one option for an oil-burning mid-size sedan, the Volkswagen Passat. Which would you pick?

Neither sedan’s design would have blazed any trails even a decade ago. But the Passat’s styling, both inside and out, is cleaner and more harmonious. Toyota’s designers can’t seem to step back far enough from the trees to envision a forest. The Camry Hybrid XLE’s interior, with some materials a little better and others a little worse than those in the Passat TDI SEL Premium, has too much going on stylistically. The upper doors halfheartedly attempt to flow into the instrument panel, while lacking the latter’s stitching. The “stitching” molded into the center stack trim is similarly counterproductive, as it actually cheapens the interior. Of course, many people (including the one I’m married to) don’t notice such things. Though both cars have seats trimmed in faux suede, and the Passat additionally includes faux timber, they’ll likely find the ambiance warmer inside the Camry.

Both interiors have been designed to maximize perceived room with fairly flat door panels that meet the instrument panel at a right angle. The previous-generation Camry’s interior, with curvier panels, feels much tighter. Both cars have broad, supportive front seats that provide little in the way of lateral support, though the Passat’s cushions are firmer and the Camry’s headrests jut forward to an uncomfortable degree. There’s plenty of room for adults in the back of the Camry. The Passat, with another inch of combined legroom that somehow seems like three inches, invites limo comparisons…until you notice that, unlike in the Toyota, there are no rear air vents.

Then there’s cargo hauling. Both cars are offered only as sedans. By working in shifts to compact the Camry’s hybrid bits, Toyota engineers bumped trunk volume 2.5 cubic feet, to 13.1. A worthwhile increase, but still not close to the Passat’s 15.9. Both trunks can be expanded by folding the rear seat, but you only have a mail slot on the right side in the Camry.

Though the new Camry Hybrid is more firmly suspended than the previous one, and the Americanized Passat is softer than the typical German sedan, the two cars haven’t met in the middle. The Camry remains a considerably softer, cushier, quieter car, with some float and bobble through rough curves, while the Passat provides more nuanced feedback (through the seat of the pants much more than the electrically assisted steering) and has more tightly controlled body motions. Your ears will only report that the VW is a diesel at idle, and then only if you’re paying attention. The additional noise inside its cabin mostly comes from the wind and the road.

Unlike some smaller fuel sippers, both cars have more than enough power for scooting about the ‘burbs or popping onto the freeway. Both feel torquey at low-to-moderate engine speeds, the Camry because of the assist provided by its electric motor, the Passat because it’s a diesel. With far more peak horsepower, 200 vs. 140, the Camry Hybrid’s powertrain can get you to sixty sooner. But it’s not a joy to wind out, so this advantage isn’t large in the real world. If you have a lead foot, neither car is your best bet.

The EPA MPG numbers—43 city, 39 highway for the Camry and 30 city, 40 highway for the Passat—rightly suggest that the two cars excel in different types of driving. But the EPA shortchanges both cars. Judging from its trip computer (which I initially doubted, but owners report similar numbers), the Passat TDI can manage high 30s in suburban driving and low 50s on the highway without too much effort. In straight highway driving, the Camry cannot match it, checking in around 45. A hybrid’s additional fuel efficiency is derived from its ability to recoup energy while decelerating. If there’s no deceleration, the hybrid powertrain not only provides no benefit but, through its additional mass, actually becomes a disadvantage. Off the highway the tables are turned. The more stops per mile, the better the Camry becomes, especially if you factor in the higher cost per gallon of diesel.

It also helps if one does not drive the Camry “normally.” My wife managed 38 miles-per-gallon in the Camry Hybrid, about the same as I observed in the Passat TDI when driving with the flow of traffic. But when I was behind the wheel, the trip computer regularly reported averages in the low 50s and as high as 63 on my standard suburban route. The hybrid’s operation makes a very casual driving style feel “right,” and I personally enjoy the experience. But many people simply don’t want to drive with a light enough foot to achieve these numbers. For them, the TDI is the better way to go, as its efficiency varies much less with driving style.

Load both cars up, and the Camry stickers for a couple grand more, $35,330 vs. $33,090. But, based on the car price comparison tool, the Toyota includes about $900 in additional features, cutting the difference to $1,300. Also note that Toyota dealers enjoy wider margins. Compare invoices, and the VW has only a $554 advantage before adjusting for feature differences, and a $300 disadvantage afterwards. Since invoice prices often better reflect what people actually pay, price isn’t likely to be the deciding factor between these two cars.

Consumers are likely to decide between the two based on styling, ride, handling, amenities, driving conditions, driving style, and the reputation of each brand. After a rough start, the 2012 Passat has improved so that it’s not far from the average in TrueDelta’s car reliability survey, but it’s very early. If you had to choose between the two, which would you buy?

Camry Hybrid provided with fuel and insurance by Toyota.

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

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

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Camry Hybrid front quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Passat TDI front quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Camry Hybrid rear quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Passat TDI rear quarter, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Camry Hybrid LE interior, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Passat TDI interior, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Camry Hybrid trunk, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Passat TDI trunk, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Camry Hybrid engine, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Passat TDI engine, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Carmy dash to door, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Camry center stack stitching, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Camry Hybrid instruments, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Passat TDI missing feature, photo courtesy Michael Karesh Passat TDI trip computer, photo courtesy Michael Karesh ]]> 164
Volkswagen Looking To Overtake Honda In The United States Wed, 29 Feb 2012 20:03:50 +0000

Fans of Volkswagen products who hoarded canned goods and ammunition in anticipation of the VWpocalypse – the launch of “Americanized” versions of the Jetta and Passat – may be unhappy with how their new product lineup is shaking out. But the market is responding favorably. The Volkswagen Jetta outsold the Hyundai Elantra in January (the two finished 11th and 10th in 2011 respectively) and the Passat spends half as much time on dealer lots compared to the industry average.

The United States has long been the key to Volkswagen’s goal of becoming the largest, most profitable automaker, due to its size and Europe’s increasingly unstable future. Domestic production and the “prestige” associated with German vehicles is helping Volkswagen, but their strategy of unseating Honda, which seems to be predicated on the company continuing to falter, may be flawed; the 2012 Civic, which has been pilloried in the automotive press, outsold the Jetta by a 2:1 ratio in January. Both models have endured criticism from the automotive press, though consumers have yet to adjust their buying habits accordingly. Honda’s poor showing in 2011 (with market share dropping from 11 to 8 percent in 2011) was attributable to disrupted production in Japan and Thailand, but those issues should sort themselves out in 2012.

An Automotive News article on the topic suggests that one way VW may be able to make up some market share is through the sale of TDI diesels if gas prices hit $5/gallon. But with diesel market share resting comfortably at 0.5 percent in 2011, it looks like TDIs will have a negligible impact on VW’s sales.

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Review: 2012 Volkswagen Sharan TDI BlueMotion (Euro-Spec) Fri, 23 Dec 2011 20:55:05 +0000

Editor’s Note: Be aware that photos are larger than the usual format.

When I told friends that my European vacation would give me the opportunity to test a few European cars, their reactions fit a certain pattern: “So you’re going to be running around Europe in Porsches and Audis?” they asked. “Can I have your job?”

“No such luck,” I replied. “I’ve got a Hyundai station wagon and a VW minivan lined up.”

And though my friends may have been disappointed, I certainly wasn’t. After all, I expected great things from the Hyundai i40 I had during my first week, and I was actually quite excited to have secured a VW Sharan for week two. After all, I have something of a history with minivans (I drove a Grand Caravan in High School, the only vehicle I’ve ever crashed), and I was looking forward to comparing VW’s new Euro-MPV to its US “counterpart,” the Chrysler-rebadge VW Routan. If VW would rather sell a rebadged Town & Country than the slick little MPV I received straight from Wolfsburg with only 3,500 km on the clock, surely there was a reason. And I was determined to find it out.

VW’s newest Sharan debuted last year as a 2011 model, ditching the B-VX62 platform that had been jointly developed with Ford, in favor of the new MQB modular platform which could eventually underpin as many as 60 models, from subcompacts to “Large MPVs” like the Sharan. Some 11 inches shorter than the Routan and with a wheelbase that’s over six inches shorter, the Sharan would be considered a “Large MPV” only in Europe. On the other hand, it’s no compact minivan either, splitting the difference between the Routan and the newest Mazda5 almost perfectly (11 inches shorter than Routan, 10 inches longer than Mazda5). And it makes the most of that space: though available as base with only five seats, our tester came with the seven-seat option, and though it impinges upon cargo room considerably, the third row is no penalty box. At a little over six foot tall, I could easily occupy the Sharan’s hinterlands for all but the longest hauls, with sufficient headroom and only slightly limited legroom. In short, like the i40, the Sharan’s size alone does not preclude the possibility of US-market service.

And in return for the considerable extra space it gives up to the Routan, the Sharan offers all of the other joys of authentic, Euro-spec Volkswagen goodness. The exterior is, if a bit overly subtle, a far more handsome and complete design than the somewhat awkward Routan. And equipped with adaptive bi-xenon and LED headlights and a gigantic panoramic moonroof, one could almost imagine imagine the schnörkellos Sharan as Audi’s first foray into the world of MPVs. If you think minivans are incapable of being passable for even the most fashionable young families, take a moment to peruse the photos in the gallery below.

Meanwhile, the impressions of quality continue when you step inside. Far from the new world of disappointingly cost-cut interiors in US-market Vee-Dubs like Jetta and Passat, the Sharan’s interior is classic Volkswagen. Dash plastics are yielding to the touch but solidly situated, with only a slightly coarse “grain” on the surfacing giving an impression of less-than-top-notch quality. From the switches to the knobs, from materials to design and assembly, the contrast to American-market VWs can not be mistaken, although they don’t stand out much in pictures. Add optional leather upholstery with suede-alike inserts, VW’s top-of-the-line navigation system, parking sensors and backup camera, fully-electric side sliders and rear hatch, multi-zone climate control, the previously-mentioned panoramic moonroof, heated seats, keyless-go, stop-start, auto-park function and yes, adaptive suspension (!) and this mass-market-branded minivan truly becomes the equal of some Audis (even more so with optional 168 HP TDI engine and AWD). For a price, of course (more on that shortly).

Settle into the driver’s seat, and the first thing you notice is that the driving position is incredibly bus-like. In order to make the most of the Sharan’s (relatively) limited space, you sit high and upright on typically firm seats, while your feet reach down at a sharp angle for the three pedals and you work the long-ish throw shifter with a bit of a trucker-style downward reach. It takes a moment to get used to, especially after a week in the low-slung Hyundai wagon, but the seating position gives a commanding view of the road, and thanks to a tall roof, there’s still a vaulted cathedral worth of headroom above. All in all, then, there’s no mistaking that you’re driving a minivan, albeit a somewhat smaller, considerably more premium phenotype of the species than those we’re accustomed to in the United States.

Press in the clutch and poke the starter button, and the 140 HP version of VW’s 2.0 TDI engine rumbles subtly to life. If the i40 astounded with the refinement of its diesel engine, the Sharan made me forget almost entirely that we were driving under oil-burning power. Only the diesel’s distinctive torque and unwillingness to rev (and some clatter on cold morning warm-ups) betrayed the dieselness of this altogether capable little lump. With only 236 lb-ft to motivate some 4,300 lbs, progress was not exactly brisk, but performance was considerably more satisfying than the numbers suggest (11.4 seconds 0-100km)… and on the autobahn it had no trouble cruising at triple-digit (MPH) speeds.

Inevitably, however, the Sharan’s aerodynamics and weight conspired to push reported fuel economy way down in both high-speed cruising and brisk driving on mountain roads. Though rated at 5.4 l/100km in “extraurban” driving, the Sharan’s observed economy was rarely below 6 l/100km (~40 MPG), and often registered as high as 9 l/100km (26 MPG). On the other hand, higher numbers often came at some altitude, when climbing hills and cruising at higher speeds… still, after the Hyundai’s remarkably consistent economy, the Sharan was not as frugal as I might have hoped. On the other hand, stop-start helped urban fuel economy, and in typical European driving the 6.2 l/100km (~38 MPG) “combined” rating seemed highly achievable. Not bad for a seven-seater minivan.

Behind the wheel of such a full-fat, Euro-focused minivan, I will admit to having harbored some hope that the Sharan would be a dynamic revelation compared to the typically saggy-bouncy-leany style of the typical American minivan. Initial impressions, however, proved that my expectations were way out of line. Steering feel seemed nearly American-light at first, and though the suspension didn’t outright wallow, it certainly allowed far more lean than I had expected. Combined with a relatively high curb weight, the soft suspension provides great ride comfort and stability at speed, but also lets things to fall apart miserably in corners. The steering lacked precision and front-end bite, while the soft, well-laden chassis struggled to stay on the same page as the driver’s inputs when pushed even slightly. The overall impression was, then, not entirely unlike what any American would expect from a minivan: an emphasis on comfort (albeit with better damping and more manageable size than most US offerings), and a chassis that discourages more than a responsible, familial pace. And unlike my old high school Caravan V6, the power was sufficiently insufficient to reinforce that mode of travel.

At least that’s what I thought until I realized that our tester had the optional adaptive suspension, and that I had been experiencing the Sharan in “normal mode.” Now, I have no idea who in their right mind would spend over a thousand Euros to equip their family-hauler with the choice between “normal,” “comfort,” and “sport” suspension/steering modes (let alone the €770 lowered “sport suspension” which our tester did not have). But thanks to Europe’s build-to-order market, this minivan had a sport mode, and once selected, I left it there for the rest of our time with the Sharan. Though I don’t want to oversell the improvement of firmer damper settings and a bit more steering heft, I have to report that it carried the Sharan across the ineffable border between “sloppy mess” and “I can work with this.” On the descent from the Sella Pass in Northern Italy, where the photos for this review were taken, I had the most fun I’ve ever had in a minivan… well, with my clothes on, anyway. It was subtle, push-by-degrees fun, but at least everything felt like it was working together. Not half bad for a minivan.

But this unexpected revelation held the key to my main impression of the Sharan: all of my favorite things about it are optional. From the giant panorama roof that blessed the cabin with an airy feel and made Dolomite-gawking a dream, to the superb navi system (complete with speed limits), from the sport mode to the third row, and from the excellent headlights to the classy upholstery, all of our Sharan’s many delightful touches come at a cost (with the glaring exception of its high-quality six-speed manual transmission). And the Sharan itself is no cheap thing even without these options: our mid-trim Comfortline Bluemotion with manual transmission started at €33,875, and my attempts to recreate our test vehicle using VW Germany’s online configurator (no Monroney label was provided) show that our tester was essentially a €50,000 vehicle. Even with an Audi badge, a $50,000 pricetag would make this Sharan a non-starter in the US market.

To be perfectly frank, I was hoping to prove that this Sharan could be offered in the US, and that VW’s decision to rebadge a Chrysler was cynical and unnecessary (interestingly, the VW employees who picked up and dropped off the Sharan had no idea that the Routan exists). Certainly I think a minivan of the Sharan’s size could carve out a segment in the US market, but it’s clear that the fine interior, diesel drivetrain and tech-laden equipment levels that European families are willing to pay for would doom our tester in the value-oriented stateside market. That’s a pity, as this Sharan served as a stark contrast to VW’s recent embrace of American-style value, and as a reminder of the positioning that once made VW so popular with American connoisseurs.

Volkswagen provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of (expensive) diesel for this review.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Minivan Valhalla? (All photos courtesy: Andrea Blaser) DSC_0348 DSC_0326 DSC_0264 DSC_0256 DSC_0255 DSC_0165 DSC_0163 DSC_0161 DSC_0158 DSC_0157 DSC_0135 DSC_0132 DSC_0128 DSC_0126 DSC_0037 DSC_0035 DSC_0033 DSC_0030 DSC_0029 DSC_0024 DSC_0023 DSC_0022 DSC_0021 DSC_0015 DSC_0008 DSC_0004 DSC_0004 DSC_0002 ]]> 44
Review: 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL Premium Wed, 17 Aug 2011 18:26:16 +0000
Last Monday’s review of the new 2012 Volkswagen Passat 2.5 SE found the large, value-priced German sedan to be roomy but unpolished. Today: the TDI in SEL Premium trim. In this form the “from $19,995*” new Passat gets a bit far from the segment’s mid-twenties sweet spot, with a list price of $32,965. But perhaps the turbodiesel engine and top-of-the-line interior transform the car?

In SEL Premium trim the new Passat exterior is slightly more attractive, thanks to one-inch-larger, more stylish wheels and an extra helping of chrome accents (as recommended by Maximum Bob). The latter and the car’s conservative shape team especially well with dark colors, including the tested car’s black paint.

Inside the Passat SEL Premium, the SE’s extensive faux metal trim is replaced by equally plentiful faux wood and its leatherette seating surfaces are replaced by a combination of leather and synthetic suede. The budget grade leather is hardly more convincing than the “wood.” I thought it was leatherette until I happened to notice on the window sticker “leather trimmed comfort sport seats” (which, though large and firm, are too lacking in contour to excel at either comfort or sport). It doesn’t help that light beige like that inside the tested car makes all but the best materials look cheap. Though the materials inside a Ford Fusion or Toyota Camry are little if any better, in the mid-thirties you can find some much nicer cabins. A key advantage shared with all 2012 Passats: an exceptional amount of legroom in both rows. Unfortunately, even in the SEL Premium the climate control knobs feel cheap and a storage tray occupies the space where rear air vents should be, so on hot days that expansive rear seat won’t be so comfortable. Another victim of cost-cutting: still no separate front and rear height adjustments on the power front seats, to adjust tilt independently of height, and still no height adjustment for the lumbar bulge.

The 400-watt Fender audio system deserves special mention. The bass was initially so overpowering and muddy that I assumed someone must have set it to 11. Then I tapped my way through the pages of the touchscreen control panel to discover that it was centered. For the first time ever I had to take an audio system’s bass down a few clicks to balance out its sound.

The 2.0-liter turbodiesel is good for 140 horsepower at 4,000 rpm (30 fewer but 1,700 lower, respectively, than the 2.5-liter gas engine) and 236 foot-pounds of torque at 1,500 rpm (59 more and 2,750 lower). As the specs suggest, the diesel feels especially strong off the line and at low speeds. Over 30 miles-per-hour or so the gas engine is quicker, but the diesel remains easily adequate and even at highway speeds does not feel sluggish. The TDI’s sound is clearly that of a diesel, especially when idling, but is much quieter and less clattery than the oil burners of decades past. The six-speed dual-clutch automated manual (DSG in VW parlance) behaves very similarly to the six-speed conventional automatic in the 2.5. Whether creeping along without a foot on the gas or shifting at full throttle it’s smooth. I attempted to trip it up, and failed. The DSG’s shifts are quicker than the conventional automatic’s, but when paired with the inherently slow-revving diesel this is of limited benefit.

When paired with the TDI, the DSG primarily benefits fuel economy by eliminating the fluid coupling of a torque converter. The EPA ratings of 30/40 are quite good for a large sedan. The trip computer reported even better numbers: high 30s in typical suburban driving and low 50s while cruising at 70. My suspicion: it lies.

Compared to the Passat 2.5 SE, the TDI SEL Premium rides more smoothly, handles with less agility, and generally feels like a larger, heavier, and more relaxed car. More competitive in some regards, but also less engaging. Frankly, I was startled by the difference between the two. My initial assumption: the TDI has much more weight in its nose, which can be expected to dull the steering, reduce agility, and settle the front ends tendency to bob a bit in the 2.5. Checking the spec sheet, the TDI does weigh nearly 180 pounds more, and the uplevel trim with its power passenger seat and sunroof probably adds another 70. But even 3,470 pounds isn’t heavy for such a large car. The tires might deserve some of the credit / blame, as the TDI SEL Premium’s wheels are shod with 235/45HR18 Bridgstone Turanza EL400 touring tires instead of the narrower ContiProContacts fitted to all trim levels of the 2.5. The Bridgestones grip the road a little better, but this is probably thanks to their greater width, as their design prioritizes ride over handling. It’s also possible that the TDI has additional sound insulation, to counteract its louder engine.

Still, it seemed unlikely that even all of these factors together could explain the difference in how the two cars felt through the steering wheel. Then, glancing over a photo of the TDI’s window sticker while writing this review I noticed “electric power steering.” Hmmmm…the system in the 2.5 felt too communicative to be electrically-assisted. The system in the TDI, not so much. Pull up the photo of the 2.5’s sticker, and my newfound hypothesis is confirmed: it retains “hydraulic power steering.” So if you were hoping to combine the refreshingly direct steering feel reported in the Passat 2.5 review with the efficiency of the TDI, too bad. Can’t get this combo. And the 280-horsepower V6, which system does it include? Unclear— says electric in some places, hydraulic in others. Most signs point towards electric. Hopefully they have this sorted out in the Chattanooga assembly plant.

Compared to the Passat’s other two engines, the TDI costs $2,300 more than the 2.5 and $755 less than the V6. Until someone else finally follows through and offers an affordable midsize sedan with a diesel engine in the United States (Honda, Nissan, and Subaru have all announced then canceled such plans), VW has this space to itself. This leaves midsize hybrid sedans as the Passat TDI’s closest competitors. A comparably-equipped 2011 Toyota Camry Hybrid lists for $460 more—but about $1,000 less if you compare the two invoice-to-invoice (Toyota dealers enjoy much fatter margins). Adjusting for feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool and both shift about $900 in the VW’s favor. So with a feature-adjusted invoice-to-invoice comparison they’re very close. A loaded 2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid lists for about $500 more, but invoice-to-invoice it’s about $1,000 less. The feature adjustment goes $500 in the Ford’s favor. A 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid with Premium Package checks in the lowest: about $1,300 less than the Passat TDI SEL Premium at MSRP and $1,900 less invoice-to-invoice. Feature differences between the two are a wash.

The Passat TDI SEL Premium looks and feels like a more expensive car than the 2.5 SE, but might nevertheless struggle to support its mid-thirties price tag. Even with the upgraded interior many of the cheap bits remain, and the rear seat, though very roomy, doesn’t get its own air vents. The TDI-DSG powertrain performs well and gets exceptional fuel economy given the size of the car. But the ride, though quieter and smoother than that in the SE, is still average at best. Most disappointing: the steering system that made the 2.5 SE fun and engaging on a curvy road isn’t included in the TDI. Instead, the TDI’s electric power steering cuts off communication with the front wheels and makes the car feel much larger and heavier. (In the EPS’s defense, this is partly because the TDI SEL Premium is about 250 pounds heavier.) Bottom line: if you’re seeking a roomy, highly efficient midsize sedan, the Passat TDI compares well against others’ hybrids and is priced similarly. But it’s not the stellar car it could be with a few minor upgrades and alterations.

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

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

Passat TDI audio Passat TDI engine Passat TDI front quarter Passat TDI front Passat TDI instrument panel Passat TDI interior Passat TDI missing feature Passat TDI rear quarter 2 Passat TDI rear quarter Passat TDI second row Is oil-burning better? Passat TDI trip computer Passat TDI trunk Passat TDI view forward back seat Passat TDI view forward GT3 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 97
Review: 2011 Volkswagen Touareg TDI Wed, 25 May 2011 19:50:27 +0000

The Touareg TDI is not your father’s Oldsmobile. I know, because I unfortunately drove my father’s 85HP, 1983 Cutlass Cierra diesel when I was a kid. Since my dad was a glutton for punishment, this was not his first unreliable GM diesel; we also had a 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser with the infamous diesel V8. After about 30,000 miles, both our diesels smoked like a 60 year old hooker. Since potential clean diesel shoppers seem to fall into the 30-60 year old demographic, this is still the image that diesel brings to mind for many, not the reliable but low-volume European diesels from the 70s and 80s. If sales numbers are any indication however, BMW Mercedes and VW have been changing the tide of public opinion.

VW has been trying hard to overcome perceptions of diesels for some time with varying tactics. The old V10 TDI in the previous Touareg proved that a diesel could be fast and thirsty, the previous generation Jetta TDI proved diesels can be terribly slow but incredibly efficient. The new Touareg TDI is VW’s latest attempt to prove that 90% of Americans could live with a diesel every day. At 225HP, and 406lb-ft of twist they might just be on to something. For reference this more torque than the 380HP supercharged hybrid Touareg we tested in January SUV making it the “torquiest” Touareg on these shores. (European buyers are able to spec a 4.2L V8 which wins the torque award by a hair.)

The diesel Touareg receives the same high quality interior as the Touareg hybrid we recently reviewed. Dash parts are suitably squishy, panels are aligned with Germanic precision and if it weren’t for the two-letter logo on the steering wheel you’d think you were inside a modern Audi. American shoppers are unable to buy a Touareg on these shores with VW’s “Driver Assistance Pack” which in the Euro-zone contains radar cruise control and a blind spot warning system. This omission seems contrary to the obviously high-class interior and fairly hefty price tag.

Speaking of pricing, our Touareg TDI came with the $9,950 “Executive package” raising our tester to $57,500 from the $47,950 sticker worn by base TDI models. While this may seem a tad spendy, the 2011 Touareg TDI is a far cry in pricing from the last oil-burning SUV VW sold on these shores. One of the ways VW has accomplished this price reduction is by discontenting and bundling options together into packages. The base model is fairly well featured as it stands; the $3,850 “Lux” package adds 19-inch wheels, panoramic sunroof, walnut trim, leather seats with 12-way adjustable driver’s sear and electric rear seat releases. Stepping up to the “Executive package” we tested gets the buyer 20-inch rubber, heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, keyless entry & go, parking sensors and the up-level Dynaudio sound system. All Touareg TDI models regardless of package have the easy-to-use VW RNS 850 navigation system with iPod/USB integration, Bluetooth and Sirius satellite radio.

VW’s latest Navigation uses a bright, high resolution eight-inch color touch-screen display that is easy to read even in direct sunlight. The latest version of VW’s navigation software continues to be touch-driven in contrast to Mercedes’ COMMAND system, BMW’s iDrive and even VAG’s own Audi brand’s MMI. The screen layouts are logical and easy to follow, the 3D mapping is on par with most systems as well. I would prefer such a system to be mounted higher on the dash thereby increasing the ease of use (and lowering distraction) while driving. Compared to BMW’s latest iDrive however the VW system seems less polished. One of the oddities that turned into something of an annoyance during our week was the traffic notification system. It’s great that the Touareg’s telematics system receives traffic information, however unlike most modern systems VW chose not to overlay the map with colored lined to indicate traffic speeds on major highways.

The Touareg TDI uses the same engine as its close cousin the Audi Q7. First released in 2004, this 3.0 liter, 24-valve DOHC powerplant is well known in Europe and found under the hood of vehicles such as the Phaeton, Audi A8, and Porsche Cayenne. With luxury brands using this engine refinement is the name of the game. While I was unable to test cold-winter starts since I live in sunny California, morning temperatures were around 31 degrees the week the TDI slept in my driveway. Unlike diesels we all remember the TDI cranked just like a gasoline engine. On cold mornings I did notice a tiny hint of vibration and clatter when the engine first started, but after a few seconds the engine quiets down to a purr smoother than I thought a diesel was capable of.

Out on the road the 225HP and prodigious torque are more than adequate to get the Touareg moving on a short freeway onramps. Our own 0-60 test executed in 6.97 seconds which is fairly close to what other publications have recorded and significantly faster than VW’s own 0-60 claims. I can only conclude that VW doesn’t want to show up the base Cayenne which is advertised at [an untested] 7.1 seconds to 60 with a professional driver and a manual and 7.4 seconds to 60 for slushbox drivers. Even if Porsche has underrated the stoplight performance of the Cayenne, these are some impressive numbers for an SUV that tips the scales at 4,974lbs as tested. Turbo lag is minimal for a diesel, that is to say it reminds me of driving a 1980s turbo car: the lag is there but it can be a pleasant companion. Probably the biggest reason the 3.0L V6 is so livable is the new 8-speed ZF automatic transmission. The ZF 8HP45 employs close ratios to help keep the engine in its relatively narrow power band (compared to a turbocharged gasoline engine). The resulting feel seems well suited to the diesel engine while the same transmission in the hybrid left me occasionally asking what was wrong with the 6-speed.

Off road, the TDI is (as one would expect), an excellent companion having well suited gear ratios and abundant torque at low speeds for crawling up steep inclines. The problem of course with the Touareg as a true off-road vehicle is the sales demographic in the USA: buyers of the previous go-anywhere SUV thought “anywhere” meant suburban outlet stores instead of the downtown mall. Because of this lack of demand and a desire to keep weight and costs down, all the fun off road bits aren’t sold in the USA. Not only did VW decide to keep the more capable 4xMotion 4WD system with low range a Euro-only option, but the adjustable-height suspension remains off-limits for American Shoppers. US buyers are also treated to a fairly ridiculous looking collapsible spare tire. Still, the factory ground clearance of 7.9-inches and full-time AWD 4Motion system are more than adequate for even a journey on the Rubicon Trail.

With the demise of the old Explorer, and the death of all GM’s GMT360 variants, most mid-size SUVs sold in the US no longer contain the RWD based drivetrains that permit moderate towing capacities around 7,000lbs. If you are searching for a vehicle that is suitable for commuting on weekdays and towing your Eddie Bauer Airstream or horse trailer with two ponies on weekends, a mid-size diesel SUV makes plenty of economic sense. The diesel Touareg is rated to tow a segment leading 7,700lbs which is nothing to sniff at. In comparison: the Mercedes ML350 BlueTEC is rated at 7,200lbs and the BMW X5 xDrive35d is rated at 6,500lbs.

If American metal is more your thing, the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango twins can tow almost as much (7,400lbs) but must be equipped with the thirsty 5.7L V8 to do so. Rounding out the tow-capable SUVs, are the V8 Nissan Pathfinder (7,000lbs) and Lexus GX460 (6,500lbs). Our tester was not equipped with a class three hitch, but my local VW dealer as kind enough to loan me a Touareg TDI properly equipped for some mountain towing fun. 4,000lbs of bricks in a 2,100lb trailer proved no problem for the Touareg’s 406lb-ft of torque. Again making the Touareg the livable to tow is the 8-speed ZF automatic. Anyone who has tried towing a heavy trailer uphill with an old Dodge Ram with the old Cummins engine and 4-speed transmission knows the pain of finally hitting the power band only to have the transmission upshift and leave you back at square one.

Of course any of the competition we mentioned will tow a trailer comparably well, but the Touareg TDI’s advantage is fuel economy. While the new Durango is average for the pack with EPA numbers of 14/20, the Touareg boasts an EPA rating of 19/29 which is a touch higher than the BMW and Mercedes diesel SUV offerings. During out week with the Touareg we averaged 27.7MPG in mixed driving on the first tank, an impressive 30.5MPG on a 160-mile road trip, and 16.5MPG while towing two-tons of bricks. Compared to the base V6 Touareg, this represents a 24% increase in observed fuel economy for a $3,000 premium. Out here on the left coast, the cost of premium to fuel your base Touareg averaged $4.41 on 4/18/2011 and diesel was $4.48 (according to the CA Energy Commission), making the break-even point somewhere around 75,000 miles depending on your driving style.

As our 1050-mile week with the Touareg drew to a close I realized that it had only visited the diesel pump once during the week for an expensive 22-gallon fill-up eking 610 miles out of the first tank. VW has managed to create what GM failed to with the Tahoe Hybrid: An SUV that delivers good mileage with or without a trailer attached that has a bit of off-road cred tossed in (just in case). That being said, the high cost of diesel and the relative uncertainty of what is undeniably still a niche market in America should be a concern for shoppers. Still, if the era of high-fuel prices turns out to be our permanent future, VW’s TDI SUV makes a compelling alternative. If you’re shopping for a Touareg, just walk right past that base V6 model on the floor and give the TDI a try.

Volkswagen provided the test vehicle, insurance and a tank of diesel.

Performance statistics as tested:

0-30: 2.2 seconds

0-60: 6.97 seconds

Average economy: 27.7MPG (observed:30.5MPG Highway)

IMG_2358 Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail IMG_2356 V6-TDI-Volkswagen-Touareg-2011 IMG_2364 IMG_2357 IMG_2363 IMG_2360 Diesel, reconsidered? IMG_2360-thumb IMG_2359 IMG_2362 IMG_1918 IMG_2361

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New VW Polo GTI “Textbook Engine Downsizing” Yields 25% Reduction Of Fuel Consumption Wed, 24 Feb 2010 18:35:29 +0000

The benefits of gasoline engine downsizing has its latest poster child: the new Polo GTI. It’s a graphic example of why diesel market share in Europe is declining, especially in smaller cars: a 25% reduction on the European mileage standards, without any loss of performance. The GTI’s 1.4 liter TSI produces 177 hp (132kW), exactly the same as its 1.8 liter predecessor. But the combined fuel consumption is 5.9 L/100km (40 mpg US)—equivalent to CO2 emissions of 139 g/km, 25% lower than the outgoing model. Knowing that it also squirts to 100km (62 mph) in 6.9 seconds and comes standard with a 7 speed DSG transmission is only rubbing the wound of knowing it’s not coming to the US with salt. But undoubtedly, tightening CAFE standards will eventually send VW’s pioneering 1.4 and 1.6 TSI engines our way; the question is only in what body.

VW’s small TSI engines are to gas engines what it’s also pioneering TDI engines were to the diesel world: a breakthrough in shattering assumptions of what small artificially-aspirated gas engines are capable of, in terms of both performance and economy. Due to its combination of supercharging and turbocharging, an semblance of turbo lag is history. The 177 hp Euro-5 16-valve four-cylinder engine reaches its maximum power at a relatively low (for such a small engine) 6,200 rpm. Maximum torque of 250 N·m (184 lb-ft) arrives at 2,000 rpm and stays at a constantly high level up to 4,500 rpm. The effect is to recreate the feel of a much larger normally aspirated engine without any of the typical detriments.

Another graphic example of the narrowing gap of diesel and gas consumption is in the European Golf: two almost identically powered Golf VI versions: 140hp TDI – 5.4L/100km (43.56mpg); 160hp TSI – 6.0L/100km (39.2mpg). That represents a 10% difference. Meanwhile, the US version gas Golf slogs along with its antiquated 2.5 liter five that bumbles through the EPA test with a 26 combined rating.

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Audi A3 TDI Named Green Car Of The Year Thu, 03 Dec 2009 18:07:54 +0000 But it's white!

Today, on the last day of media access to the LA Auto show, the mystic powers that be continued VAGs green run by selecting the Audi A3 TDi as the 2010 Green Car of the Year (The Jetta TDi won last year). In the running this year were the Audi A3 TDI, Honda Insight, Mercury Milan Hybrid, Toyota Prius and Volkswagen Golf TDI. According to the LA Auto Show,

The Green Car of the Year® award is a program that honors environmental leadership in the automobile field and recognizes vehicles that are readily available to consumers during the award year. Green Car Journal/ editors perform an exhaustive review of vehicle models to identify the five finalists. The winner is ultimately decided by jurors such as Jay Leno, Jean-Michel Cousteau, Carroll Shelby, Matt Petersen of Global Green USA and the Sierra Club’s Carl Pope, along with Green Car Journal editors.

Interesting then that this same bunch of car czars chose the Chevy Tahoe two years ago for getting 1 MPG better than the gasoline version. Anyone feeling some Volt love in 2011?

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Audi: Walking and Biking Are For Idiots Wed, 18 Nov 2009 18:53:11 +0000

Want to do your bit for the environment, like ride a bike or take the bus? You loser! Buy an Audi instead! [headline explained here]

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Review: 2010 Audi Q7 TDI Fri, 24 Jul 2009 14:15:04 +0000

One of the enduring lessons of the car game is that good vehicles don't always sell well. As a car writer who took on news analysis before ever getting manufacturer-sponsored time behind the wheel, this lesson can't help but tinge my impressions of a road test. So when my first weeklong tester arrived in the form of a Q7 TDI, I felt no desire to justify Audi's decision to bring the thing to market. After all, by any reasonable analysis, the brand built by Quattro wagons should have been the primary beneficiary of America's SUV craze. Or, at least its worst enemy. Instead the Q7 showed up for the party fashionably dressed but fashionably late. And very few wanted to buy it. With the high price of luxo ute party fuel already killing the festive vibes, is switching to a new drink enough to make Audi's SUV sales party like its 1999?]]>

One of the enduring lessons of the car game is that good vehicles don’t always sell well. As a car writer who took on news analysis before ever getting manufacturer-sponsored time behind the wheel, this lesson can’t help but tinge my impressions of a road test. So when my first week-long-test vehicle arrived in the form of a Q7 TDI, I felt no desire to justify Audi’s decision to bring the thing to market. After all, by any reasonable analysis, the brand built by Quattro wagons should have been the primary beneficiary of America’s SUV craze. Or at least, its worst enemy. Instead the Q7 showed up for the party fashionably dressed but fashionably late. And very few wanted to buy it. With the high price of luxo ute party fuel already killing the festive vibes, is switching to a new drink enough to make Audi’s SUV sales party like it’s 1999?

On its face, diesel is the least sexy non-gasoline fuel out there. Sure, it’s packed with hydrocarbons and, sure, biodiesel has a certain following, but the American experience with diesel has not been a love-in. Even for those of us who are young enough not to remember the bad old diesels of the last energy crisis, oil burners bring up bad memories.

The most common impression is of full-on sensory assault: sitting at a stoplight while the jackhammer idle of a Cummins-powered Ram rises to a ground-shaking roar, having your hair blown back by an apocalyptic cloud of sooty smoke exhaled from howitzer-sized exhaust. In short, not the kind of impression one likes to leave with observers of ones expensive German chariot.

If you’re a diesel aficionado, you know that the current generation of European “clean diesels” have put many of these stereotypes to rest. The reality is still shocking. Fire up the Audi’s three liter turbodiesel V6, and the cockpit fills with sound . . . from the climate control. Roll down the windows and a faint sound might tempt you to think that internal combustion is taking place. Only parked by a brick wall is the idle noise even properly identifiable: a newborn Cummins, murmuring to itself in a barbiturate coma.

This aural timidity belies the engine’s humble on-paper proportions. You’ll note that Audi has refrained from putting 3.0 anywhere on the Q7 diesel’s badging. That’s because folks who spend the national median household income on a family hauler think numbers below 4.0 are bad luck. It’s TDI Quattro, thanks. (Massive graphics available on Audi press fleet models only.)

Lucky then, for these already lucky people, that this ain’t yer uncle Lou’s Olds diesel V6. To say the least. Thanks to basic engineering competence, common rail injection, and a Google server farm worth of computers, this V6 performs its luxobarge duty with distinction. Its (whisper it) 225 horsepower and (shout it) 406 pound-feet of torque are earned with a 17/25 mpg EPA rating. In fact, the only thing that should remind you of the Olds diesel era is the fact that diesel prices are again cheaper than gas.

But they won’t be forever. In the mean time, take the opportunity to go to new places and meet new people. I did and saw beautiful things. And met kind gas station employees who told me that they only sold low sulphur diesel. I would need to drive a couple of miles to the 76 where they sell ultra low sulphur diesel.

And, no, you can’t just top off at the Chinese restaurant’s grease dumpster. The TDI’s manual states firmly that fuels with more than five percent biodiesel are verboten. The upside is that with a 26-gallon tank and a 600 mile range, you’ll only have to fill up about 17 times before your clean diesel confronts you with your new urea addiction. Wait, is that an upside?

No, to understand the upsides of the Q7 TDI, you really have to drive it. On the open road you completely forget that the main nitrogen-containing substance in mammal urine is even being used to scrub your exhaust into compliance with 50-state emissions standards. Torque has a way of concentrating the mind on the task at hand. Tasks such as picking up the kids from the Academy or heading for the hills like your tail’s on fire. I recommend the latter.

After all, the Q7 TDI isn’t particularly exciting to drive around town. It’s competent, but it fails at the two primary in-town activities of the luxury SUV: stunting and the traffic light Grand Prix. Competency at showing off is obviously a subjective and controversial issue. I will simply say that in my week with the Q, the only two comments I got from strangers were “never seen one before” and “what’s the mileage?” A luxury ute that subtle will need to earn the peasant’s respect at the green light.

Sadly, this one doesn’t. The Q7 TDI accelerates to 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds, roughly the same as a Saturn Vue Red Line. Or a Mercedes R320 Bluetec. The problem is that the engine isn’t really happy until it has a good head of steam spinning its turbos. Until then it’s just three liters working against 5,512 pounds. There’s only a brief pause before the twist starts flowing, but it’s enough to keep you from feeling like, well, sixty grand.

Part of the problem is that the Audi’s Tiptronic transmission tends to short-shift through the first two cogs unless you keep the throttle pinned. Happily, dialing “S” for sport mode tightens up the whole drivetrain, improving response and acceleration which match well with the Q7′s firm steering and epic grip. Even with minimal use of the competent but unremarkable brakes, Mr. Q easily focuses on a tight line going into corners. Stab into the engine’s sweet spot, hang on tight, and the giant ute hurtles around bends with minimal body roll. Only the tightest S-bends at the most foolhardy speeds are able to confuse the chassis and induce understeer.

Munching miles on arrow-straight desert highways is where the TDI starts to feel properly at home. The engine’s computers seem to keep a thick wave of torque just below your right foot; and a muffled, gusty whoosh accompanies any surrender to the torque’s temptation. Very muffled. In fact, rumbling from the S-line’s 20-inch wheels are more of a disturbance than engine noise. Over freshly paved surfaces, the dubs add to the Q’s taut, poised handling and the ride is impeccable. On rough roads, they break the cabin’s eerie calm with road noise and chop.

Look for the cruise control and you become aware of this Audi’s one other major shortcoming as a tourer. The same S-Line package that saddles the Q with oversized wheels and unsubtle side badging also upgrades the standard four-spoke wheel with a two-spoke helm. Unfortunately, the left spoke perfectly covers the cruise control’s stubby stalk during straight-ahead cruising. Once you confirm that it is in fact there, you still have to pull over to familiarize yourself with the control. Save yourself $1,200 and improve the Q7′s cruising manners by not checking that box. Flappy paddle downshifts and brushed aluminum interior trim might be missed, but neither is an imperative.

Audi’s interiors are polarizing and whether you find them dour or refined, the Q7 won’t change your mind. In the first class front row, you get firm, supportive seating with an aristocratic vista and endless distraction courtesy of Audi’s Multi Media Interface (MMI). In second class and the steerage third row, things are less plush. The second row bench is too low, and the six foot club should expect knees to end up around ear level. Over eastern Oregon’s washboarded dirt roads, the back seat shudders and flails, threatening to shake free from its anchors. The effect on passengers is something between a “Magic Fingers” vibrating bed and a peak-condition Mike Tyson working your kidneys like a speedbag.

But the impromptu shiatsu won’t have anyone looking longingly at the third row. Only the panorama sunroof option ($1,850) keeps the way back from feeling like a Guantanamo Bay holding cell. And unless you are a four-foot yoga master, the distraction doesn’t last long. Even as  emergency seating for unexpected passengers, the third row comes up short. The rolling cargo cover must be removed to raise the seats, and once converted the bulky unit no longer fits in the remaining storage area.

Not that you run into many hitch hikers or unplanned carpoolers climbing the gravel logging roads of Southern Oregon’s Rogue-Umpqua Divide. The Q7 maintains a paved-road clip through steep ascents and winding turns, each wheel keeping in constant communication with the loose road surface. Stability control is turned off and a slight twitchiness comes into the controls; electronic flattery, not skill, makes the storming pace possible. Barreling around a corner, a Suzuki Sidekick suddenly appears, its driver frozen in awe of the Wagnerian apparition bearing down on him. Considerable nose dive and pumping ABS accompany the Q’s sudden braking, but crisis is averted.

The OHV tracks leading into Newberry Crater didn’t inspire similar gravel-stage heroics, but, again, the Q7 felt confident and capable. Even with expensive paint, oversized wheels and no special off-road equipment, the TDI makes for a willing partner through rougher terrain. At the deliberate speeds necessary to thread through sharp rocks, deep ruts and undulating ascents, the oil burner’s drag racing downsides become real strengths. Power is smooth, precise, tractable and predictable. In short, everything you want when tackling the roads that don’t show up on your nav screen.

Whether prospective Q7 owners will appreciate the TDI’s many winning qualities is a question that a road test alone won’t answer. in addition to the intrinsic shortcomings exposed here, a Cayenne is sportier and a Range Rover is more statusy. A Touareg is cheaper ($8K less with the same engine) and nearly as classy. Robert Farago drives a GL. The list goes on, but one thing is for certain: if you’re going to buy a Q7, the diesel is the one you want. The gas V6 suffers the same status and low-end pickup deficits, while the V8 is thirstier, heavier and more expensive. Besides, the TDI matches the Q7′s anonymously unique character perfectly. If you are considering showing up late for the luxury SUV party, the Q7 is one of the more intriguing guests still getting down.

[Audi supplied the vehicle, insurance and one tank of diesel.]

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TTAC Desert-to-Burning-Desert Eco-Challenge, Days 5, 6, 7: Leaving Las Vegas Tue, 03 Feb 2009 16:31:54 +0000

When I called Las Vegas home, massive towers were going up, traffic was bad (especially on the Blue Diamond Highway), tourists were annoying and gas was cheap. Now, leaving Las Vegas, massive towers are going up, traffic is bad, tourists are annoying and gas is—once again—cheap. But it’s always worth saving a few gallons. After all, that $1 could win you the $1m payout at the Luxor’s giant slot machine. It’s thinking that makes both Sin City and the VW Jetta diesel so great.

I’ve combined the last few days into a single blog post; I didn’t drive much. Saying that, my personal CO2 levels soared during my stay, as I ascended Frenchman (Sunrise) Mountain. Looking at, and then leaving, the smog choked valley, I headed for Colorado’s ski resorts, resuming TTAC’s one-man, one-car Eco-Challenge.  And quite the challenge it is: mountains are to hypermiling what smog pumps are to 70s muscle cars.

Driving north on I-15 towards St. George, Utah, I surmounted and plumbed several familiar passes and canyons. To preserve precious dino juice, I couldn’t deploy my usual technique: mash the throttle to maintain my speed. I had a planet to save, dammit! Well, a pocketbook to protect. And a blog to write. So I followed a simple formula: slow up, coast down.

Local conditions prevented successful implementation. Driving the little Jetta at 60mph in heavy traffic—all of whom were busy ignoring a 75mph speed limit—proved downright dangerous. My law-abiding ways forced all manner of vehicles, from Toyota Corollas to full tractor trailers, to swerve, merge or otherwise move around me. Common sense and TDI torques (just kidding) prevailed.

Upon reaching St. George, I finally replaced the tire I punctured in Kingman, Arizona. I’m not brave (or foolhardy) enough to tempt crossing the San Rafael Swell without a spare; driving 120 miles without a plan B sounds like a fool’s errand to me.

The stretch from I-15 to the I-70 junction was pretty, and pretty mundane. The blast east on the I-70 towards Grand Junction (my stop for the night) was equally uneventful, if more aesthetically intimidating. Bathed in the salmon-colored glow of winter’s setting sun, the snow-topped Rockies are awesome—in the original “standing mute before God” sense of the word (as opposed to “Wow! That’s an awesome sweater!).

My fuel mileage was not quite as spectacular. The mountain driving, higher speeds and a tank of totally bogus diesel torpedoed my mileage figures for this leg of the trip. In fact, I “achieved” the worst mileage to date.

513 miles for this leg of the trip

13.1 gallons of diesel consumed

39mpg average

2 Starbucks Soy Mocha Lattes drunk

1 new Bridgestone Weatherforce tire

1 new pet peeve (matching my speed whilst 5 feet behind me, at night, in a SUV, causing lights to shine in my eyes no matter how fast or slow I go. I hate you Mr. Toyota Sequoia Driver, yes, you, in the blue one on I-70!)

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