VW Fleet for 2012 Conquers Roads, Earthquakes
Where were you, when the earthquake hit? I was shielded from any awareness of the August upheaval by the refinements of a 2012 Volkswagen. We tend to remember all the details of where we were when such important events happen at the same time. All the recollections of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 underscore that point, and I recall preparing for a talk-radio sports show in Duluth, Minnesota, that morning, when I happened to see the live broadcast on CNN as the second hijacked jet airliner crashed into the second World Trade Center building.
It will be more difficult to remember that on August 23, 2011, I was dangerously near the epicenter when an earthquake measuring 5.8 on the Richter scale caused shuddering up the East Coast from Virginia to New Hampshire, including Washington, D.C., and New York City. I was rendered completely unaware of it while driving a 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI on a rural highway in a rural part of the state of Virginia. When I returned from the test loop to the Breaux Winery, where the full collection of 2012 VW vehicles had been gathered, someone breathlessly asked: “Did you feel it?”
“Feel what?” I responded. Now, I’m not one to seek out natural disasters, but I’m also the type who is not about to pass up witnessing one if it happens and I can be a safe distance away. If you get the chance to be a first-hand witness to something like an earthquake, you’d at least like to experience a bit of ground trembling. Instead, I had to say: “I didn’t feel a thing. What happened?”
The earthquake epicenter was Richmond, Va., less than 50 miles away from where we were. People at the winery felt the earth move, and I later saw video of offices and apartments where things fell off shelves and bookcases tipped over. I suggested to a Volkswagen PR type that his staff might have capitalized by saying it wasn’t an earthquake, just the ground shaking from all the torque produced by the VW turbo-diesels. Or, as in my case, I could visualize a commercial where the earth is opening into gaping crevasses, and buildings are toppling, but someone in a VW cruises blissfully past, feeling nothing because of the slick suspension and improved silence of VW’s modern interior noise reduction.Volkswagen, however, is more pragmatic than that. Jonathan Browning, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, explained that VW had lost market share in the U.S. from the 1990s, and plans to aggressively recapture that, and more. Much more. VW wants to become the largest automaker in the world, and, judging by the strength of its full line, it has a realistic chance to achieve that in the not too distant future.
“As we go forward, we have a very clear vision where we want to go,” said Browning. “We want to be leading in quality, we want to be the top employer, we want to improve to 8 percent market share, and we want to be first in customer satisfaction.”
There are several keys to VW’s optimism for 2012. First is its deep commitment to U.S. sales, by building a new plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., where the new Passat is being built. Second is a restructuring of much of the full line, dropping the Passat directly into the midsize category where its superior room and features make it a worthy alternative to the Accord-Camry-Altima-Malibu-Fusion-Sonata types, stripping down the Jetta to be more of a compact fighter at a lower price point, and redesigning the Beetle by lowering the roof and changing the classic shape from a symmetric bubble to more of a sportier stance.
The most impressive thing about the VW fleet is under the hood. I’m not a big fan of the 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine, but it is strong and smooth and develops a lot of torque. I am a big fan of the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder — a direct-injected and turbocharged engine originally built by VW subsidiary Audi. It can be tuned for normal running to sporty performance to all-out power, with the only drawback being the need for premium fuel to run its best.And I am overwhelmed by VW’s 2.0-liter TDI — the VW developed turbo-diesel that combines impressive torque with fantastic fuel mileage figures, and is available in many VW models from top to bottom. The larger 3.6-liter VR6 has been refined to produce maximum power and it has proved to also provide surprisingly good fuel economy. At the top of the list is the 3.0-liter V6 TDI, another turbo-diesel, and this one also from Audi, which can be obtained in the Touareg, VW’s larger and hardier SUV.
At the introduction, we got a chance to do sample test drives of everything in the Volkswagen arsenal, including new specialty entries such as the Golf R, which rises above the sporty excellence of the GTI, and the Jetta GLI, which gives GTI sting to the more docile appearing Jetta sedan.
Some of the returnees are equally as impressive, of course. Here is a brief rundown of your friendly, neighborhood earthquake-beaters:
Beetle — The redesign is subtle, until you park the 2012 alongside a 2011 “New Beetle,” or alongside an original 1949 model. Moving the “A” pillar — just ahead of the doors — back a bit allowed the roofline to be lowered with no appreciable loss in the vast headroom. now wider and more spacious, the Beetle starts with the 2.5-liter 5-cylinder with 170 horsepower and a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic at $18,995; the 2.0 Turbo has 200 horsepower and 207 foot-pounds of torque and either a 6-speed stick or 6-speed DSG clutchless-manual automatic, starting at $23,395. A new and impressive Fender audio system by Panasonic is available.
Golf — Available either as 2- or 4-door hatchbacks, base engine is 2.5-liter 5-cylinder with 170 horses and 177 foot-pounds of torque, rated at 33 mpg highway. Base price is $17,995. The prize, however, is the TDI clean diesel, a 2.0-liter workhorse that gets an EPA estimated 42 mpg highway, with either stick or the DSG (direct sequential manual) automatic. The TDI, with a base price of $23,995, has only 140 horsepower, but 236 foot-pounds of torque launches the Golf TDI with GTI-like force up to 50. Reports of Golf TDI owners getting over 50 mpg at steady-state cruising are numerous. The Golf’s sixth generation debuted for 2011, and sales improved 23.3 percent, year-to-date.
GTI — VW likes to break the sporty Golf away from Golf livery, and as a stand-alone model it starts at $23,695 with firmer suspension and the 2.0 turbo gas engine with 200 horses and 207 torque reading. First appearing in the U.S. as a Rabbit GTI in 1983, after launching in 1976 in Europe, the GTI is the original pocket rocket, and now comes with 6-speed stick or 6-speed DSG automatic.
Golf R — It had to happen. VW has out-GTI’d the GTI with the R, which tweaks the 2.0-liter TSI turbo gas engine to 256 horsepower and 243 foot-pounds of torque, which occur at that peak from 2,400-5,200 RPMs. VW sold an R32 model previously, using the VR6 engine, but the 2.0-Turbo’s power and 4Motion all-wheel-drive make the R the best road-holding and sportiest Golf model ever sold. A 6-speed manual is standard. The Golf R comes in either 2- or 4-door hatchback models.
Jetta — Completely redone for its sixth generation a year ago, the Jetta has absorbed some car-magazine criticism for being a bit less substantial than its predecessor. But VW’s purpose was to scale down its base price, which it did — to $16,495. And consumers ignored the car-buff publications and have bought Jettas at a rate that is 74.8 percent higher than in 2010. Base engine is a quite stodgy 2.0-liter gas engine, or the same 2.5 as the Golf uses for a base engine. Again, the 2.0 TDI turbo-diesel gives the Jetta some low-end punch with EPA estimates of 42 mpg. New to the Jetta range for 2012 is the return of the GLI, which has the turbo 2.0 gas engine with 200 horsepower, sport-tuned multi-link supsension, and either the 6- speed stick or DSG automatic, and 33 mpg EPA highway estimates. The GLI base price is $23,495.
Jetta SportWagen — The SportWagen is separated from the new restyled Jetta for a very good reason — it is based on the European Golfwagon, which was new in 2010, and it remains sleek and sporty to look at and to drive. Under the hatch is 32.8 cubic feet of cargo volume, which expands to 66.9 with the rear seats foldd down. The 2.5-liter 4 is the base engine, but the optional turbo-diesel not only is a significant upgrade, it accounts for 80 percent of all SportWagens sold in the U.S. The 2.0 TDI makes the vehicle the only clean diesel wagon available in the U.S. The base SportWagen starts at $19,995, while the TDI starts at $25,260.
Eos — Named after the Greek goddess of dawn, the Eos has a revised front end, similar to the Golf and Jetta, and the car transforms from a sleek 2-door coupe to a convertible when the five-section hardtop folds itself up and stashed itself under a panel above the trunk. The only engine is the 2.0-liter Turbo gas engine, and the only transmission is the 6-speed DSG sequential automatic. Base price is $33,995.
Passat — All-new, built in the U.S. at Chattanooga, the Passat is more than a large Jetta. It has excellent room in the front, enormous room in the back, and a huge trunk, all of which are large assets to compete against midsize stalwarts such as Accord, Camry, Malibu, Fusion, Altima, and Sonata. With a base price of $19,995, the Passat has the 170-horse 2.5-liter 5-cylinder, or the 140-horse (and 236 foot-pound) 2.0 TDI, and the 280-horse 3.6-liter VR6. The TDI has EPA highway estimates of 43 mpg, but has easily outdone that. One observer drove a Passat TDI from Seattle to San Francisco — 812.8 miles — one one tankful of fuel. I got over 40 mpg with a TDI, and surprised myself by getting 32 mpg with the powerful gas VR6.
CC — The most stylish of all Volkswagens, the CC sedan has not been redesigned onto the new Passat platform, but continues to be built off the previous Passat, which is still made and sold in Europe. What started as a design that copied the Mercedes CLS “four-door coupe,” the CC takes over that role by standing pat while the CLS has been redesigned. A base price of $28,515 brings the 2.0-Turbo engine with 6-speed transmissions, either stick or DSG. Available is the VR6 engine with 280 horsepower and 265 foot-pounds of torque, which runs the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system.
Routan — An odd duck that fits into the VW row, this is a reworked Chrysler minivan, and the 3.6-liter V6 is not VW’s VR6 but the new Chrysler Pentastar dual-overhead-cam 3.6, with 283 horsepower. It has a 6-speed automatic, and is rated at 25 mpg highway, seating seven, and adding keyless access and push-button start on some models. Base price is $27,020. The Routan drives smoothly and has all the features that have made the Grand Caravan and Town & Country a standard of minivans world wide.
Tiguan — VW’s popular compact SUV has been redone with a new grille, headlights and taillights, and interior improvements include a standard trip computer, while exterior changes add 19-inch wheels and LED running lights. The 2.0-liter Turbo gas engine is the only powerplant, gaining 2 mpg to 27 on the highway, because of the addition of a 6-speed automatic. Base price of $22,840 helps sales increase by 32.6 percent over last year, and the solid Tiguan comes in either front-wheel drive or 4Motion all-wheel drive.
Touareg — Volkswagen collaborated with Audi and built the platform that serves as both the Porsche Cayenne and the VW Touareg. Refined through the years, the Touareg now has a choice of three engines — a 3.6 V6 with 280 horsepower, a 3.0-liter V6 TDI turbo-diesel with 225 horsepower, and a 380-horsepower supercharged hybrid model. All Touaregs yuse an 8-speed automatic transmission, and the TDI registers 28 mpg in highway estimates. The strong and burly SUV has a base price of $42,975 with the TDI model base at $46,475.
Volkswagen officials stressed that previous quality issues have been overcome amid the sweep of streamlining the full line and compacting prices to lower regions. The three stresspoints are the quality and value of German engineering, styling and performance with timeless design, and the responsible commitment to the U.S. marketplace, as exhibited by the new Chattanooga facility.Accompanying the 2012 model unveiling will be the continued cleverness of Volkswagen’s ad campaign, including the brilliant one of the youngster in the Darth Vader costume, pretending to be able to make magic happen with a gesture. His dad drives home in the family VW, and after going inside, he sees the kid outside trying to work his magic on the vehicle. The dad clicks the remote, causing the lights to blink in perfect timing to the kid’s gesture, which causes him to back off, startled at his own magic touch.
Another shows a party, where the birthday boy is unable to break a pinata with a stick, because it’s designed in the shape of a rugged VW. The group finally departs, and the dad stays behind, picking up the stick and smashing away at the pinata, but also unable to break it. Yet another shows a dad telling his son he can drive once they stop for fuel, but for now he should study his Spanish lesson. Since they have a TDI, they drive well into the night, because they can go 795 miles (or more) on a tankful. The kid, meanwhile, has so much time he learns to speak Spanish before they stop.
Overall, it is one of the more clever car ad campaigns in recent memory, which is fitting for a fleet of cars that give Volkswagen a full and complete array of vehicles. Not only are they solid, economical, roomy, and fun to drive, but they’re not a bad place to be if you want to be completely unbothered by an earthquake.