Minggu, 08 Juni 2008



By Robert Farago

The power of love is a curious thing. It makes one brand weep, another brand sing. Change a bug into a little white Dub. More than a feeling; that's the power of love. Yes, I know it's old News, but Volkswagen's Beetle still gets a lot of love. You would've thought a retro reissue of Hitler's people's car would've fallen down the same rat hole that swallowed-up the mustachioed Plymouth Prowler, Chevrolet's WTF SSR and Ford's turkey T-bird. But no. Eight years after its re-introduction into the US market, VW's self-titled "New Beetle" is still here, people still adore it, and I still don't get it.

Admittedly, I'm not gay. While I do enjoy a well-formed six-pack, and consider myself a far better interior decorator than that stuck-up Connecticut con artist, I can't understand how anyone could find VeeDub's Bauhaus Bug "cute." I reckon J Mays drew the St. Louis arch over a Kohler bathtub and called it good. All the superb detailing that gave the 60's version its cutesy-tootsie cartoon character has been replaced with generic post-modern jewelery. To my eyes, the slab-sided minimalist Beetle is about as emotionally engaging as a Braun razor. The '06 facelift offers rounder headlights, more tapered wrap-around air dams and flat-edged wheel arches. It looks like… a slightly newer Braun razor.

The Beetle's interior extends the cognitive dissonance between Herbie and Helmut. In the old rear-engined Beetle, the proximity between your head and oncoming traffic was endearing / alarming– accentuated by the fact that there really was nothing between your head and oncoming traffic. In the new front-engined Beetle, there's so much dash ahead of you it feels like you're sitting in middle of a small powerboat. Or a greenhouse. In fact, people who live in glass houses will feel right at home, and they don't need to stow thrones; the Bug's warm leatherette is deliciously comfy. Unfortunately, the New Beetle's artsy roof line renders the rear seats only slightly more accommodating than a cat carrier.

The New Beetle proves that love is at least partially blind; the overarching design theme necessitates front pillars that could hide a full-size pickup. And do. The rest of the New Beetle's black-hole-black cabin casts its magic spell over silly Buggers with three dignified gauges, an equal number of chintzy rotary knobs, a severely limited array of buttons and… that's it. In these days of voice-activated rear window blinds, who knew that an interior appealing to latter day Spartans would be considered "delightful?" Oops. I almost forgot: the link to the Bug's hippy dippy past– the in-dash flower vase– is still plastic. Dishwasher safe. Fabulous. And VW put chrome rings around the vents. How great is that?

As the Vee Dub's turbo four was a bit on the manic anemic side, and the New Beetle's engine bay can't stomach a six, and California-dreaming legislators dictated that you can't buy a diesel car in this neck of the tree-hugged woods, our press car holstered the new-for-'06 2.5-liter straight five. According to the website, this application "borrowed" the V10 Gallardo supercar's cylinder head– which is a bit like a six-year-old chess player wearing Victor Kasparov's sports jacket. Fire-up the five-pot and the Beetle's aural signature seems carefully crafted to comfort diesel wanna-be's. Clatterer though it is, the buzz ain't bad and there's nothing wrong with the way the New Beetle goes about its business. Zero to sixty takes… not that long. Passing is… entirely possible.

The New Beetle sits on the old Golf's platform. The front-wheel-drive set-up clearly favors nimble handling over ride comfort. Wrong answer. At the risk of sounding like a crashing bore, the New Beetle's suspension– independent McPherson struts (front) and independent torsion beam axle (back) with coil springs, stabilizer bars and telescopic shocks– makes the car something of a crashing bore. It's a remarkably stable corner carver, but sluggish throttle response means preparation is the better part of valor. Highway cruisers exchange rough pavement fatigue for side wind susceptibility. The manufacturer claims the New Beetle will do 126 mph, but I wouldn't like to blow through an 18-wheeler's wake at that speed.

So what makes the New Beetle so damned adorable? Its owners. While the New Beetle's driving dynamics and interior accoutrements are nothing special, the car's aggressive pricing, comprehensive unobjectionality and mid-20's mileage allow Beetle-lovers to project their adoration onto the machine without fear of contradiction. Last year, almost forty thousand consumers drove home in a new Beetle or Beetle cabriolet. That's not bad for a poorly-packaged German retromobile that critics dismissed as a passing fad. As empty nest Moms pass their Bug down to college-bound daughters, as used Beetles find new friends down market, the New Beetle is sure to generate warm fuzzies for years to come.


5th Gear - Golf GTI

By Robert Farago

I don't know about you, but I've been feeling sorry for Volkswagen for a while now. VW didn't so much lose their mojo as strap it to the nose of a Titan IVB and fire it into deep space. No disrespect to the world's fifth most populous country, but was anyone really surprised when a Brazilian Golf turned out like German bobo de camarao? Now that Vee Dub's got THAT out of their system, here comes the new, Wolfsburg-built Golf GTI. It's an Old School hot hatch with a Masters in Engineering. Viva VW!

For reasons best left to The International Museum of Marketing Doublespeak, Volkswagen decided to begin their mission-critical US Golf refresh with a two-door. More's the pity. The fifth-gen four-door is a far more handsome beast than the coupe– if only because the Golf's rear portals soften the enormous disparity between the front windscreen's bottom edge and the side windows' lower boundary. This bizarre asymmetry pisses on the Golf's 32-year history of two-box harmony. The resulting rear end trades brand recognition for something vaguely Japanese– as if the Golf suddenly decided to play the Accordian. And then there's the front end's unresolved echo of Audi's unconscionable house snout…

If you're offended by the new GTI's jarring, over-reaching modernity, open the door and clock the retro-plaid seating surfaces. You can almost hear David Hasselhoff burning-up the German pop charts. The rest of the GTI's interior keeps faith with VW's noble history of crafting car cabins so dark they make Citizen Kane look like a romantic comedy. Thankfully, brushed aluminum accentuation abounds, and the quality of the polymers almost makes up for their dour demeanor. The switchgear's flimsy imprecision and the stereo's ectomorphic timbre are the last remaining vestiges of the Golf's multi-decade mediocrity.

Wrap your mitts around the GTI's squashed crown steering wheel and you'll soon know that beauty is in the right foot of the beholder. Fire-up the uber-Golf's in-line four and the delightful zizz blatting from the modest twin pipes foreshadows the hoonery to come. The GTI's 2.0-liter powerplant is a high-tech handbag, complete with dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, inter-cooled turbo, drive-by-wire throttle and FSI direct injection. And here's the kicker: Wolfsburg's de-pimpers have bestowed its Dual Sequential Gearbox (DSG) upon America's mid-market motoring madmen, placing the reins to 200 horses in the GTI driver's fingertips. This, folks, is what the Brits call a serious piece of kit.

Serious as in seamless. With 207 ft-lbs. of torque from the basement (1800 rpm) to the penthouse (5000 rpm), and six gears available for your dining and dancing pleasure, the VW GTI DSG is an express elevator from any speed A to any speed B. We're talking Johnny Bravo quick; zero to sixty in 6.3 seconds and 14.8 seconds for the quarter. Whoa Mama! (OK, that's no better than a MINI Cooper S, but I don't remember anyone calling the other German brand's hot hatch slow.) The Vee Dub's power-on-demand paddles are an electro-mechanical all-areas VIP pass if ever there was one, facilitating the kind of instant-on maniacal acceleration normally reserved for $70k and up thoroughbreds.

The GTI's cornering is equally phenomenal. This time 'round, VW didn't skimp on the fundamentals; laser welding makes the GTI tight, a fully independent four-link rear suspension, coil springs, telescopic shocks and stabilizer bar make it right. While BMW's electro-mechanical steering system has about much feel as a phantom limb, the GTI's similarly-assisted rack-and-pinion helm delivers an endless stream of road info, excellent on-center feedback AND tightens the rack at speed to avoid paddle-disconnecting hand movements. When it's time for the madness to stop, the GTI's brakes are powerful, fade-free retards.

Bottom line: you can blast the new Volkswagen GTI DSG through a tight bend almost twice as quickly as you'd imagine possible– at least at first. Once you get used to the GTI's adhesive tenacity, once you accept the fact that the understeer slide justain'tgonnahappen.com, only the cleanliness of your license, children on board and the stupidity of fellow road users prevent you from endless adrenal indulgence. Although the GTI rides a bit like a proper sports car tied down with rubber bands, it's comfortable enough to enable a daily fast.

A combination of balls-out fun, affordability and everyday practicality made the original GTI a working class hero. In that sense, June's four-door GTI will be the better– and better-looking– bet. And while there's no question that the new GTI represents a welcome return to form for cash-strapped pistonheads, the jury is out on the reliability part of the practicality equation. If that's an issue, I strongly recommend that you do NOT test drive the new Golf GTI DSG until AFTER you've read Consumer Reports.


By Walter Pabst

Every day, VW sales consultants encounter “diesel ups.” (For those unfamiliar with car lot lingo, an “up” is a browsing customer, bound for service by a revolving pool of salesman.) For the last three years, California-based “diesel ups” have been a shortcut to nowhere. Since 2003, the Golden State’s rigid emissions laws have outlawed diesel-powered Vee Dubs. Meanwhile, hybrid owners, cheapskates and other mileage-crazed customers pester commission-hungry staff about TDI’s that get 50 mpg on spent French fry oil. So, after three years of consumer anticipation and wasted ups, CA has finally given the A-OK to a diesel VW: the Touareg TDI. It’s a great landing at the wrong airport.

The Touareg’s Teutonic style has attracted a well rounded demographic of admirers. Side on, it’s spot on; short overhangs complement subtle, well-integrated fender bulges. A beefy hood, bi-xenon headlamps and an assortment of visually balanced front vents create a butch prow that maintains the familial resemblance— and makes the Porsche Cayenne look decidedly goofy. The TDI's rear hints at the ill-fated Phaeton luxobarge, with horizontally arranged taillights, a VW badge big enough for an 80’s rapper and twin letterbox exhausts large enough for a couple of FedEx overnight letters. Subtle chrome accents complement the clean lines. In total, the Touareg’s exterior is so clean and classical that Wolfsburg rightly decided to forgo the usual mid-model cycle cosmetic surgery.

Once inside the watertight doors, the Touareg’s cabin is beginning to show its age. The cockpit is rich looking and well appointed; well-judged wood and chrome accents prevent drabness without looking cheesy or contrived. But the overall style clearly springs from VW’s last gen design, when it was hip to be square: square vents, square steering wheel, square buttons. To be fair, all the controls and knobs are extra large for a welcome dose of Volvo-esque utilitarianism. But the driver is quickly overwhelmed by the plethora of mysteriously labeled buttons.

The DVD-navigation system is almost as easy as folding a large map, and obviates the dead simple in-dash CD player. The on-board air compressor is a thoughtful inclusion, but using it to pump up the deflated spare is a cumbersome and time-consuming process. Features like the flat-folding rear seat, 115-Volt power outlet and heated steering wheel are less essential to Mom’s Taxi than [the missing] third row seating, DVD entertainment system and a power lift gate.

Then again, my Mom’s taxi never had 553 lbs-ft. of torque underfoot. Twist the switchblade key and the 5.0-liter twin turbo's muffled chattering evokes unpleasant memories of school bus rides gone by. Yes, well, the Touareg TDI’s three-point automatic safety belts and active head restraints are all that’s between you and whiplash when you punch the accelerator. The twin-turbo diesel V10 moves 5825 pounds of fully galvanized steel and aluminum body, 4-wheel drivetrain with locking differentials, Vienna leather hides and Vavana wood trim to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds— and would still do so if you tied it to a tree. The TDI would be even faster if the transmission let the engine wind out properly…

At highway speeds, the TDI’s air suspension deflates slightly, so the body can hunker down over the wheels. At that point, the TDI Touareg glides with all the ease and quiet of the V8 version. The Touareg’s low center of gravity, four wheel independent suspension, 4XMotion all-wheel-drive and rack and pinion steering make for solid, sophisticated handling at reasonable speeds. At unreasonable speeds, the nose heavy monster plows into understeer like an old S Class Merc. A tight steering radius, folding side-view mirrors and rear-view camera make the V10 as easy to park as any Volkswagen.

The Touareg’s off-road prowess is equally impressive– or so I’ve heard. I’d love to traverse sharp rocks with the air suspension holding the body at maximum height or test the fording depth in a two-foot stream. Suffice it to say, the majority of Touareg owners will never engage the low-range gear, let alone the locking differentials.

Which raises an interesting question: who’s the buyer for this dignified, sprightly, capable machine? Like VW’s Phaeton, this exotic farvergnugen-powered space shuttle will serve as a showroom oddity, dealership fixture and joy-ridden jungle gym for service customer’s children. Touareg sales continue to maneuver a rough patch thanks to handsome styling, not off-road or towing capability. Well-funded Suburbanites are opting for trendy crossovers with three rows of seats, automated finger slammers and DVD babysitters. And at $70k plus tax, the V10 TDI’s uninspiring gas mileage (17/22) is pretty inconsequential.

The TDI Touareg makes no attempt to attract the tree-hugging Super Beetle-turned-hybrid drivers or the diesel junkies hanging out behind fast food restaurants at closing time. A robust, capable, TDI powered 4X4 might be the perfect car for desert runners at half the price and twice the gas mileage. Until then, California's “diesel ups” will continue to be fruitless and frustrating for customer and salesman alike.


By Walter Pabst

Rabbits are renowned for their reproductive skills. Clever ads for Volkswagen’s long anticipated A-platform hatch show city-dwelling Rabbits multiplying by the dozens. Ironically, the tiny population of US-bound Volkswabbits is hardly bound to satisfy demand, never mind dominate the landscape. A prospective buyer is lucky to sample Wolfsburg’s new bunny prior to placing an order, and then faces a wait of around 60 days. VW dealers couldn’t care less; nurturing understandably impatient leads is hardly worth the pennies of revenue it generates. So, with lukewarm fanfare, scarce availability and laughable profit, the Rabbit is back.

The ‘07 Rabbit exhibits a subtly evolved physique, sharing much of its architecture with the original iteration. Compared with its prominently creased Italdesigned forbearer, the new model’s lines melt into a soft, one-box shape with a slick .32 drag coefficient. Face on, the Mk 5’s headlights mimic Speed Racer’s concerned brow, while a body-colored smiley-face grill eliminates the muzzled look bestowed on A-platform siblings.

In current Volks fashion, the belt dips way below the front fender and rises high above the rear wheel arch, accentuating the traditionally thick C-pillar (particularly on the two-door). Black bumper strips between the belt and the rocker help break up space, but with 15” wheels, the Rabbit’s profile looks more Cadbury bunny than black-tailed jack, and less rich than the previous Golf.

From the rear, the new Rabbit appears unpimped from the Mk 4, repeating the cartoon theme with Power Puff Girls’ eyes taillights. Details like twin exhaust tips and a hatch lift hidden in the Vee-Dub logo help redeem otherwise gawky styling. Taken as a whole, the Rabbit’s styling is comfortably familiar, and familiarly comfortable.

Clearly, the Vee Dub’s interior accommodations account for much of the model’s massive worldwide appeal. Though the base model’s anthracite interior is as dry as a Steven Wright punch line, all the diminutive German’s papers are in order. From its modern motel styling, to the carefully considered placement of indestructible semi-hard plastics (which are not half as exciting as it sounds), to a rear compartment that accommodates full-sized sedan passengers in the style to which they’ve become accustomed, the Rabbit’s two box design is still the very model of a major model general.

This Wolfsburgian Rabbit feels a lot more solid than its hecho en Mexico predecessors. All the subconscious cues that you’re driving German quality have returned: doors thunk, switchgear snicks and switches respond without delay. The fact that the new Rabbit is bigger may also have a little something to do with it. In fact, the long delayed next gen Golf is a “Super Rabbit” of sorts: ten inches longer than the Mk 4 and 70% heavier than its Paleolithic namesake. The extra girth takes its inevitable toll on straight line performance.

Rumor has it the 2.5-liter five cylinder engine hauling the heft is derived from Lambo’s Gallardo V-10. Be that as it may, in practice, the 150-horse long-stroke mill feels like Volvo’s unboosted five: adequate at the low end and short of breath up top, with an off-key exhaust groan that mimics Darth Vader’s Imperial fighter. Give the mill its marching orders and zero to sixty eventually rocks up after nine seconds. The fun factor is well short of Wolfsburg’s old, equally horsed 1.8 turbo four. But the jingle saved on regular gas buys a six pack of Natty, half a ham sub and a bag of pretzels per tank, come game night.

The Rabbit’s handling is, as always, its strong suit. The car’s electromagnetic steering system feeds back like Slash’s guitar, tracking straight over choppy pavement and adjusting the assistance according to speed. A new four-link independent rear suspension harness the Rabbit’s reflexes, helping you maintain hard-earned momentum while improving the overall ride quality. And when it’s time to shed what you worked so hard to achieve, the Rabbit’s four-wheel disc brakes are up to the challenge, assisted by a trick electronic brake pressure distribution system.

With increased demand for versatile, fuel efficient vehicles, VW Rabbits should be hopping off car lots and crowding streets like the swift, promiscuous creatures they’re named after. There’s a lot to like about Volkswagen’s bread and butter hatchback– if only American consumers could get one to like. This year, VW’s bringing in around 19k cars for a 50k market (at the least). The ratio of supply to demand will certainly please owners lucky enough to secure their pet Rabbit, what with used examples commanding a relatively stiff price, but disappointed VW customers will be, well, disappointed.

Sadly, the German-built Rabbit has so little profit at American prices, it’s a wonder Vee-Dub even bothered bringing it here. Dealers and customers alike await the profitable, cheap-to-multiply replacement promised by VW brass within two years. Perhaps then the US Rabbit population will rise above that of an endangered species.


2009 Volkswagen Passat CC

By Walter Pabst

Slide into the snug, over-bolstered leather seat. Push the chunky key fob into a slot labeled “start/stop.” Tune an ear to combustion as smooth as a baby’s backside. Grab hold of the three-spoke leather-wrapped helm. Engage first gear. Mash the throttle and drop the clutch. Brace for wheel hop, snick through the gears to triple digit speeds, then slam on the brakes. Escape through the heavy driver’s door and slam it shut. Glance back at the Volkswagen Passat 2.0T.

Not bad. And then a realization dawns: the Passat is one seriously dorky looking car. Although it isn’t the sine qua non of dork (a.k.a. the Saturn Ion), the VW’s sporting wedge shape and windswept lines are completely undermined by its odd proportions and clunky overhangs. A prominent swage line fails to conceal a bulky butt, while the V-shaped chrome plastic grill’s braces-with-headgear aesthetic needs immediate unpimping.

Fortunately, for 2007, Wolfsburg offers the 2.0T (two liter turbo) with a six-speed manual and sport package. Buyers ticking these boxes ditch the Passat’s bo-bo wheel covers for 18” Samarkand alloys that could make a Tracer Trio look cool. The sedan’s 15mm lowered ride height and low-profile Pirelli’s deliver a vast improvement to the car’s basic stance and overall demeanor.

Although it’s not so much modern as style free, the Passat’s relatively plain looking interior goes a long way to restoring the brand’s reputation for high quality, high touch, OCD-informed interiors. Notice the umbrella holder inside the door panel that allows water to drain out above the rocker instead of inside the car. A button on the left corner of the dash operates the parking brake, making room for cup holders– yes, finally– in the center console. Four front visors block the sun in all directions.

A large semi-circle encompasses the Passat’s dash, flowing neatly into the doors. The dash’s charcoal-colored top tier contrasts with a control panel trimmed in brushed aluminum. While the Passat’s patented blue and red electroluminescent dials hark back to the days when Rabbits played Golf, at least the gauges are elegantly presented, set deep within individual cylinders. Best of all, the Passat’s sport seats would feel at home in an Italian grand tourer, with a ribbed stitch pattern reminiscent of a 365 GTB/4.

The Passat’s transversely mounted four cylinder engine delivers thrust with a muffled baritone exhaust note. Some pistonheads will mourn the loss of the old model’s high-pitched turbo whistle, but few will mind the lag-free power delivery. The Passat’s oomph builds steadily from 1800 before losing its breath at around five grand. Two hundred horsepower a bit more twist propel some 3500 pounds of laser-welded steel from rest to 60 in a sedan-respectable seven seconds.

There’s no need to slap an auto-stick to do the deed; the Passat’s manual clutch action is light. The Passat’s shifter sits tall in hand, but slides through the gate without the rubbery sloppiness endemic to VW boxes. The clutch’s clean uptake and engagement allows for quick, aggressive shifting. If not, the Passat 2.0T ekes out well over 30 brand-faithful miles per gallon.

To add a little panache to the new Passat, Vee Dub’s boffins dialed in 60 percent more chassis rigidity than ye olde B5 Passat. With a four-link independent rear suspension, the Passat feels comfortably composed over the roughest roads. At speed, the Passat is a serene cruiser. So yes, you really do get that German big car feel that the hecho en Mexico Vee Dubs lacked.

And just in case you thought this was a love letter instead of a Dear John, the handling sucks lacks dynamic satisfaction. Despite the sport pack’s stiffer springs, the car rolls in the corners like Cheech and Chong at a Hollywood wrap party. In hard cornering, the Passat’s comfort bias will have considerate drivers calling out “hard aport” and “hard astarboard.” Push the Passat into true sports sedan territory and the front [driven] wheels give up the ghost faster than Scooby Doo’s human cohorts.

Driving the Passat 2.0T is like dating an unattractive woman with a great personality who’s not great in bed but is always ready to give it the old college try. You have a good time together, you know, generally, but would you take her home to the folks? What if there are better looking alternatives available? Like the old Beetle, the Passat is a kind of automotive litmus test. Just how sensible are you? Pssst. How about a four year warranty?

And then the argument falls apart (literally). While the ’07 Passat is a new model, the “old” car earned an unenviable reputation for lousy reliability. Coolant leaks, rough idle, window stress cracks, six major recalls in seven years— and that list doesn’t include anecdotal evidence from plenty of pissed off Passaters. If VW has ironed-out the kinks both at the factory and at the dealer level, the Passat makes perfect sense. If not, not.


By Megan Benoit

There are only two reasons why anyone would buy a New Beetle convertible: a craving for cute or a need for nostalgia. Once you rule out these emotional drivers (so to speak), you're far better off in any number of more economical and practical machines. But that's OK, isn't it? Acquiring a Ferrari isn't exactly a rational decision. So analyzing the New Beetle's desirability comes down to this: does it suck enough to put off the retro- fashionistas?

The New Beetle's (NB) exterior remains unchanged since the model's '06 refresh. Pedants will immediately note that our Triple White special edition tester has a black convertible top. The top's cover– a fundamentally useless bag that encloses the lid when it's in the open pram position– justifies the moniker.

Drop-top notwithstanding, the NB remains as perkily rounded as ever. As the design approaches its tenth anniversary, I'm sure its admirers are ready to pronounce it iconic. Me? Not so much. At best, the NB is inoffensively attractive in a boy-band-loving heart-doodling sweet-sixteen sort of way.

Unlike the re-Germanized VW Rabbit/Golf, the NB remains resolutely ‘hecho en Mexico.' Its interior offers occupants the usual low rent mariachi medley of nice looking, cheap feeling plastic. In fact, the NB's materials and fit and finish are to the GTI/Rabbit's what a wool scarf is to a cashmere Pashmina. How much does this car cost again?

The NB's price may not be out of reach for its target market, but its switchgear is. Thanks to a disproportionately large dash, no matter what control my fingers sought, I had to stretch that extra uncomfortable inch to attain it. And when my digits arrived at their destination, the NB's nasty switch snickery and imprecise button pokery played like a toy piano.

Though lacking in lumbar adjustment, the NB's seats are comfy and supportive. Unfortunately, with the lid flipped, the warm leatherette seems to melt on your burning flesh. (Back sweat. Gack!) With the top up, and the flattened roofline renders the backseat inaccessible to all but masochistic Romanian gymnasts. On the positive side, the NB's backseat doubles as cargo space, and the trunk is larger than you'll find in most convertibles.

Fire-up the NB's engine and savor the roar of the diesel… wait… gas-fired 2.5-liter five. Lidless at low to moderate speeds, the powerplant's sonic strain eclipses any chance of blissing with the birds and bees. With an erected hood, the NB packs silence all around.

All that noise provides very little in the way of motivation. Pitted against 3200 lbs., the mill's 150hp and 170 ft.-lbs. of torque isn't… enough… to… get a move on. Whacking the NB's six-speed manumatic tranny helps the hunt for power, but even at full chat, the New Beetle Convertible remains irredeemably fat and obstinately lazy.

Guide the NB onto a twisty piece of tarmac and the drop top's lofty price tag begins to make some kind of sense. The Beetle's superb suspension, touchy yet powerful brakes and safe, predictable handling bring on the happy whilst carving corners. Punch the NB's throttle and the fun stops– if indeed it ever got started. Unless you're driving downhill, all the McPherson struts and stabilizer bars in the world can't make this A-platformed bug boogie.

Like many German cabrios, the NB's thick A-pillars serve as a roll-bar– which is just as well given their effect on visibility. Should the emergency braking assist, ABS, traction control and safety-oriented handling fail, a pop-up roll bar and a slew of airbags will save your Speck.

Minus a few hundred pounds, plus a few ponies, the NB would provide serious hoonage. Or, if we're being demographically correct, a little extra oomph would summon more of that traditional VW virtue called "fun." A brief look at the engine compartment reveals a stunning amount of unused space. Why VW hasn't thrown a bigger engine in the NB's nose is beyond me.

Did I say bigger? How about "more powerful and efficient." If you consider the fact that the similarly priced current gen GTI's four-cylinder 2.0-liter turbo stables more horse AND gets better mileage than the NB's miserable lump, you gotta wonder if the NBTW should have been called the NBMFW (New Beetle Miami Fashion Victim).

At $26,630, the Triple White New Beetle Convertible is no bargain. For less money, a style-conscious sun seeker could purchase a better driver's car (Mazda MX-5), a genuine show stopper (Pontiac Solstice) or split the difference (MINI convertible). This is, of course, exactly what tens of thousands of sensible American car buyers have done, and will continue to do– especially when they consider VW's atrocious reliability record.

In fact, the only buyer who'd be happy in a NBTW is someone who really, really wants one. While it's hard to understand the urge, you gotta admire their dedication.


By Robert Farago

When the Volkswagen R32 first arrived stateside, enthusiasts gave the hot hatch a hero’s welcome. The all wheel-drive, VR6-powered Alpha rabbit made its pre-GTI siblings look like a bunch of ectomorphic accountants at a supermodel slumber party. The R32 was rare, fast, agile, sharp-looking and tighter than the Osmond family at Thanksgiving dinner. The latest version is all that, again, with the notable addition of the world’s best gearbox. And yet the R32’s suddenly become a deeply unloved (if not unlovable) automobile. So who shot JR?

If I had a life, I wouldn’t be writing this review; I would have walked straight past the R32. Other than 10-spoke alloy wheels and a chromed Billy the Big Mouth Bass snout mit R32 logo, there’s nothing to distinguish the top Golf from a flanking GTI. Oh sure, VW cultists will tell you the R32’s tail pipes sit center instead of flush left, it’s got blue brake calipers instead of red, etc. Anyone else would have an easier time choosing a date from a pair of identical twins than distinguishing between the two uber-Golfs.

So, aside from dangerously anal brand fans, status conscious drivers need not apply. Inside, same deal. The R32 is a GTI with all options ticked plus the letter “R” embossed on the leather headrests and Engine Spin trim. While it’s backwards-facing baseball caps off to VW for eschewing faux carbon fiber, Spin trim does my head in. I have enough trouble with grained wood that feels like plastic; the same tactile transmogrification on milled aluminum causes serious synaptic distress.

Otherwise and in any case, the R32/GTI’s cabin is immaculate. The front chairs’ total body embrace and the perfectly formed steering wheel are to ergonomic satisfaction what a baked potato is to a Texas T-Bone. The R32's switchgear performs with the requisite Old School snickery, and the gauges are models of electroluminescent lucidity. There’s plenty of room for four adults and a bit of kit. My only gripe: the steeply raked windscreen (with an odd lip at its base) combines with stout A-pillars to eliminate the old model’s widescreen visibility.

It’s no small point, given the potency of the overall package. Twist the key, blip the throttle and the R32’s twin pipes issue a raspy rattle that’s soon drowned-out by a basso profundo bellow. Slot the autobox into D, mash the gas and the 250-horse VR6 walks the talk. Did I say walk? An adrenal driver can no more amble about in the R32 than a toddler's parent can resist singing along with the Wiggles. The German hot hatch is a genuine license loser.

It’s not the R32’s prodigious grunt, which swells with orchestral intensity as the needle swings past 3000rpm; acceleration whose seamless nature propels its master forward with all the urgency of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries (I love the sound of a narrow-angle V6 in the morning). Nor is it the DSG paddleshift transmission: a pair of ridged batons that give the conductor total control over the six’ sick symphonies; a gearbox to end all gearboxes (especially manuals). No, it’s the R32’s ride quality that imperils your driving privileges.

The previous R32 was as hard-riding as a wooden roller coaster. I’m not saying G-force jockeys needed a mouth guard to cane the car, but Boniva buyers were not well served. VW did such a good job tuning the next gen’s front McPherson and rear multi-link suspension for comfort there's no longer any penalty (save criminal) for exploring the R32’s full forward-going capabilities. In other words, you find yourself going stupid speeds without any apparent effort.

Until, that is, you throw her into a series of tight bends. The R32’s newfound civility has given the naturally-aspirated Golf a tendency to nosedive under hard braking and a bad case of body roll. (It's an Audi family trait: lean and hold.) At seven tenths and above, the R32 requires a lot more care and attention than its completely neutral/flat predecessor. While the new car's limits are entirely predictable, the last gen’s ability to drift and pirouette has been replaced by all the understeer God can provide. VW’s replaced Safe! with safe.

But the R32's steering is the car's ultimate offense against the spirit of unbridled hoonery that's supposed to inform the top Golf's gestalt. The R32's rack is so lugubrious it renders the helm’s squashed crown design a cruel joke. All of which make the fractionally slower, significantly less expensive Golf GTI the more entertaining steer– in anything other than driving rain or snow. Seen in that light, it’s easy to understand why many (if not most) of the 5000 R32s imported into the US since August are languishing on dealer lots.

Despite talk of a 300-horse R36, the new R32 is what we got– two years after its Eurozone debut. No question: the new R32 arrived D.O.A. Its killer? The Golf GTI Mk V– which is a better driver's car, for a lot less money.


By Jay Shoemaker

There is no way to overstate the appeal of the new Volkswagen Eos’ folding hardtop. I sat inside the car for ten minutes, opening and closing the lid, marveling at the mechanism’s precision and design. What kind of mind can develop something that folds and unfolds with such infinite grace? If you like to visit high speed factories spitting out hundreds of widgets per minute, filling them with liquids and shrink wrapping them in three swift motions, then you will never tire of lowering and raising the Eos’ five-piece hardtop. As for the rest of Vee Dub’s CSC (coupe-sunroof-convertible), it’s danger, boredom ahead.

All the time, effort and money VW’s engineers spent creating and manufacturing the Eos’ hardtop must have been scrimped from the company’s design department. Although there’s plenty of concave and convex “flame surfacing” in the usual places (wheel arches, door bottoms), there’s nothing even mildly warm about the Eos’ overall look. While the detailing takes German minimalism to the next level (dull and insipid), the proportions are the real passion killer. The overhangs are grossly mismatched, the ascending beltline says “tip-toeing bathtub” and the rearwards sloping rear deck is just plain wrong. At best (i.e. after you buy one), the Eos is “cute.” For those of us who remain on the sidelines, "homely and unlovable" is closer to the truth.

As befits a car that was shown as a concept just 18 months ago, the Eos’ interior is a parts bin special. Although the fascia is all new, all the bits slotted in are standard Golf fare— and none the worse for it. It’s a clean look with faultless ergonomics, from cosseting chairs to simple controls. Our tester’s Sport package (about $3500) adds some much needed spizzarkle– aluminum trim and wikkid dials– to the cabin’s otherwise dour demeanor. There aren’t a lot of high tech toys, but the [optional] satellite radio gets channeled through an [optional] mini Marshall stack and the [optional] corner steering xenon lighting makes drivers feel positively Lexian.

Pistonheads note: the folding hardtop VW Eos is no one trick pony. Provided you stump-up for VW’s dual shift gearbox (DSG), it’s a one-and-a-half trick pony. The superb paddle shift system, which has transformed ugly ducklings like the VW GTI and Audi A3 into F1 soaring Eagles, turns the Eos into a runt swan. Credit the extra weight of the hardtop top, its motor and the chassis strengthening needed to maintain torsional rigidity. It does nothing for the car’s dynamics, except spoil them.

VW’s press site pegs the Eos’ curb weight at 3503 lbs. That would make the Eos (which sits on a modified Passat platform) just 195 pounds heavier than a GTI. It feels three times that. Even under full throttle, the DSG labors to make anything happen. The razor-sharp small VW driving experience is decidedly dumbed down. Our tester had the base engine: a 2.0-liter, 200hp, turbocharged four. This mill, so willing and frisky in all the other VW/Audi executions, feels overwhelmed and peaky in this application. If you want to buy this top– I mean car, wait for September, when the factory starts building the Eos with a 250hp V6.

Of course, the Eos’ ponderousness steals more than the accelerative joy normally derived from this engine and transmission combination. The “I can’t believe this is a front driver” handling experience from the GTI is lost as well. Understeer is the party guest from Hell, arriving early and staying late. The props top also seems to unbalance the equation vertically; the Eos navigates curves like an ungainly and top heavy SUV. In addition to the nautical motions, you also get a maritime soundtrack: the top creaks and groans over rough patches like an old wooden schooner.

If the Jetta is all grown up, the Eos is an octogenarian. Its lethargic performance and high quality materials highlight the blue rinse effect. The pricing punctuates these observations. The 2.0-liter Eos starts under $30k, and quickly ascends in the high 30’s. The 3.2 will easily break $40k. Hardtop or no, the GTI is looking more and more like the pick of the litter.

Anyway, the Eos is clearly another “lifestyle” Volkswagen aimed at the empty nest/trustafarian market. While the Eos’ retractable hardtop is nothing new from the likes of the Mercedes (SL/SLK), we’re grateful that the new Vee Dub brings Germany's open and shut case to the masses. If Wolfsburg had attached their wundertop to a more attractive package, they would have had an instant classic. Instead, they’ve built a highly polished though dynamically dull machine whose appeal— and sales— will rely almost entirely on the novelty of its hood. Will that party trick be enough to move the metal? Absolutely.


By Tony Sterbenc

My name is Tony and I’m an ex-VW owner. Like most exes, it’s taken me a couple of decades to overcome my bitterness to the point where I can render objective judgment on the German automaker’s products. As a test drive reveals nothing about long-term reliability, I will mention it no more and judge the facts at hand. One of which is Volkswagen automobiles are still beset with mechanical and electrical gremlins. Damn! So, the Jetta. Nice looking car, eh?

Of all Vee Dub’s U.S. products, today’s longer, wider Jetta has the best proportions. You can savor the style at the bottom of the Jetta’s A-pillar, where the intersection of the sedan’s roof, windscreen and hood flow with the go. The Jetta’s jewelry works equally well; the mid-sizer’s maw isn’t a cartoon and the circular taillights are a far more elegant solution than the Rabbit’s wraparound lamps. In fact, the Jetta’s sheetmetal displays plenty of good old fashioned German gravitas.

Inside, things move from serious to grim. While liberal use of the latest laser welding technology has created a car that meets or beats its German siblings for torsional rigidity and low amplitude door thunkery, the latest Jetta could well be the official automobile of The 300. That said, even latter day Spartans might have appreciated a little more color, or a few more cupholders, or some polymers that weren’t as unyielding as a Persian army commander’s worst nightmare.

To ameliorate the interior’s dark, monochromatic monotony, VW’s designers placed pseudo-aluminum stripes across the Jetta’s dash and doors. It’s about as effective as smiley face lapel pin on an undertaker’s suit. Aft of the driver’s door, the pillar is hollowed out to offer a bit of lebensraum for tall drivers. Unfortunately, the rock-hard plastic causes multiple insults to tender elbows. The Jetta’s center armrest moves fore/aft and angles up/down, but it’s got less padding than Cliff Notes.

At this price, leather upholstery is fashioned from the cow’s cheaper sub-surface layers, then burnished, painted and scented with ein spritz of eau de bovine. I mention this because my test Jetta’s stiff plastic seats smelled more like leather than a Bentley Continental. Better yet, the Jetta’s chairs continue the nameplate’s tradition of offering plenty of room in the caboose.

The Jetta’s rear compartment accommodates two adults almost as easily as an ’07 Accord. Unfortunately, the center armrest is so over-engineered (storage compartment, cupholders, key-locking pass-through) that it’s uncomfortable for both arms and backs. The Jetta’s trunk is enormous, with non-smashing hydraulic hinges and a level of finish that will allow mob abductees to feel entirely pampered if, well, you know.

Taken as a whole, the Jetta’s cabin feels like what it is: a Passat that’s undergone a radical plushectomy. While my ’08 tester’s fit and finish were frickin’ flawless, they pale into insignificance compared to the unforgiving slabs of petroleum-based concrete that line the creature capsule.

Our tester “boasted” VW’s infamous 2.5-liter five cylinder powerplant; an engine that sounds like a four and drinks like a six. Once you get past the mill’s overly aggressive tip-in, the Jetta accelerates with upmarket ease. The six-speed automatic’s well-judged ratios ensure seamless though glacial progress. No surprise there. With 150 horses trying to motivate 3230 lbs. of Puebla’s finest, directionally-challenged drivers go nowhere slow. More specifically, an autobox-enabled sprint from zero to sixty takes all of 9.1 seconds.

Once underway, the Jetta’s electric power steering serves-up a strange combination of anesthetic road feel and Soloflex-level resistance. The wheel’s rim is pleasingly fat but the diameter feels small; more so because of the relatively quick steering ratio. The Jetta’s ride is downright soft, almost pillowy, complemented by good isolation and minimal wind noise. Rock the wheel a bit on the highway and the car porpoises unpleasantly a full half-beat behind your inputs, more Flint than Wolfsburg.

Guide the Jetta around a tight corner and the fully-independent suspension (front McPhersons and a rear multi-link) keep the car’s body motions in check. In fact, at low speeds, it’s easier to upset a Buddhist monk than a Volkswagen Jetta. Blast into some high speed sweepers and the car still maintains its longitudinal cool. But string some curves together in a sporting fashion and the aforementioned vertical softness undermines any advantage delivered by the Jetta’s body control.

I guess the “drivers wanted” are of the bunny slipper wearing and hot cocoa drinking variety. While that’s no bad thing in and of itself, it’s clear that the Jetta is an anachronism. Its hair shirt minimalist cabin evokes a time when VW’s build quality compensated for their monkish interiors. These days the marque’s quality is a barely-remembered myth, and there are plenty of $20k-ish sedans offering both comfort AND reliability.

Sigh. Is there no getting past the “r” word? No, I guess there isn’t.