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  • 2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI Sport

    Four-door hatchback delivers the goods

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Volkswagen Golf GTI

    If you’re looking for a car that’s cool, yet affordable, with peppy performance plus good fuel economy, take-a-look at the newest Volkswagen Golf. The current version that debuted for 2015 is the first constructed on the automaker’s new modular global architecture, giving the chassis more torsional rigidity for better steering feedback.

    The sporty GTI comes with a two-liter turbocharged block that delivers 210-horsepower while averaging 32 miles-per-gallon on the highway. The Sport grade comes standard with a performance package including brakes from the Golf R, a limited-slip differential, 10-horsepower boost (when using 91-octane fuel) and 18-inch wheels. Base price is $26,695 excluding the $820 delivery charge.

    Options on the test car add red exterior paint, plaid cloth interior, six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission and summer performance tires, all at no cost. Final MSRP is $27,515. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack SEL with 4Motion

    Active lifestyle wagon with German performance

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

    2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

    Volkswagen’s new Golf Alltrack sport wagon is the masculine yang to the Subaru Outback’s more feminine yin. Athletic performance comes from a turbocharged 1.8-liter engine and available six-speed manual gearbox on all grades. Like its Subaru competitor, the Alltrack boasts a versatile easy-to-clean interior with a spacious cargo bay for larger gear, and enough ground clearance to clear the tea kettles on unimproved roads.

    VW product planners hope the Alltrack’s available panoramic sunroof and slightly lower roof height than the Outback will lure existing Subaru owners into its showrooms. Roof rails are standard on every Alltrack grade to facilitate overhead cargo carriers and roof racks.

    2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

    2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

    The Alltrack is based on Volkswagen’s popular Golf Sportwagen. Although its sibling is available with Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system, the Alltrack’s higher ground clearance makes it more capable on uneven trails. A drive-select mode system automatically engages downhill descent control when the driver chooses the off-road setting.

    The standard 1.8-liter turbocharged engine develops 170-horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque from engine speeds as low as 1600 rpm for excellent low-end acceleration. The DSG automatic model that launches in October starts at $26,950 excluding an $820 destination charge while the six-speed manual version available in January, 2017 is priced from $25,850. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible R-Line SEL

    Open-air fun for four

    By Nina Russin

    Volkswagen Beetle R-Line Convertible

    Volkswagen Beetle R-Line Convertible

    Volkswagen is known as the most affordable of German performance brands. The R-Line version of its Beetle convertible brings this driver-focused approach to one of America’s favorite drop-tops.

    The third-generation Beetle maintains the classic lines of the original car but with a more aerodynamic focus. The convertible’s folding soft top is actually lower when in place than the roofline of the hardtop car. A single button near the rearview mirror retracts the top and rolls down the windows in less than ten seconds and can operate at up to 30 miles-per-hour.

    Volkswagen Beetle R-Line Convertible

    Volkswagen Beetle R-Line Convertible

    The R-Line SEL model tested gets the larger of two available engines: a two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder block rated at 210 horsepower, mated to a six-speed direct shift automatic transmission.

    Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, Fender premium audio system, climate control, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, leather seating, satellite radio and Bluetooth interface. Volkswagen has expanded its Car-Net infotainment system options, enabling owners to access Android Auto or Apple CarPlay as well as a variety of smartphone apps though the car’s head unit.

    Base sticker for the upscale SEL is $36,050: final MSRP including destination is $36,870. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan S

    Sporty compact crossover
    By Nina Russin

    2016 Volkswagen Tiguan

    2016 Volkswagen Tiguan

    With new compact crossovers flooding the market, it’s easy for models to get lost in the crowd. A few, however, stand out: among them the Volkswagen Tiguan. Volkswagen’s talent for engineering fun-to-drive cars is the reason. With its peppy two-liter turbocharged engine, the Tiguan appeals to both the practical and emotional sides of vehicle ownership.

    The test car is the front-wheel drive Tiguan S, priced from $24,890. Standard convenience features include 18-inch alloy rims, automatic headlamps with daytime running lamps, heated front seats, leatherette upholstery, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth interface, folding and reclining rear seats, keyless entry with push-buttons start, rearview camera and eight-speaker audio system.

    Final MSRP including the $855 destination charge is $25,755.

    Test drive in Phoenix

    2016 Volkswagen Tiguan

    2016 Volkswagen Tiguan

    Over the past week I drove the Tiguan throughout Phoenix, Arizona’s east valley as well as on a rural road through the foothills of the Superstition Mountains. I had the opportunity to test the Tiguan in rush-hour traffic, load up the cargo area and see how well the car handled moderate changes in altitude.

    The Tiguan’s turbocharged engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s a nice pairing, with the transmission delivering seamless, linear shifts throughout the power band. The turbocharger gives the engine great power on the low end, with peak torque available from 1700 rpm. I heard what sounded like lifter tick which is odd since the engine has hydraulic lifters, but didn’t find the noise bothersome. Volkswagen recommends but does not require premium unleaded gasoline for optimum performance.

    The electric power steering system is very well tuned, with on-center performance close to a hydraulic unit. There is none of the numb feeling competitive units seem to suffer from. A 39-foot turning circle makes it possible to perform U-turns on wider surface roads.

    2016 Volkswagen Tiguan

    2016 Volkswagen Tiguan

    Construction on some stretches of rural road prevented me from pushing the Tiguan as hard as I would have liked. Having said that, I noticed no tendency for the front-wheel drive platform to push in the corners. Drivers living in four-season climates can opt for all-wheel drive to improve traction on wet roads.

    A four-wheel independent suspension consists of struts and coils mounted to an aluminum subframe up front and a four-link system in the rear. The suspension does a good job of absorbing jousts from pitchy hills and off-camber turns without feeling overly harsh. Large vented disc brakes up front and solid rotors in back provide firm, linear stopping power.

    Versatile interior

    Volkswagen Tiguan Interior

    Volkswagen Tiguan Interior

    The Tiguan’s versatile interior with fold-flat and reclining rear seats makes it a good choice for buyers with active lifestyles. Keyless entry and start is an unusual feature in vehicles in this price range. I found manual driver’s seat adjustments easy to use, with good lower lumbar support.

    The center stack screen is on the small side but I was able to clearly see the rearview camera image. Infotainment controls are easy to reach from both front seating positions and intuitive to operate. It’s a bit of a disappointment that the Tiguan does not come with satellite radio even though owners can use their smart phones to extend listening options.

    Leatherette upholstery is attractive, though I would prefer cloth living in an area where hot summers can make it uncomfortable. The heated front seats were another nice surprise for our cooler mornings at this time of year.

    The Tiguan’s low lift-over height makes it easy for smaller drivers to load up the back with bicycles, camping equipment and other large cargo.

    Standard safety

    The Volkswagen Tiguan comes with six airbags, antilock brakes, stability control, tire pressure monitoring and daytime running lamps. Intelligent crash response automatically shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors and turns on the hazard lamps after a serious collision.

    Volkswagen builds the Tiguan at its Wolfsburg, Germany assembly plant.

    Like: An affordable, fun-to-drive compact crossover with available all-wheel drive for good four season performance.

    Dislike: Satellite radio is not standard equipment. Cloth upholstery is not available on the base model.

    Quick facts:

    Make: Volkswagen
    Model: Tiguan S
    Year: 2016
    Base price: $24,890
    As tested: $25,755
    Horsepower: 200 Hp @ 5100 rpm
    Torque: 207 lbs.-ft. @ 1700 rpm
    Zero-to-sixty: N/A
    Antilock brakes: Standard
    Side curtain airbags: Standard
    First aid kit: N/A
    Bicycle friendly: Yes
    Towing: No
    Off-road: No
    Fuel economy: 21/26 mpg city/highway

  • 2015 Volkswagen Jetta GLI 2.0T SE

    Peppy compact sedan for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    Volkswagen Jetta GLI

    Volkswagen Jetta GLI

    Compact sedans are go-to cars for first time buyers because of their affordability. A well-designed model can take its owner through college and starting a new family. While there are plenty of options on the market that are safe, fuel efficient and competitively priced, fewer that fill those squares are also fun to drive.

    Volkswagen’s talent is in offering European performance without the price tag of a German luxury brand. The compact Jetta, priced from $16,215 is a prime example. Nicely styled and well engineered, the Jetta is a package that will serve its owner well through whatever changes life might throw at him. Plus it’s a hoot to drive.

    The Jetta is the only compact sedan available with two green options: a gasoline-electric hybrid and turbo-diesel. Buyers can choose between three four-cylinder gasoline engines (one being the hybrid) as well as the TDI, mated to a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

    The test car is the upscale GLI SE, priced from $28,020 excluding the $820 destination charge. Buyers who don’t like to haggle at the dealership with appreciate the monospec pricing strategy. The car comes fully loaded, including a power sliding sunroof, keyless entry and start, Fender audio system with satellite radio, rearview camera, heated front seats and split folding second-row seat, rain sensing wipers, daytime running lamps and LED tail lamps. Final MSRP is $28,840. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen TSI

    New activity vehicle joins the Golf family

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

    2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen

    For athletes, a car is more than transportation: it is also, in a sense, a giant gym bag- its cargo capability every bit as important as performance. The fact that the former Jetta SportWagen could deliver on both fronts made it a perennial favorite at our Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year competition. The new Golf model, based on the same MQB architecture as its hatchback siblings, promises to do the same.

    The SportWagen comes with a choice of two engines: a 1.8-liter 170-horsepower gasoline block and 150-horsepower turbo-diesel. Buyers can choose between a five-speed manual gearbox and six-speed automatic for the TSI model. The turbo-diesel comes with either a six-speed manual gearbox or the six-speed automatic transmission.

    Pricing for the base S grade gasoline car begins at $21,395, excluding the $820 destination charge. Standard equipment includes fifteen-inch alloy wheels, daytime running lamps, heated side mirrors, a cooled locking glovebox, leatherette upholstery, air conditioning, satellite radio, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and cruise control.

    The upscale SEL priced from $29,345 adds automatic dual-zone climate control, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, formula-style shift paddles for automatic transmission cars, rearview camera, navigation, Fender premium audio, Bluetooth interface, keyless entry with pushbutton start and cruise control.

    A split-folding second-row seat across the model lineup lengthens the cargo floor. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Volkswagen Golf R

    German performance to the power of R

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Volkswagen Golf R

    2015 Volkswagen Golf R

    Wet roads, chatter bumps and chicanes are all in a day’s work for the 2015 Golf R: the race-prepared version of Volkswagen’s popular hatchback utilizing all-wheel drive technology derived from the OEM’s World Rally Championship experience.

    Volkswagen has been a WRC regular since the early 1980s, with six podium finishes between 1983 and 1988 in the Golf GTI. In 2013, the OEM put on a new game face with the Golf R Polo, jumping on the podium for six of its initial eight competitions. The first street-legal R to come to the United States was the 2004 R32. Volkswagen sold all 5,000 units allotted to the market with ease.

    The 2015 Golf R shares the same MQB platform as the current Golf and GTI. Powered by a turbocharged 2-liter engine rated at 292-horsepower and 280 foot-pounds of torque the newest Golf R accelerates from zero-to-sixty in under five seconds.

    Buyers can choose between the DSG automatic transmission available at rollout and a six-speed manual transmission that follows shortly thereafter. Pricing begins at $36,595 for the base DSG model, excluding the $820 destination charge. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Volkswagen Beetle TDI

    Fun for the long run

    By Nina Russin

    Volkswagen Beetle TDI

    Volkswagen Beetle TDI

    As feel as if I have fallen down on the job. The purpose of doing an extended test drive is to put in some serious mileage: begin with a full tank of fuel and finish with the tank almost empty. However after a week and several hundred miles in the Volkswagen Beetle TDI, the fuel gauge shows the tank over half full.

    Anyone who has been in a car with me knows that I’m a right brain kind of driver. I have a bit of a lead foot. Emptying out a fuel tank is never a problem for me. So what happened’

    The culprit was the TDI’s 600-plus mile range, thanks its 41 mpg highway fuel economy. Add the engine’s 236 foot-pounds of torque available at 1750 rpm, and the Beetle becomes fun for the long run.

    Readers who want a greener alternative to traditional gasoline-powered cars and don’t want to pay the premium for hybrid technology should take a second look at diesel. The new generation of common rail diesel engines has reduced CO2 emissions as compared to gasoline, and average between 25 and 30 percent better fuel economy. That’s a statistic both sides of the brain can feel good about.

    Base price for the Beetle TDI test car is $27,495 excluding the $820 delivery charge. Volkswagen specs out its models to include popular convenience features- in this case a sunroof, Fender audio system and navigation- in the MSRP. It makes pricing easier for the consumer to understand and reduces haggling at the dealership.

    A carefree maintenance program adds two years of complimentary scheduled maintenance. Other standard convenience features include Bluetooth interface, air conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, split folding rear seat, keyless entry and start. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

    Compact sedan is fuel thrifty and fun to drive

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

    2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

    While there are a lot of hybrid passenger cars on the market, few meet the needs of driving enthusiasts. Volkswagen, a brand known for its driving dynamics, engineered the Jetta Hybrid to fill this square and give eco-conscious fans of the brand an alternative to clean diesel.

    The difference between the Jetta Hybrid and competitors in the compact segment is components. The Jetta has a turbocharged engine while others do not, and a dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission in lieu of the more common continuously variable unit. The suspension is independent front and rear as opposed to competitors with torsion beam rear axles.

    With a starting price of $25,560 excluding the $820 destination charge, it’s a lot of car for the money. Volkswagen throws in two years of complimentary scheduled maintenance and three years of roadside assistance as part of the factory warranty to sweeten the deal.

    The Jetta’s other ace-in-the hole is interior versatility. While it can’t match models such as the Toyota Prius liftback for cargo space, a 60/40 split fold-down rear seat is rare in a hybrid sedan. There’s a bump between the trunk and rear seat where the battery pack is located, but the driver has considerably more room to work with than in most competitive products.

    Standard comfort and convenience features include Bluetooth interface, dual-zone climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a rear spoiler and remote keyless entry. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2015 Volkswagen Golf and GTI First Drive

    Seventh-generation hatchbacks gain performance and efficiency

    By Nina Russin

    2015 Volkswagen Golf Family

    2015 Volkswagen Golf Family

    In 1974, Volkswagen introduced a front-wheel drive hatchback intended to replace the Beetle as the automaker’s volume leader. The car came to the United States a year later as the VW Rabbit.

    Its success was instant and unprecedented. While American automakers had started to focus on smaller cars, few were well engineered. That left Toyota, Honda and Datsun, all of who produced excellent small cars, but none of which had widespread acceptance outside core markets such as California.

    I was among the first generation of Rabbit enthusiasts, having purchased a ’77 model. My neighbor in Cincinnati who had a bit more money plunked it down on the sporty Scirocco: this on a street where anything aside from Ford, GM or Chrysler was considered somewhat subversive.

    Volkswagen sold over 100,000 units during the car’s first year in the United States and opened an assembly plant to produce Rabbits for American buyers in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania in 1978. It was the first facility on US soil owned and operated by a foreign automaker.

    Forty years later, Volkswagen introduces the much-anticipated Golf and GTI for the 2015 model year. The seventh-generation hatchbacks are clean sheet of paper cars. The new Golf that debuted in Europe in 2014 is based on the automaker’s transverse matrix architecture. In simplified terms, it’s modular system enabling economies of scale my basing multiple car chassis off similar components. Read the rest of this entry »