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  • 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 »

  • 2014 Volkswagen Eos Sport

    Retractable hardtop for driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Volkswagen Eos

    2014 Volkswagen Eos

    The Volkswagen Eos is like two cars for the price of one. With the hardtop in place, it’s a sport coupe, powered by a turbocharged 200 horsepower four-cylinder engine and six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. Utilizing a toggle switch adjacent to the center console, the driver can fold the top into the trunk in less than 25 seconds, transforming the Eos into a cabriolet.

    Following a major redesign for the 2012 model year, the 2014 car is essentially unchanged. The biggest news is the availability of VW Car-Net connected car services, including automatic crash notification. New car buyers receive a six-month complimentary subscription to the service.

    The Eos is available in three trim levels: base Komfort, midgrade Sport and upscale Executive. The Sport model tested incorporates a modified suspension with firmer spring and damper settings. The car also sits half an inch lower for enhanced high-speed performance.

    Base price for the test car is $37,495. Standard convenience features include keyless entry and start, the power folding hardtop with a sliding sunroof, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, 12-way power driver’s seat, dual zone climate control, touchscreen navigation and bi-xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lamps and tail lamps. Adding the $865 destination charge, final MSRP is $38,360. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Volkswagen Tiguan SE

    Sporty five-passenger crossover

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Volkswagen Tiguan

    2014 Volkswagen Tiguan

    Of the two crossover vehicles in Volkswagen’s lineup, the midsized Tiguan is my favorite. Powered by the same turbocharged two-liter engine as the GTI, it’s a hoot to drive. Turbocharging minimizes parasitic power loss at altitude, making the Tiguan a good choice for mountain denizens.

    A six-speed automatic transmission with two overdrive gears extends fuel economy on the front-wheel drive version up to 26 mpg on the highway. Those who prefer a manual gearbox can find one on the base model.

    Base price for the upscale SE model tested is $29,620, excluding the $865 destination charge. Standard comfort and convenience features on the test car include 18-inch alloy wheels, touchscreen with rearview backup camera, Bluetooth interface, keyless access with push button start, leatherette seating, electronic parking brake, cruise control, air conditioning, fog lamps and roof rails.

    New for 2014 is a complimentary subscription to VW Car-Net: service includes crash notification, roadside assistance and stolen vehicle location. Final MSRP is $29,620. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI SE

    Clean diesel five-passenger midsize sedan

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Volkswagen Passat

    2014 Volkswagen Passat

    It appears that Americans are finally realizing clean diesel is a win/win proposition. It’s about time.

    Cars that run on low sulfur diesel have a smaller carbon footprint than gasoline-powered equivalents. Diesel has the advantage over other forms of alternative fuel in that it utilizes the existing infrastructure. The technology adds little to no additional expense to the MSRP, and extends fuel economy by about 25 percent over gasoline.

    The midsize Passat produced at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee assembly plant is a perfect example. Base price for the upscale SE model with a sunroof is $28,295, excluding the $820 destination charge. Standard comfort and convenience features include leatherette seating, satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, a rearview camera, sunroof, automatic headlamps and a 60/40 split folding rear seat. Final MSRP is $29,115.

    The turbo-diesel version averages 34 miles-per-gallon according to the EPA, but the sedan did much better on my 130-mile test-drive: 37.7 miles-per-gallon. The two-liter engine delivers 140 horsepower and 236 foot-pounds of torque for excellent power off the line. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Volkswagen Preview

    New engine, heritage styling and connectivity features spice up lineup

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Volkswagen models

    Riding on the wave of a 5.5 percent global sales increase, Volkswagen is adding a new engine, heritage Beetle model and Car-Net connectivity feature to its arsenal for 2014. A 1.8-liter direct injection turbocharged engine replaces the 2.5-liter block in the compact Jetta and midsized Passat sedans, offering more power and better fuel economy.

    All Beetles get a rear independent suspension instead of a solid axle. Turbo models are now designated R-Line, with 19-inch wheels, bi-xenon headlamps and leather seating on premium grades. A GSR coupe recalls the yellow and black racecar of the 1970s. The new 1.8-liter turbocharged engine replaces the 2.5-liter block in the middle of the 2014 model year.

    Car owners can access the Car-Net connectivity feature via an overhead console in the vehicle, mobile app or online. The system is similar to OnStar, including crash notification, remote lock and unlock, stolen vehicle location and parental controls. Owners can also use Car-Net to schedule service appointments. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Heels and Wheels 2013

    Annual conference puts women in the driver’s seat

    By Nina Russin

    Aston Martin DB9

    I feel like the Queen: not the one with the Queen wave and frumpy clothes, but rather a Pussy Galore queen with Sean Connery by my side, oozing sex appeal and confidence. I don’t typically have Pussy Galore hallucinations, but I don’t usually get behind the wheel of an Aston Martin DB9 either. The experience was the highlight of my trip to the third annual Heels and Wheels women’s automotive conference in Bend, Oregon

    Of course, there was a more serious aspect to the event, its primary focus being the buying power of women, which currently accounts for at least 50 percent of all new car purchases and up to 80 percent of car buying decisions.

    According to Kelley Blue Book research Toyota, Honda, Ford, Chevrolet, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Subaru, Mazda and Volkswagen are the most popular brands among female buyers. Women tend to favor crossover vehicles and SUVs over sports cars and pickup trucks, with models such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 topping the popularity charts.

    The internet has become the most popular source of information among women shopping for a new car, due partly to the unease with which many women approach dealerships. KBB visitors typically research a vehicle for two months, take about three more months for the purchasing process and keep their cars between 8 and 10 years.

    Connectivity features are playing a larger role in purchase decisions, with Bluetooth and GPS both included among must-haves. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Volkswagen Passat SE

    Midsized sedan combines fun and practicality

    By Nina Russin

    2013 Volkswagen Passat

    The newest Volkswagen Passat proves that midsized sedans can function well as active lifestyle vehicles if they’re designed properly. To begin with, the trunk is cavernous: large enough to hold a bicycle with the rear seats folded flat. V-Tex leatherette seating looks like real leather but is easier to keep clean.

    The sedan is also priced for buyers on a budget, with the base model starting at $20,845 for the base 2.5-liter engine and five-speed manual transmission. The upscale SE with the 3.6-liter, 280-horsepower V-6 and six-speed dual clutch automatic transmission costs $30,030 including the delivery charge.

    Fuel economy is good across the model line-up, ranging from 43 miles-per-gallon highway for the turbo-diesel, to 28 for the V-6. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible

    Life’s a beach

    By Nina Russin

    2013 VW Beetle Convertible

    No car was a purer expression of the Summer of Love than the original Beetle convertible. With its air-cooled four-cylinder engine, four speed manual gearbox, canvas top and no-nonsense interior, the Beetle was the antithesis of Detroit’s mighty muscle cars, and hence an icon for the sixties counterculture.

    It was for automobiles what the Jimi Hendrix was for music. Driving a Beetle said to the world: “I dance to the beat of my own drum.”

    At a time when Americans are rethinking decades of excess, and reevaluating the value of human interaction as opposed to personal wealth, the Beetle convertible’s message takes on new meaning. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show

    OEMs predict a brighter 2013

    By Nina Russin

    The fourth-generation Range Rover made its North American debut in LA

    Los Angeles is the first of four major auto shows in the United States, and therefore sets the tenor for the remainder of the season. While sales statistics can be misleading, catering spreads which accompany the various press conferences are much more telling.

    Before the crash of 2008, the show floor was rife with the spoils of success. It was rare to find any press conference without an espresso machine and plates of scones. Full-fledged buffets with open bars were not unusual. I remember one automaker inviting journalists to take home folding chairs set out for the event. The chairs were nice enough to furnish a summer cabin.

    When things went black four years ago, it was hard to find a bottle of water on the show floor, much less a cappuccino. While I don’t condone swag wagons at editorial functions, the lack thereof was certainly telling.

    Gradually, the amenities came back, beginning with some ice buckets with refreshments and the occasional Danish pastry. But it was not until the 2012 show which opened to the media this week that “real food” made its reappearance on the show floor. Read the rest of this entry »