Cars

A Volkswagen for every taste and budget

The Volkswagon Beetle GSR.
The Volkswagon Beetle GSR.BILL GRIFFITH

ST. HELENA, CA—Parked in the Meadowood Resort parking lot are 48 Volkswagens representing the company’s product lineup.

Ahead are miles of highway. With so many cars and only so much time, some hard decisions had to be made about which vehicles we’ll drive.

Colleague Keith Griffin has agreed to co-drive so we can share impressions and do shorter loops, enabling us to get into more cars.

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“Pick one,” he urges, looking at the board with a tag for every car.

“OK. Let’s start with the Jetta Hybrid.”

So we did …

Jetta Hybrid SE

What’s not to like about 45 miles per gallon (combined) and a city/highway rating of 42/48?

Our impression of the Jetta Hybrid: “Great for the price of good.” The sticker price, including an $820 destination fee, was $28,080. It’s another case that, when done right, hybrids are a great combination of power and economy.

The 1.4-liter engine and electric motors put out 170 combined horsepower, enough for sit-up-and-take-notice acceleration. Combine that with strong braking and handling and this is as much sport sedan as it is economical commuter car.

The seats were a bit short for long-legged drivers. Rear legroom was OK, and it was nice to have a big economy gauge in place of a tachometer.

Golf TDI (European spec)

The national motor press often talks about why we can’t get the model they sell in Europe. There was a spec sheet in the glove box that showed mileage figures of 47-65-57 (city, highway, combined), but, alas, they weren’t for miles and gallons but in metrics from the metric system.

With a 2.0-liter diesel, the pull of the torque was astounding, giving strong acceleration right up to the relatively low redline of 5,000 rpm.

We also loved the way the Golf got a grip on the mountain corners.

Inside, the seats were more bolstered than the Jetta’s (though still short), and the dashboard layout was clean and attractive.

The driving experience: “Das Fun.” The expectation is that we may see this in the US lineup.

Beetle GSR

This is a retro Beetle—a 2014 version of the 1970s GSR. Translated from the German, this means Yellow Black Racer.

Instead of the original’s 50 horsepower engine, this GSR has the new 2.0-liter TSI engine that produces 210 horsepower.

We drove the automatic version (DSR transmission with paddle shifters). The special yellow and black interior also features an auxiliary gauge package—oil pressure, turbo boost, chronometer—and a carbon fiber-like dash.

The black leather steering wheel (with yellow stitching) has a small plaque built in. Ours noted that the car was No. 176 of the 3,500 to be built and mostly sold in the American market.

Power was impressive and the ride a nice combination of comfortable and competent.

The round headlights are surrounded by a striking circle of LED running lights.

Touareg TDI Executive Edition

This is a $61,700 beast that’s all about torque—406 lb. ft. of it from a 240 horsepower, 3.0-liter, six cylinder diesel engine.

It looked luxurious with a two-tone saddle and brown interior.

All-wheel-drive and plenty of ground clearance means it can go anywhere, and all that power means it’s a highway cruiser or tow-mobile. The highway mileage rating is 29, and the pulling power feels as if it comes from a bottomless well.

Passat (1.8 and TDI Versions)

We drove two versions, one with the new 1.8-liter turbocharged (TSI) engine, the other with the TDI.

Both were nice, offering limo-like legroom in back and attractive appointments.

The 1.8 was rated at 28 mpg combined (34 highway) and the TDI at 40 mpg on the highway.

Neither was what you would term a performance vehicle but both were quiet and smooth and built on a front-wheel-drive platform for the US market.

The TDI would be our choice because you only have to gas up every second week.

Those seeking more performance would be advised to try the available V-6 version—the one we didn’t drive.

EOS Sport

This hardtop convertible is the only one of that genre to also feature a sunroof.

It’s also a bit pricey at $38,000, and we anticipated it would be VW’s version of Ford’s now-discontinued retro T-Bird.

Instead, it turned out to be the surprise of the day. We whipped it through corners way faster than any normal driver would. The sedate EOS becomes a tire-spinning machine when you ask it of the 2.0-liter TSI’s 200 horsepower.

Under that sedate convertible cruiser is the heart of a lion.

CC Executive

The CC is perhaps the hidden jewel of VW’s passenger lineup. It’s a midsize sedan with coupe styling, a bit smaller than the Passat but also a bit more upscale.

We drove a new executive trim level that definitely fits in the near-luxury category.

The 2.0-liter TSI engine and the CC suspension both seemed tuned the same as they were in the EOS Sport hardtop convertible, meaning it was competent and sedate in normal driving, but featured solid handling and surprising power when unleashed.

It’s a car waiting to be fully discovered by the American driving public.

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