New VW

This entry was posted by on Thursday, 31 December, 2009 at

I wonder if it’s possible to post about a new car without boring readers too much. I mean, I’m not a Car Person, I never have been. I’ve always viewed them as boring utilitarian objects. In a perfect world, I wouldn’t own one at all; I capitulate to necessity, however. At least we’re only a one-car family. And at least we strive for getting super-energy-efficient models.

My first car was a 1996 Honda Civic. I bought it because everyone told me Hondas have this amazing reputation for lasting forever. It died in 2002 from transmission problems with only 6 years and 62K miles. “Must be a freak lemon”, my friends suggested. So then we bought a first-generation 2003 Civic Hybrid. Pretty much the same car, except with better mileage. And guess what? This month it also crossed the Styx. Transmission problems. 7.5 years old, 73K miles. “But my friend’s Honda has 150K miles on it!”, my buddies shout. Yeah, yeah, great. No more Hondas for me.

The thing is, with two very small kids, we were overflowing the Civic anyway. The trunk was never big enough for kid crap. No way to fit an adult between the two kid seats in the back. My wife and I resigned ourselves to getting a wagon. The thing is, how do you reconcile a wagon-ish vehicle with efficient gas usage? There’s no such thing as a “hybrid” wagon out there.

We tried the Prius, and it was nice, but not big enough. Certainly bigger than the Civic’s trunk, but not big enough. We also looked at a Volvo wagon. We loved the safety ratings and built-in kid booster seats (the seat cushion just pops up… why doesn’t every car have that feature??), but the MPG was totally generic. After driving a Hybrid for years, a rating of 30/20 MPG feels like a gas-guzzler.

So ultimately, we settled on a VW Jetta diesel wagon. Yes, you heard right: diesel. Diesel isn’t dead in the USA, as so many thought. Rumor is that California passed some super-strict emission laws a couple of years ago in an attempt to outlaw diesel cars and encourage electric ones. Volkswagon’s response was to go off and invent some crazy new diesel engine with “ultra low” emissions. It not only passes the California standards, it gets 40/30 MPG. That’s darn close to the 45 MPG we were getting with the Hybrid car! No more funny sulfur smells either, or overly-loud noise. And it’s a Turbo engine too, so, well, it actually has real pickup… something I forgot about after years of driving a Hybrid.

It seems silly to say this, but this is the first time I’ve actually been excited about a car. There’s something about this vehicle that goes beyond the stark utilitarianism of my Hondas, something which makes me want to be a “car person”. It’s like they want to make driving fun, as if you should be excited to get in the car. They’ve thrown in all these little details that make me giggle or say “ooh” when I notice them:

  • heated seats
  • heated windshield wipers and side mirrors
  • leather steering wheel
  • a 5.5′ sunroof; the whole roof is glass!
  • fancy computer between the tachometer and speedometer with adjustible stats
  • satellite radio
  • 6 CD changer
  • direct iPod connection, driven through touch-screen
  • ability to play music right off an sd-card
  • rear blowers for the kids
  • an actual 115V power outlet for “normal” devices
  • bluetooth pairing with my phone, OMG!
  • has both automatic and manual transmissions

New VW diesel wagon

My guess is that a lot of this stuff is now standard on most new cars, so many readers aren’t impressed. But that’s sort of the magic of the car-buying process. You buy a car, then live stuck in that year for most of a decade. When you finally buy a new car, it’s like a sudden time-travel jump forward: “ooh, so this is what cars have been doing for all these years.” For example, in 2002 cars all had in-dash CD players. Now all cars seem to have giant computer touchscreens. Still feels Buck Rogers to me!

I know my wife isn’t as thrilled; she would much prefer the ultra-simple user interface of the Volvo. But as a techie, I love these details. I feel like I’m climbing into a fighter-jet cockpit! I love that when I start the car, it automatically bonds to the phone in my pocket. Incoming calls make the whole car ring, I push a button on the steering wheel, and do the whole conversation through the sound system. (Yes, every car does this now; but it’s still FROM THE FUTURE I tell you!) The transmission is freaky too. It’s automatic, but then if you flip the shifter to the right, it “emulates” a stick shift. There’s no clutch, but you just tap the stick up or down to force the car to shift gears. If I knew how to drive stick, this would be so cool. 🙂

My only slight disappointment is with the sd-card feature. I bought a 32GB sd-card thinking I could just dump all 25GB of iTunes music onto it, then leave it permanently in my dashboard. No need to use CDs ever again. But whoops, no dice: the computer insists on scanning all of the files on the card and storing the list in memory, and the manual states that the card can only contain a maximum of 2048 mp3 files. So it only scans the first 8GB of files, then shows you a vastly incomplete list of albums. Super lame. I guess I’m going to have to sell my 32GB card and split the collection into four 8GB cards.

Whatever the case, this is the first time I’ve ever been excited about a car. There’s just some sort of indescribable ethos about the VW that excites me. Whereas my Hondas always screamed “I’m here because sometimes you need to drive, sorry; I hope to make driving tolerable.”, the VW screams “woo, let’s have fun driving!” No, I’m not being paid by VW to say this. 🙂

2 Comments to New VW

  1. Joe Gregorio says:

    January 1st, 2010 at 2:23 am

    Glad you are enjoying it! We just bought our first VW last month, the Routan van, and I’ll agree on all points, with heated seats also being at the top of my list of features, and the same exact problems with the mp3s. It also has decent power and a real stiff suspension which make it fun to drive. Maybe the novelty will wear off, but I’m still taking it to the grocery store when I really should be taking the hybrid. Of course, we also looked at the VW convertible, the EOS, and it might be the next car in the family when ever we replace the hybrid.

  2. Jack Repenning says:

    January 3rd, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    Yeah, but what’s all that white stuff in the parking lot?