Thursday, January 31, 2013

The fifth Volkswagen -- Golf TDI

It was with a bit of trepidation that I chose a new VW.

I've had four previously:

1985 (Golf) GTI
1986 (Golf) GTI
1990 Corrado
1999 Golf GLS

Each have had a wide array of entertaining problems.

The 1985 had vapour lock every summer, as though it was not ready for the gasoline/petrol sold in the U.S.A.  Then, there was the clutch problem, and the pathetic Goodyear tires.  One of the allow wheels was bent by a pothole.

The 1986 seemed to be unfinished as apparently someone working in the Pennsylvania assembly plant forgot to weld something, which ruined one of my cameras with water damage.  All 4 disc rotors wore out in 30,000 miles.  Another allow wheel bent on this one.

The 1990 had problems with the clutch, but overall, it was consistently good, until someone ran into it and made it impossible to use again.  Within the first few weeks of owning it, a pothole bent one of the extremely light allow wheels, and I ended up switching to something more durable but detrimental to the light and lithe feeling of the car.

The 1999 was a much more conservative choice--no sport anything.  I spent 30+ visits to the dealership while waiting for the window regulator clips to be replaced.  The windows would not return to the closed position in the darker (black, dark blue, dark green) cars.  The door trip loosened early and the electricals were faulty all along.  The security system would suddenly decide with the door open that the car was locked and secured and the alarm would be activated.  Of course, since it couldn't tell whether the door was open or closed, interior lights did not work properly.  In order to see on arrival, I sometimes, turned on a light and forgot to turn it off, leaving the battery in trouble.  The alarm for the headlights didn't work, and of course, the daytime running lights needed to be replaced frequently but only one side was easily accessible.  Later in life, all sorts of problems arose, but it's not unusual at that point.

So, as a fifth VW was (barely) on my list of cars to buy, I had major doubts about another.  In fact, the Subaru Impreza Sport had the top spot.  What changed everything for me was the emissions control compliance and the ability to register the car in California.  I was holding the 1999 Golf too long for that same reason.  Who cares if I lose a US$500 car but who could trade a US$22,000 car so easily?  What is the environmental impact?  Is a clean diesel the best alternative?  I believe it is.  The ULEV II compliance means a lot to me.  You'd think that hybrid vehicles would be a better match for the environment, but the environmental impact of the batteries is a huge drawback.  Had it been a diesel hybrid with 75 mpg tops, instead of 42, I think it wouldn't be a difficult decision at all.

After the first 2.5 days, I feel that I made a good choice, thankfully.  I'm still not quite at home with it, but it's still a bit foreign.  I've never bought a vehicle with an automatic transmission, though I've driven one occasionally.  This one incorporates their ecological idealism (Think Blue) and the feeling at 1500 rpm isn't 100 % comfortable, even though the engine has plenty of power.  Given the winter weather, I'm not likely to push the car much.

I'm surprised at how much wider the car feels and overall, it feels more grown up.  I would say that it feels like the Corrado but it doesn't have that light feeling to it and it's probably because of the electrically-powered steering and the extra 300 pounds.  You can also thank the winter weather for somewhat dampening my desire to try the car's capabilities.  The salesperson mentioned that it shares the platform with certain Audi vehicles, and it's not surprising and that's nothing new.  It feels more upscale than the Golf GLS I had, even though the equipment would probably be similar with a similar age.

Of course, the look is completely the same while being almost completely different in the details.  e.g., the bonnet/hood is almost difficult to see at all.  Looking through the side mirrors, the back seems much taller and the contours more angular, like the Corrado.  I believe the amber turn signals are gone from the rear of the car and the mirrors now have integrated turn signal lamps now.

Is it better?  I hope so, but a couple of days won't reveal much.  I don't even know the fuel consumption yet.  The car started with over 5000 miles, so it is past the break-in period, yet they want me back in 45 days.

Update: It's not been a week yet, and I took a short trip for some shopping--about 90 miles round trip--and the car seems amazing.  I suppose it's just that I'm becoming accustomed to it and getting things set for me.  I'm amused at the instant fuel economy display.  I'll take my foot off the pedal and it will read "---" but the slightest pressure will show 200 mpg.  Travelling down I-70 into a valley, it was displaying about 75 mpg but on the way back up, it was only displaying around 25 mpg.  It's a bit amusing that I played VW's Think Blue game where you try to drive smoothly and make the most of your fuel.  Now, that game seems to be reality with this car.

The electrically-operated steering is growing on me but the all-season tires are not so handy with snow and slush on the ground, compared to the snow tires on my previous car.  I don't really care for Continental brand tires, anyway.  I prefer Dunlop brand.  Last weekend, I was photographing a couple of basketball games and the bun warmers (heated seats) were great, given that it was around 11 degrees F outside.  I only dislike the placement on the switches, as it's difficult to see the position of the heat/air conditioning distribution dial since the little icons are hidden.  Acclimation will help.  The sound system seems okay, but unintuitive.  In fact, a lot of things seem less Volkswagen than in the past.  They're trying to sell to Americans, I suppose, and just like the Chinese restaurant owner told me "we have to make it that way or they won't accept it".

Update 2017.01.06: For over a year, the company has been in court over cheating on their diesel emissions output.  Apparently, the real life results are much higher.  My car went back to the company December 17, 2016, and several days later, I got money for it, and bought a Hyundai made for California.  So endeth my time with Volkswagen.

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