Sunday, May 5, 2013

Three Months with diesel

It's been about three months since I got my 2012 Volkswagen Golf TDI, after abandoning my 1999 Golf GLS.  The change has been huge, and yet, not so much.

I'm getting about 10 miles per gallon more
The car is faster and more powerful
The suspension is more sophisticated and the 17 inch tires add to that
No more sunroof/moonroof/whatever
The automatic transmission is annoying/no it's not
The radio, touchscreen or not, isn't that great

I'm averaging almost 38 mpg, which is about 10 more than the 1999 Golf could do in its 13 year old state.  I've seen a maximum 47.6 mpg (more recently a very quick 49.2 and 49.8) indicated by the trip computer.  I've started on a 50 mile trip and found that I gain range by the halfway point.  That is offset by the problem of finding the diesel fuel pump at the filling station, as I might burn fuel looking for it.

Road Trip is awesome software

I've actually seen 49.2 mpg momentarily

My dear 1999 Golf GLS had a maximum horsepower of 115, I believe.  The TDI has 140 hp, if I remember correctly, and 236 pound-feet of torque, so it's much more powerful.  It seems to me that my 1990 Corrado had 158 HP and just more than that number (164?) in torque in a 1.8 litre engine.  This engine feels as though it could pull stumps or the space shuttle.  When I first start it and it's cold, it reminds me a little that it's a diesel-powered engine with a little more clank than the usual four cylinder.  In almost any situation, you'd never know.

The least fun I have is finding the diesel pump.  At one filling station, it was around the back in the dark.  At another, there was the diesel pump for cars and the diesel pump for trucks and the nozzle size was very different.  I know because I spent about three times longer filling the tank.  Many times, the station has diesel fuel but they don't have the pump marked.  It's been about 30 years since VW brought their first diesel-powered vehicle to the U.S.A. to join Mercedes-Benz.  Isn't it time filling stations took things more seriously?  One company sells E-85 and that is prominently displayed while you have to search for the diesel pump.

The rear suspension is finally independent.  I can understand that VW cannot put their most sophisticated equipment on the cheaper cars.  The 1985 and 1986 (Golf) GTIs felt as though they were going off the road at all times.  They just weren't all that secure.  The 1990 Corrado felt as though the planet could explode and it would still have sure footing.  The 1999 Golf GLS was about 70% of the Corrado.  This Golf TDI is 120% of the Corrado.

I have on numerous occasions found myself 20-30 miles per hour higher than expected--on smaller roads.  The car can't change the laws of physics but it certainly understands them really, really well.  Between the suspension improvements and the quiet power, it feels like a university athlete--powerful, yet sophisticated.

As it's become warmer in spring, I've wanted to open the sunroof to vent some of the hot air, and of course, I can't because this car doesn't have a sunroof.  I should be glad since the last one had a problem with the drains not draining correctly.  That only happened after I got a notice of a court case and received some changed maintenance documents from VW.  It was interesting to see water coming out of the ceiling trim.  Still, I liked having an opening.

If the automatic transmission doesn't have multiple personality disorder, I don't know what else it could be.  It seems to enjoy making the engine growl at 1100 rpm, but on heading down a hill with the brakes, it wants to downshift, so that the engine speed is over 3000 rpm suddenly.  Sport mode waits much longer to shift up and seems more consistent.  The Tiptronic control seems to lag in contrast to the paddles behind the steering wheel but DSG doesn't seem so direct as they would lead you to believe.  Planning is required.  (This is my first automatic transmission-burdened car, so I wasn't sure what to expect even though I've driven many cars with automatic transmissions.)

The first thing I want to replace in any car is the radio.  They can put all the premium electronics in there and they still make it a pain to use.  I still regret giving up my Nakamichi cassette deck/FM stereo when I traded my 1986 VW (Golf) GTI.  Today's electronics are better but the rather expensive amplifier was buttery smooth.

VW's latest effort has a touchscreen.  This one has Sirius XM satellite radio, but no navigation system.  I've listened to the satellite radio about 30 minutes total.  It seemed okay, but there was nothing compelling that I found.  When I got an iPod, I imported my music as 256 Kbps mp3 files.  It seemed a reasonable compromise between clarity and space.  My previous Alpine car stereo had an mp3 decoder, so I could take those files with me on disc.  That unit also had a dynamic range enhancer/restorer, which made the music sound better than the rather flat way it sometimes sounds on CD.

This factory-installed radio has nothing like that.  It reads the discs and plays them but they sound as flat as the Bluetooth-transmitted music.  It's not that the sound isn't accurate, but it's not exciting.  Yes, the stereo has an iPod interface but because my iPod is an iPhone, the cable and Bluetooth interfaces collide.  It must communicate with the phone for hands-free communications.  However, if I select the iPod cable, I don't seem to have much control over the music and it plays it alphabetically.  So, I use a car charger, wait for Bluetooth, and select my music on the iPhone.  It's not hidden but it gives me what I want.

What's more is that I have a good supply of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean music.  Both the trip computer and the stereo have Chinese, for whatever reason, but it's so limited that it shows very few characters.  Why they selected some of the available languages for either interface is beyond me, especially considering that the car was being sent to the U.S.A. where people barely know English.  I'd be thrilled if it worked in Japanese, but I don't know of people who use Čeština for instance, a Slavic language for Czechia.

What's particularly scary is that the car I bought it 1999 lasted me into 2013.  If this car is still with me that long, it will be about late 2027 then.  I suspect that the hybrid vehicles will be quite different, as the batteries will have to be made of ecologically-sensitive materials by then.  Will gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles exist?

I don't mean to sound like an advertisement but I can't imagine being happier with another car.  The price was high enough that I finally jumped the US$20,000 hurdle that's been holding me back.  VW has helped in the regard.  They still produce some of the least expensive cars that don't ask you to add tires or doors.  Of course, since the 2012 Golf TDI was a last year's model and it was a demonstrator, it came with a healthy discount.  I still can't imagine driving something for US$30,000 or more and I've seen a couple Ferrari models lately, along with a Bentley somethingorother, which were slightly more than US$30,000.

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