Jetta Sportwagen TDI – First Prod

This afternoon, after #1 woke up from his nap, his Mommy started asking him what he’d like to do.  I was downstairs or something, so I missed out on exactly how he came up with “go to the Volkswagen store.”  Not that I’m going to complain or anything.We headed down that way, passing a bunch of other dealerships en route.  He showed little interest in those, but when we crested the hill and the “VW” logo became visible on the downslope, he yelled, “THERE’S the Volkswagen store!”  I guess he wasn’t kidding about wanting to go.

We took one lap around the lot, then parked the ol’ family-hauler and got the boys out.  #1 wanted to go straight into the showroom.  As we walked toward it, he noticed an ’02-’04 996 C4S under the service overhang.  “Just like Daddy’s!  But Daddy’s isn’t red,” was his comment.  That’s my boy.  It WAS quite red, to the point of having black wheels with red rims and Porsche-badged center caps.  I bet those were expensive.  The plate was a custom job: GOTMINE.  Yeah, I do too, Boss, but I’m not shouting about it.  Have a little class.  Oh, and I didn’t see you in Monterey for Rennsport Reunion IV–sure you didn’t buy it for the badge?  At least it wasn’t a Tiptronic.

Anyway, we got into the showroom and breezed right past most of the VW fare, though #1 did like the idea of a Routan (primarily, I think, because it was all opened up and looked inviting to climb around in).  I told him we could just get the same thing for less money at the Chrysler store.  He also said the sky-blue-on-ivory Eos was “pretty,” and I chuckled, because the girls that pay the obscene amount they charge for it must really think so too.

The last car we got to in the showroom, due to our counterclockwise circuit, was the red-on-black Sportwagen TDI.  And I gotta say, there’s a lot to love about this car.  The panoramic sunroof with electric shade is very cool and gives the illusion of a lot more interior space.  There really IS a ton of interior space when you fold the rear seats down (almost flat but not quite) and open up all 66.9 cubic feet.  The multi-link rear suspension is certainly an improvement over the standard torsion bar in a Jetta sedan.  And how many wagons can you get with a) a six-speed stick getting 30/42 EPA MPG or b) a six-speed dual-clutch auto getting 30/42 EPA MPG?  Can’t make a bad transmission choice here.  One more thing: 236 lb-ft of torque.  That is all.

Downsides: not many.  I’m not sure if our 70-lb Labrador could sit up straight in the rear cargo area.  She might be stuck lying down for our travels, which is a shame because she loves staring out the rear glass, “watching puppy TV,” we like to say.  The exterior design is definitely understated, with lots of front/rear overhang and not enough of a crease down the length of the thing to keep it from looking blimpy.  The signature diesel clatter is definitely noticeable from outside the car, but why are people supposedly afraid of this?  I don’t think anyone age 30 or below has any memory of a smoky diesel passenger car.  Thus, there is no stigma to battle.  Heck, all I think when I see the letters “T-D-I” is “wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans.”

You gotta love the price.  Fully tricked out with TDI, dual-clutch auto, nav, sunroof, and all the electronic gizmos, you still squeak in under $30k after the destination charge.  Get the six-speed stick and you stay well away from $30k.  In either case, you’re significantly below the average price for a bloated, unnecessary, high-CG, expensive-tire, subpar-gas-mileage crossover, and way more fun to drive.  On paper, this thing is a winner.  Now I just gotta drive one…

(this picture courtesy the R&T “Impressions” at http://www.roadandtrack.com/tests/impressions/2010-volkswagen-jetta-sportwagen-tdi)

 

Rennsport Reunion IV – Part 3 – The Journey, Continued

Now, the town of Benton is where one finds the eastern end of CA-120, the magical mountain road that twists, rocks, and rolls from there through Yosemite National Park, and nearly to Oakland if you stick with it.  It was this view of CA-120 from Google Maps that was irresistible to me.

No boring million-lane mindless highway was taking us to Monterey, no sir.

We found that to be especially true just after getting on CA-120.  Outside of town, clawing our way up into the mountains, we passed a sign that said DIPS – NEXT 5 MILES, and I thought (…can’t…stop…myself…), “How hard can it be?”

By “dips” they must have meant 20-foot swells that brought back memories of the time I went halibut fishing in Alaska.  You would disappear into the trough of one of these “dips” and lose sight of the sun.  Then you’d crest the next rise and try to breathe before you plummeted down again.  You could see where vehicles driven too fast had nastily bottomed out, their crushed bumpers and undercarriages scarring the pavement.  It was absolute agony for my poor wife, who can get motion sickness pretty easily.  To make matters worse, the road surface itself was in awful shape, with teeth-rattling seams almost uniformly laid across its width.  It was an indescribable relief to get those five miles behind us.  Look at CA-120 just west of Benton on Google Earth (N 37 54′ 00″, W 118 39′ 45″ or thereabouts), and you’ll see that the dips are actually caused by the road cutting too near the foot of the troughs of the mountain range that lies off to the west.

The road had improved vastly now that it was no longer tangling with the forces of geology, and the scenery around us at elevation 6500′-plus turned otherworldly.  There were trees so blindingly orange that groves of them clustered around a peak made a mountain appear as if a stunning sunset was taking place at midday.  Perhaps the best part about the view was that the only ones to share it with me were my wife and little ones–absolutely no other cars on the road.  Sure beats sitting in traffic in Primm waiting for the outlet shoppers.  Then you crest a pine-studded hill and wow, there’s Mono Lake.  The remainder of the first leg of the trip–Las Vegas to Lee Vining–goes by in a flash.  We’re halfway to our hotel, the sun is shining, it’s lunch and gas time…all is right with the world.  And we haven’t even gotten into Yosemite yet.

I Gotta Have More 928

A quick break from the Rennsport Reunion story.

The Porsche slice of my life seems all aflutter with 928s recently.  To start, having acquired a Porsche flat six, I’ve now got a hankering for a Porsche V8.  This is probably due to the aching, empty spot in my heart where the rumble of my lost Audi RS6 used to reside, but that’s another story.  Anyway, the 928 is the obvious choice for someone such as myself that lacks limitless means, or so it seems by the starting bids on eBay.  Plus I dig the long, low profile and the unmistakable 80’s air about the thing.

Before we left for Rennsport, I dropped off my car for a pre-emptive oil change at http://www.carlsplace.org/ and coincidentally, the lead customer service guy, Brandt (insert Big Lebowski joke here), had just finished completely fixing up an ancient 1981 928.  Well, the mechanical bits were fixed up, anyway.  The interior is worn and rattles like crazy and the exterior looks every bit of its thirty years.  But I tell you, he tossed me the keys and told me to drive it around a bit, and the car pulls you along with such smooth, effortless authority that you’d swear you were in something of much more recent manufacture.  “It’s not a zero to sixty car,” Brandt remarked.  “It’s a sixty to a hundred and twenty car.”  Absolutely true.  The 928 isn’t a machine that rewards you for being hectic, but it delights in the more refined, superior subtlety of silently mowing down the freeway miles at a fantastic pace.  There’s almost no tire or powertrain noise in the cabin, the driving position is relaxed yet commanding, and the view down the endless hood beckons you toward the horizon.  I had just a sip of 928 that day, but it was intoxicating.

Then, in the latest issue of Panorama (the Porsche Club of America magazine), EVO magazine’s Chris Harris, a man famed for his excellent car journalism, his preference for Porsches, and for his recently stomaching the financial blow necessary to obtain a new GT3RS 4.0, lets on that he’s finding himself fascinated with 928s as well.  He locates a local one for sale, snaps some pictures for the magazine, gives it a test drive, and calls it a day…then calls the seller back some time later with an offer to buy, only to suffer a pang of regret at his delay when he’s informed it’s already been sold.  Unfortunate.  But think–if Chris Harris has trouble resisting the 928, shouldn’t we all?

Of course, 928s are cheap these days for a reason–they’re extremely expensive to keep running, and a bad one is certainly capable of doubling, if not worse, its purchase price by way of time-intensive repairs.  Gas mileage is in line with what you’d expect from an old V8; Road & Track got 16.5mpg combined in their February 1989 test of the 928S4.  And some (my wife included…blast it) don’t like the look.

But if you want a Porsche V8, and want something a bit more special than the Cayenne or Panamera, then the 928 is your answer.  I can’t promise it will be inexpensive, but it will be unforgettable.

Rennsport Reunion IV – Part 2 – The Journey

We topped off the gas tank just north of Vegas at http://www.lvpaiutesmokeshop.com/.  I’d done some rather precise fuel/distance calculations and was planning on stretching the 911 to nearly the limit of its one-tank endurance on the first leg of the trip.  Side note: filling the gas tank on my car is a little weird–the auto-shutoff on the pump always gets triggered long before the tank reaches capacity.  I wind up manually holding the pump trigger halfway down until I get a little spill from the filler port.  Anyway, the tank’s stated capacity is over 16 gallons, and if you take the Car & Driver observed MPG of 20, that’s a 320-plus-mile range.  I usually expect to get 22 or 23 mpg, so I figure 320 is a conservative range estimate–always want to err on the conservative side when it comes to fuel, for obvious reasons.  From the Smoke Shop to the next refuel point at the http://whoanelliedeli.com/ in Lee Vining, CA is, per Google Maps, 311 miles.There was some road resurfacing going on on 95 North–an extensive enough operation that the highway became one-lane, one direction at a time, with follow-me trucks pulling the traffic through.  Fortunately the weather was beautiful, so I just dropped the windows, pulled the e-brake, and shut the engine off while we waited our turn.  This happened in two different places!  No big deal…these two delays turned out to be the only hiccups on the otherwise smooth trip.

One key to the smoothness was my eagle-eyed wife spotting the turn onto Route 266 at Lida Junction.  I would have completely missed it.  The trip began in earnest here–we were off the beaten track now.  Cresting Lida Summit, we saw the Yosemite mountains scraping the sky, tantalizingly off in the distance.  I admit to taking these pictures on the way back, which explains why the sun is setting:

We then descended into the farming community of Fish Lake/Dyer, nestled in the shadow of the Sierra Nevadas.  The chief export seemed to be HUGE bales of hay.  Dancing along the border of California and Nevada here, we finally found Route 6, which committed us to Cali and the Agricultural Inspection Station in the town of Benton.  I note this only because stopped there at the station as we passed was a bee truck.  That’s right, an 18-wheel semi full of nothing but bees.

Next – Part 3 – More Journey.

The Prius V

Maybe a week or so ago, we pull up to a long line of traffic at a red light. I always notice the sheen of new-car paint, and my eyes caught a glint, so I turned to my right and there it was–the new Prius V.

Personally, I’m generally anti-Prius, in that I hate how they look, the ‘image’ they are only too happy to project, and the fact that the public seem to embrace the Prius shape as the only shape a truly ‘green’ car can be. Additionally, I’m not sold on gas-electric hybrids (except for the Volt). Lugging around a huge battery pack just doesn’t make sense if the goal is efficiency (except where you design the car to operate primarily in electric-only mode, with gas power as a range-extending backup).

However, the Prius V gives me pause. It’s actually large enough for people with real dogs–ours is a 70-lb Labrador–and while it’s still running the old Hybrid Synergy Drive, manages to rate 44mpg city/40 highway. Thus, it compares nicely with the VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI (30 city/42 hwy, similar interior volume) which I was seriously considering as a replacement for our current family vehicle. The buying decision comes down to four questions: 1) Japanese or German, 2) highway or city commute, 3) do you want a clutch pedal (because the TDI offers one and the V does not), 4) do you live near a filling station that sells diesel at a competitive price?

As for me, check the blog name–I bow before all the mighty Volkswagen Auto Group has seen fit to bestow upon us. And I like clutch pedals, especially when the only other choice is a CVT. So the other two questions are probably moot, in my case.

But still, the V has been getting positive press. Motor Trend said “the V’s driving experience was better than that of any previous Prius” and discusses the trick system that makes it all possible–Pitch and Bounce Control, which uses the torque of the electric motor to alter load transfer during cornering. I’d love to know how they did that, but even if I don’t, that’s a great idea. Kudos to Toyota there.

So, America, climb down from your stupid high-CG, high-drag SUVs and get into one of these babies. Or, you know what, don’t. Just get a CTS-V wagon to tote the kids and dog. Those are so awesome that that’ll have to be a whole another post.

First Post

Hey, thanks for reading.  “The Flat Six” will be my Porsche-centered view of the automotive universe, shared with anyone who enjoys that sort of thing.This won’t be for the sole purpose of glorifying Porsche, but I’m sure plenty of that will go on.  At the same time, there are lots of other car-related topics worthy of discussion, and I plan to put them up on here.  I also hope to use this blog as my personal index for really interesting tidbits that make it into the dark, not-flashy-enough-for-the-internet corners of the buff books (C&D, R&T, Automobile, and to a lesser extent Motor Trend–lesser because their digital format is so annoying to squint at, even on a large screen).  I feel like all of the one-page or sidebar paragraphs in those mags get lost amongst the glossy photo spreads, and I’m always trying to remember on what page in which issue of what magazine I read about some obscure but really telling fact.

Last purpose of this blog will be to share my automotive experiences.  Not just track events and autocrosses, but the journeys, destinations, and deep thoughts that come with vehicle ownership.  I’ve always felt like the car mags focus so intently on what’s next in the biz that they overlook the day-to-day existence of an enthusiast with limited means.  They’re constantly killing me with how great the next big thing is, because I can’t afford it.

But hey, I will admit up-front to being an aspiring automotive journalist.  The day I can remove ‘aspiring’ from that title has to do with a number of factors, but we can safely say that it’s at least five years off.  In the meantime I’m gonna use this blog to flex my weak writing muscles.  Maybe one day they’ll be strong enough to compete with the heavyweights: modern-day car-journo colossi like Ezra Dyer, Jamie Kitman, John Phillips, Jean Jennings, and Wert/Hardigree.  A guy can dream, right?

-Will