- Mercedes has a small SUV with their BluTec urine-scrubbed diesel motor, and an E class that no one can afford.
- Volkswagen has the Jetta TDI, the minutes old 2010 Golf TDI, and some small SUV that no one buys.
- Audi has the same as VW, but they're all Audi-fied, so the Jetta Sportwagon TDI becomes the A3 TDI, which adds $12k to the sticker.
- BMW has a 3 series diesel that the dealerships in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico haven't heard of, though it apparently costs $50k.
- I think Jeep still has a crappy 3.something lire diesel option on their crossover Liberty but for fuck's sake who wants a goddamn Jeep?
The thing is, I sort of want a car that doesn't take a lot of resources...not for cash savings, but for karma. Plus I do want to be able to have more than one passenger. I'd kind of like a more grown-up car that still has some of the fun Fast and Furious elements that my RSX has, like a decent suspension and some extra kick from a decent motor. I don't like hybrids; I've driven the Honda / Toyota type and the Ford type, and while the Ford Fusion drives like a real car and has real brakes and makes car noises, it costs $35k before they tack on the "every one of these sells instantly,so let's add $4k to the price" Dealer Greed Fee(tm).
The VW diesel motor has been around since nineteen dickety two, uses a new high pressure common fuel rail and direct injection to make the combustion more thorough (which, in combination with a "re-burn" of the exhaust, removes the need for urea injection to reduce particulate pollution). It is a stout little motor, and has come a long way from its 1.6l 48hp roots. The latest 2l incarnation is offered in EU with up to 170hp, but in the US we get one option: the 140hp 2.0l turbo version. It was the easiest motor to make 50 state emissions legal. In this base form, it makes as much torque as the base Ford F-150 pickup truck.
And that's the kicker for me. The torque on these motors makes them feel more powerful than they are. The power is available in places you need it: starting off and overtaking. Actually, torque is what makes a hybrid at all interesting, since electric motors make all of their torque from 0 rpm. The diesel isn't quite that crazy but the available powerband is wide and flat. Unlike my current car, you can't rev a diesel to 9200rpm. Unlike my current car, you don't need to.
In this and every other TDI, the fuel economy and emissions are stellar. The car is EPA rated at 30 city, 42 highway. The EPA ratings for gasoline cars are normally optimistic and unlikely. Apparently for diesels the numbers are pessimistic and highly likely; in Canada and Germany, this car gets the equivalent of 38mpg for the city cycle, and up to 53 on the highway. That's pretty decent for a car that uses million year old technology and runs on dead dino goo.
That motor plus the latest Mark 6 Golf chassis (which is, from what I've read, a serious improvement over the Mk V) sounds ideal. And, after tax title license and etc, the cost is $28k.
The problems: VW has had a reputation for dodgy quality in the last ten years, though for the last few they've been improving. My co-worker's 04 Passat has more problems than any modern car not made in the UK or Russia. It scares me a bit to go from Japanese precision to German process improvements.
Also, this is a low-priority car for the US market. I have to order one, and the way VW does orders is screwey. You don't order the car from the factory. They allocate a certain amount of cars to each dealer in a year...say, 10 Golf TDIs for the dealer that I'm using. The dealer submits a work order requesting the base car (plus any factory-only options, like the xeon headlamps and the sunroof) in the color I want. The factory doesn't go out of their way to make the car, the order just sits, queued. At some point in their factory cycle, VW will make one (or more) of this color and factory option combination. They will pull one for my dealer and ship it over. If he's over his allocation, they will ship it to another dealer to receive, who will then sell it to my dealer or trade for any outstanding cars that they may need. Crazy. I'm used to the more traditional approach of: you order the car, the factory finds a line making damn near that car, they add a rider with your options. They make the car, ship it to the dealer, he adds dealer options, and voila, a new Acura or Mazda or Ford.
Ultimately this means that when I put my money down today, the car may or may not show up in six to ten weeks. That instant gratification thing is not an available option. Unless I want a gasoline-fueled GTI that gets the same gas mileage as a 1976 Malibu.
The whole process, though, of narrowing down what I wanted vs, the hard requirements was a pain. My wife requirements: at least 30mpg city, under $30k, and it would be nice if it were at least a sedan. She expressed no opinion at all about any other aspect of the car, which drove me slightly crazy. There at the end of my process I asked her, hey, is this the car you want? "I don't care," she said, emphatically. "I really don't." So I proposed that, since she didn't care, I should just get a Honda S2000 and call it a day. That stinging response failed since she had no idea what I was talking about.
It is supremely annoying, though, when you know that at the back end of this major purchase, the person who has no opinion or interest is going to scrutinize every aspect of the thing, and blame you for every possible wrong. That's the bitch of it, and why I am reluctant to buy a car at all.
But then I look at the pros and cons for my current car. Pros: quick, handles like it is on rails, makes fantastic noises, scares kids and old people, becomes an empathic part of my person when the conditions are right, and recently had $620 worth of work to add to the $3k worth of suspension brakes and tires in the last 24 months.
Cons: see above in re: work. I drive it hard. It will eventually get me killed. It holds only 2 adults with room in the back for the dogs. It gets 22mpg at best unless I'm on a steady highway run, where I get 32mpg. The worst I've seen is 16mpg (this week, due to high speed Batmobile-style craziness and the need for a new air filter). It is noisy, and it is not the car for someone with a bad back. I think I've outgrown it. It is a kid's car.
So, the new family truckster: a 4 door hatchback 2010 VW Golf TDI. Has just enough suspension, brakes, and floppy paddle shifters to trick me into thinking it is a real car, yet enough blandness and economy to satisfy my wife's lack of care. NICE. At least it'll have an iPod jack.
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