2016 Volkswagen Jetta

 

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Sometimes you just got to take the high road and make the decision to rent a car for that long weekend road trip to keep the miles of your reliable, but aging, cars. We’ve had to do this a few times…I say “had to” but it’s a decision, not a necessity.

The scary part is not knowing exactly what you’re gonna get (insert famous movie line). This is a big reason to always be nice to the people you deal with and the businesses you patronize. For our most recent trip, the counter girl offered a Nissan Versa. Nothing wrong with that except I have a real issue with CVTs (continuously variable transmission). So I kindly begged for something other than the small Nissan and she graciously offered a Volkswagen Jetta.

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We drove a previous generation Jetta quite a few years ago and remember loving the way it drove and how comfortable it was.

This generation is even better.

The Jetta I drove was comfortable, with good power and better handling than previous gens, let alone a lot of cars out there in the Jetta’s class. It was rock-solid on the highway and took corners well.

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Engine-wise, our car had the new 1.4-liter turbocharged inline four cylinder that replaces the 2.0-liter naturally aspirated I4 from the 2015 model. For a base engine it was peppy and our mileage numbers were phenomenal! Peak horsepower and torque for the 1.4T is 150 and 184 respectively and we got a high of 40 miles per gallon on one leg of our journey and mid to high 30s the rest of the time. The six-speed automatic was spot on and we never felt like it was hunting for gears like some other high gear count transmissions seem to do.

Since it was last redesigned for the 2015 model year, the 2016 Jetta we drove was still fresh and sleek, with angled and angry-looking headlights split by a large VW crest in the grill. Out back is the familiar multifaceted VW brake lights separated, again, by a large VW crest. With character lines running down the sides from front to back bookended by fully integrated front and rear bumpers, Jetta eschews class and elegance in the form of a solid family sedan.

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The interior is Euro-comfy with well-bolstered seats, a clean and usable center stack and a busy yet very readable instrument cluster. Those seats, though! Cloth seats with heating! It’s a small thing but more car makers should make this happen!

The center stack features some new awesomeness: a 6.3-inch touchscreen with VW’s Car-Net App-Connect that supports all three available connected car systems: Apple CarPlay®, Google Android Auto™ and MirrorLink® as well as supporting a rear-view camera. That camera got really wet and almost unusable during a heavy rain. Maybe some Rain-X would have helped.

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Android Auto was difficult to get going. Everything seemed ready to go but there was just no connection between the phone and the car. After a couple of Google searches, we changed the USB cable it worked very nicely. The integration is awesome and this solution makes so much sense as your phone technology advances much faster than can car technology. The big drawback we found with Android Auto, or Apple Car I assume as well, is that the USB port on our car did not have enough power to charge the phone we were using (Samsung Galaxy S6) while using Android Auto. We kept getting a low charge current error on the phone when connecting. The battery showed charging but the phone was losing charge slowly rather than adding charge. Not a good thing if you like the service but you’ve let your battery run down. The solution we found was to start with a fully charged phone. That seemed to negate the issue for some reason.

One other odd thing was the steering wheel shape. It was mostly like a triangle, with the point running around the wheel so that it faces the driver. It hit my carpal tunnel area, making it a little uncomfortable to hold for longer than a few minutes, let alone an eight-hour drive.

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One last thing to praise is the large trunk. There was ample room for the three bags we took on the trip, leaving plenty of space for all the goodies one collects when traveling.

Expect low- to mid-twenties for a decently optioned model. Or, just look for the VW lease sales events and pick one up on the cheap!

 

Thanks for reading!

 

…See You Down The Road!

 

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The Small Truck Revolution Continues…Elsewhere

A while back I showed you some pics of the Australian Ford Ranger (below) and mentioned that I wish we could get it here in the US.

Not to be outdone, Chevrolet recently announced a new Colorado pickup to be built in Thailand for the Asian markets. It’s design is striking, rounded lines, the corporate face and more of an integrated look than the current model. According to pickuptrucks.com, the new Thai Colorado has not been announced as a US vehicle (bummer) but will showcase new engines (four-cylinder turbo diesels) and dramatic new looks (below, all from pickuptrucks.com). If you need more picks click here to go to Car Scoop!

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The all-new 2012 Chevrolet Colorado

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These two vehicles and their design philosophy got me thinking: why is it that pickup trucks don’t change that much from year to year?

Seriously, why can’t we have these sleek trucks here in the US? Perhaps they are afraid of  slow sales for making such radical changes. Perhaps they have lost their way and don’t want to spend the R&D money. Perhaps a focus group said they didn’t like it.

Whatever the case, the US automakers should take a page from Steve Jobs who helped usher in the modern era in computing, music and mobility, technology-wise. Stop listening to the committees and start listening to the gut, to common sense, to the experience of your engineers and designers.

Sure, we’ve had innovative designs like the Chevy Avalanche, with its mid-gate that enables a full pickup bed or seating for four, along with a fully covered cargo area and a tonneau cover that can hold a 250-pound person. And then there’s the epitome of cool design, the Honda Ridgeline, with its two-way tailgate and water-tight storage under the bed.

But, these are full-size trucks with plenty of room and lets of storage possibilities.

In the small truck arena, we’ve had little change in the last 20 years or so. Take the Ford Ranger for example. The styling has changed very little since the last 90s. Yes, there has been new grills and headlights over the years but the silhouette has remained static. And let’s not even go inside where anyone who owned a 1996 or 1997 would feel right at home in a 2011.

The other small truck worth note is the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon built by General Motors. Yes, these were all-new in the mid-2000s but they are still square, boxy, and frumpy.

It’s time for the small pickups to join the rest of the auto industry and get aerodynamic and sleek. Ford, GM, please bring these two stylish, good-looking and modern trucks to the US market.

And while were at it, Volkswagen, please bring us your sweet-looking pickup!!!

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Keep reading for two Retro Reviews!


2007 Saturn Aura XR 3.6

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Like never before, indeed.

by James E. Bryson

When we first saw pictures of the new Saturn Aura, and then in person at the North American International Auto Show, we were duly impressed with its stance, crisp lines and overall character. You really can’t call this a replacement to the rotund LS-series. No, the Aura is what the LS should have been and where Saturn should have started back in the day.

With an aire of sophistication never before deemed possible by the fledgling automaker, the Aura has set a new standard for the import fighter that we can only dream will catapult the rest of Saturn’s lineup into the outer cosmos…or, at least, out near Neptune.

Driving the Aura is a pleasure usually reserved for those who plunk down big bucks for Infiniti, BMW, Acura or Mercedes, to name a few. Yes, the Aura is in that league of astonishingly fun sports sedans, but for a fraction of the cost.

With a 3.6-liter V6 with variable valve timing and 252 horsepower and 251 lb.-ft. of torque, a six-speed, manually controllable transmission, four disc brakes with ABS and a stout suspension, the Aura can hold its own with many of the more expensive vehicles.

On our handling loop, we found driving at 8 or 9 tenths was easily accomplished and we seemed to make record time getting through the tight, twisty turn section. Speaking of that, we noticed speeds reaching 60 miles per hour on more stretches than in previous drives. Quite a feat for a GM sedan, not to mention a Saturn.

When we first got the Aura, we thought the brakes were soft and required a little too much pressure to stop the 3600-pound Saturn. After driving our test loop, we now know that the brakes are spot-on awesome and we wouldn’t change a thing. Also, we noticed hardly any fade, and we were on the brakes more so than usual (due to traffic and the aforementioned higher speeds).

Out on the open road, the Aura is composed and a delight to pilot. With all that power on tap, passing is a non-issue and keeping pace with traffic is not needed, since you will be making the pace. Never did we notice any float or unwelcomed suspension vibrations. Our only real gripe with odd noises is the tendency of the sunroof shade to bounce on its track. It was just a bit loose and more than once we had to push it back in the open position when it slid forward. (Couldn’t have done that from our driving!)

Inside the Aura, you find a tranquil, pleasing, luxurious place to conduct the business of driving. The leather seats, wheel and shifter, coupled with the satin metallic-looking trim give this big Saturn an upmarket, sporty feel. The gauge cluster is neat and concise, with quickly read gauges and controls that fall at hand. We felt like we knew this car the first time we drove it.

If you are safety-conscious, like most of us these days, then you’ll be pleased to know that the Aura comes with a plethora of airbags like dual-stage frontal, head-curtain side impact and front-seat-mounted thorax protection. Also, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration rated the Aura with five stars in both frontal and side impact tests.

Aura also comes in XE trim with a 3.5-liter V6 (224 horsepower and 220 lb-ft. of torque) and four-speed automatic, along with struts up front and the same independent rear suspension as the XR, though tuned a bit less sporty, with 17-inch wheels and tires. Expect a base price about $21k.

With the XR as the top of the Aura line, you expect it to be more expensive, but at a base price of $23,495.00, you sure do get a lot.

Expect a year of OnStar, the 3.6-liter V6 and six-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel paddles, disc brakes all around with antilock, remote keyless entry and vehicle start, dual frontal/head curtain/outboard rear side impact airbags (That’s a lot of bags!) and so much more.

Such a long list of standard items means not many options are needed to make you happy, right? Well, we got some very nice ones to keep us company on the long road, wherever it takes us: For starters, our tester had the Premium trim package with leather seats, wheel and shift knob ($800); the Enhanced Convenience package came with a six-way power seat for the passenger and power adjustable pedals ($425); the sunroof ($800); XM ($199) and premium trunk and floor mats ($100) for a grand total (with $650 in destination charges) of $26,919.00.

For the price, you get a European-inspired sedan with solid looks, great handling and an interior trimmed with the finest materials this side of a BMW or Mercedes, for half the price. How can you go wrong?


2008 Cadillac CTS4

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Chalk One Up to Good ‘Ole American Ingenuity

by James E. Bryson

If you’ve seen the pictures but have not seen one in person, go to a Cadillac dealer right now. Drop whatever menial task you’re doing and go. I mean it. Go. You have got to see the new CTS up close and personal.

Redesigned for the 2008 model year, the square-ish, slab-sided, angular CTS of last year makes way for a more muscular, rounded, sporty looking vehicle. It’s definitely an evolution in the right direction. Our first glimpse of the real deal was at the 2007 North American International Auto Show and we were instantly smitten.

When we got the original call about the week’s worth of driving, we were delighted. Then came the call that there had been an accident and we wouldn’t see the CTS until maybe next year (the problem living away from the Michigan/California car centers).

Then, we get the rebound call, "I can send you the CTS. How’d that be?"
After a second of silence, the answer came out a bit snarky, "I guess if you have to send it, I can take it off your hands for a few days."

The biggest surprise of all was getting the all-wheel-drive version. Now don’t take the next few lines the wrong way, there’s nothing better than a sporty rear-wheel-drive car. But to have a 300+ horsepower automobile with a tight suspension, great brakes and the uncertainty of spring weather in the Midwest, all-wheel-drive is looked on as a blessing, not a curse.

As for the CTS’ new styling, you either like it or hate it. It’s a bit more muscular than the previous version and keeps some of the angles, though they are a bit softer. Most striking is the way the designers sculpted the body to give it more appeal and morphed it into something similar and yet completely different from the previous generation CTS.

Up front, the grill has been elongated and the headlights made more elegant (now housing xenon lights that turn as the steering wheel turns) with LED lights accenting the sides of the housing. At the rear, the taillights have been lengthened and slimed down and the center brake light is now a de facto spoiler; very classy.

08cts4_1Driving the CTS is a Zen experience to the max. With a little understeer at the limit, it scoots around corners, utilizing all the traction of all-wheel-drive for all it’s worth. On the highway, it’s another matter. Remember, this is a Cadillac and it rides like a 21st century Caddy…tight but not bouncy, with a comfy ride on the Interstate and enough control to make it fun in the twisties.

And with 300+ horses, this thing flies! We were out on the Interstate, carting a friend out into the boonies to get his car from the ‘rent’s and smack-dab in front of us was a Dodge Neon SRT-4. Now we didn’t make any move more aggressive than riding this Neon’s tail for about a mile. He got the point and took off. We were able to catch and pace that SRT-4 pretty easily. The funny part was this Neon got off at the same exit we needed. With a knowing nod, we left each other in peace to drive like maniacs on another day.

The only drawback to our driving style, the high horsepower and all-wheel-drive was an observed MPG around 20. For an SUV or truck, that’s not bad. For a sedan you might want to drive back and forth to work in, you may want to buy a Chevy Aveo for that task.

The interior is a step above. The lighting at night is spectacular, with accents that run the length of the dash and into the doors. All footwells are lighted as well as the door pulls. It’s a classy touch that makes the cabin more appealing and warm.

One little quip: We kept setting the parking brake out of habit, and pulling the hood release since it’s in the spot most vehicles that have a foot-activated parking brake have it. Annoying, but not necessarily a deal-breaker.

As it is in every car review, and life for that matter, price must be considered, especially considering the price of gas these days.

Our test car, in the prettiest shade of red (crystal red premium to be exact) based at $34,545.00, including such basics as the 304 horsepower V6, six-speed automatic transmission, independent suspension at all four corners, 17-inch wheels, traction control, tire pressure monitoring, leather steering wheel with auxiliary controls, dual zone climate control, 8-way power driver seat, airbags all around (including head curtain side bags front and rear), remote keyless entry and OnStar, to scratch the surface.

08cts4_2Of course, unless you’re a Mary Kay Sales Director, you’d expect much more, so our optioned out car included the Performance Collection ($3300): 18-inch aluminum wheels and tires, xenon headlights that turn with the steering wheel, limited slip differential, performance cooling system, 10-way power seats for both driver and front passenger with memory and heat, heated windshield washer fluid with headlamp washers; the Luxury level one package ($850): theft deterrent alarm system, rain sensing windshield wipers and the aforementioned accent lighting; the ultimate radio upgrade ($3145): MP3/CD/DVD player, 10-speaker Bose surround sound, 40GB hard drive, and a nav screen with XM Nav Traffic; all-wheel drive ($1900); Crystal Red premium paint ($995); sapele wood on center console, instrument panel and door trim ($495); All-wheel ABS with performance disc brakes ($395); compact spare tire ($250); and Sapele wood on the steering wheel and shift know ($150). Add a destination charge of $745 and you get a whopping $46,770.00 grand total…and we do mean GRAND.

The CTS is an awesome car that’s about 10 years too late. Let’s hope the General can keep these types of interesting, fun to drive cars coming in the near future!

Stay tuned for the next installment where I’ll talk about a new Hyundai…

Here Come The Alfas!!!

Saw this on the road a while back:

It’s an Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Hope it comes here fast!!!

See more here!

Here’s another view on the road:

And one more:

Look for the Giulietta on a street near you!


2006 Pontiac Solstice

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Baby, Where Have You Been All My Life?

by James E. Bryson

It’s not everyday that a beautiful car comes out of the General Motors design studios. And we’re not talking a Corvette that is expected to look great. We’re talking a drop-dead gorgeous convertible that looks good with the top up and exquisite with the top down.

Pontiac is the lucky division this year within GM. They got the edgy-lined G6, masculine Torrent and now the Solstice. Not that the other divisions are lacking for new product, but it seems the General is finally getting serious about putting real excitement into Pontiac.

The funny thing about us getting the Solstice when we did was that we were expecting a Cadillac STS. But, for the better, there was a scheduling snafu and we definitely got the sportier end of the deal. The only deal-breaker was the frigid temps during our week with the car that made it difficult, although not impossible, to drive with the top down, which is highly recommended.

It’s also nice to know that the Bob Lutz era at GM has finally arrived. Finally, a car worthy of styling accolades has made it off the production line with no need for excuses or the old “we’ll fix that at when we freshen it up.”

The Solstice looks striking from almost every angle. It sits low, wide and has a masculine stance that belies it sporting intentions and makes the heart flutter with awe and appreciation, especially considering this is a GM vehicle and the product development team had to fight through reams of red tape and bureaucratic hoop jumping to get it out the door.

With short overhangs front and rear and an upturned tail with dual humps directly behind the cockpit, the Solstice is one gorgeous vehicle. Add to that a distinctive face, with prominent Pontiac emblem front and center, rounded lines throughout and classy everything and you seem to forget you’re looking at a Pontiac. One thing’s for sure…you won’t mistake Solstice for a Miata or Honda S2000.

Inside, the Solstice is not for the claustrophobic. Tight is a loose way of describing the cockpit and how it fits around you and hugs you with soft leather seats and well-positioned switchgear and a great shifter connected to a short throw five-speed manual that seems to help the driver find the next gear. Talk about easy to drive. The dash layout is superb, with a dual binnacle gauge cluster with big tach and speedo, both of which are very easy to read.

There’s auxiliary radio controls and cruise controls on the wheel spokes, a beautiful two-tone color scheme that mixes light brown and dark gray leather throughout the interior. Our only real complaint is the silly cupholder located at the rear of the center tunnel hump. Using the cupholder whilst driving is quite difficult because it interferes with your shifting action…mainly your elbow and the cupholder will become very close by the time your drive is over.

Power comes from GM’s newer engine family, the Ecotec. Displacing 2.4 liters, it is the only engine available until 2007 and puts out 177 horsepower and 166 lb.-ft. of torque. Not ground splitting numbers by any stretch, but you can get the Solstice moving easily enough. (If you wait for a few months, you might be able to get your name on an ’07 with the new turbo Ecotec that will pump out 260 horses and 260 lb.-ft. of torque.)

As for the driving experience, a movie line sums it up: The thing corners like it’s on rails. Bumps can sometimes be harsh but most are soaked up by the suspension.

Top actuation is a little weird if not totally cool. You hit the trunk button on the key fob to eject the spears that hold the flying buttresses in place, open the trunk clamshell, unlatch the top from the header, fold the top back and close the trunklid. Simple, right? Actually, we found it fun to open the trunk for people to see their reaction as the flying buttresses pop up.

Solstice is definitely a car that will take you places in style. However, due to the very nature of the roadster it is, you won’t be taking much with you; let alone anyone else. Sure, you could put a soft-sided bag or two in there but nothing else. Add to that the odd U shape of the storage spoace and you have a good argument for a matching trailer like the one they made for the Plymouth Prowler.

Solstice has only been on sale for maybe a month as of this writing and we were quite surprised to pass one on the road. We of course gave each other a big “thumbs up” but little did he know that we didn’t pay the $24k for ours. But that’s all right. What he don’t know won’t hurt him…as the saying goes.

If you can get your name in, and don’t mind paying more than sticker for such a cool car, then Solstice is for you. And if you think 177 horses isn’t enough to get your blood boiling, then you might want to wait until 2007 and the turbo Solstice.


2008 Volkswagen Jetta S

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A Peoples’ Car For The Driver In Us All

by James E. Bryson

Once upon a time, in a land known for sauerkraut, Schnitzel and cold beer, there was a small company called Volkswagen that made a little car for the masses. They made a lot of little cars actually, with little air-cooled engines and skinny tires and meager horsepower.

But now they’re making bigger cars, with bigger liquid-cooled engines and fatter tires and real power. Yes, Volkswagen has come a long way since before World War II when all they made was the Beetle. Now, with a bevy of new cars, station wagons and SUVs, VW has got a foothold into the 21st century.

Enter the recently redesigned Jetta, a venerable model that seems to get only better with age. We got the opportunity to drive an S model with few options but lots of personality. As we usually get fully-loaded test cars, it was nice to have a more basic model to drive, especially since the S model is the one we keep seeing on the road.

The look of the Jetta has morphed from a squarish, hunkered-down Euro-sedan to a more rounded, svelte and attractive world car, not easily pigeon-holed into European, Japanese or Korean styling. Lets just say it looks like a VW. And that’s a good thing. Enough said.

That look includes an attractive front clip with jeweled headlights, a thick chrome strip dividing the grill, with chrome accents under the headlights, and a large VW emblem to top it all off. Move down the flowing fenders, into the large greenhouse, past the turn signal-embedded mirrors and feel the body grow in height until you reach the rear end with its stylized taillights with integrated reverse lamps and low liftover into the cavernous trunk, with which you can easily store enough bags for three or four people on a week-long trip.

Jetta S comes standard with a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine with 170 horsepower, and that’s up from 150 HP last year, and 177 lb.-ft. of torque that flows through either a five-speed manual gearbox that’s standard, or our tester’s six-speed automatic with Tiptronic and sport modes. With this engine expect 0 to 60 times in 8.5 seconds or so, according to VW.

If your heart needs more power, then you can upgrade to the GLI model with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that puts out 200 horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. of torque. But those 30 extra horses come at a premium price of about $6000 over the as-tested cost of our S model.

Added to that sweet five-cylinder engine is a set of McPherson struts and a stabilizer bar up front, plus a fully independent four-link rear suspension with another stabilizer bar at the rear. and it rides on 16-inch all-season tires. Now you’ve got yourself a great handling car, with a good ride and a high fun-to-drive quotient.

Since we had to leave town for a few days, we didn’t get a chance to drive our usual test loop. We did, however, drive in some hilly terrain and never lost confidence in the Jetta on the unfamiliar roads; it went where pointed and never complained.

Driving the Jetta around became more fun as the days passed with more familiarity of the controls and adhesion limits and figuring out when best to shift for ourselves or when to just let the computer do all the work.

That transmission computer really got us going, too. We found we enjoyed driving in the sport mode through the hills, rather than shifting ourselves. There was a delay in shifting that most automanuals have, so letting the computer decide when to shift gears was more fun and really put to good use the available torque at any given moment. With more time behind the wheel, we probably would prefer the former but sometimes time is not on your side.

And since gas prices are reaching ever higher, we were pleasantly surprised to get about 32 miles per gallon on an extended highway trip, especially considering the EPA ratings of 21 city and 29 highway. When was the last time you heard of an automotive journalist, or anyone for that matter, beating EPA estimates? We could boil it down to an inaccurate trip odometer reset, but the few miles difference wouldn’t amount to that much.

Inside the Jetta is all business with its tidy gauge cluster, easy to use controls and comfy seats all around. As in years past, the speedo and tach gauges glow blue at night, but the handy driver information display stays red, as do that surrounding gauge lights. It’s a good look that’s easy on the eyes.

We loved the versatility and ease of use getting a good seating position; it seemed that everything was adjustable, except for the pedals. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes and the seatback motorized but the rest of it was manually adjustable. It didn’t take long for either driver to find a good perch and both were fatigue-free by the end of eight hours on the road.

The Jetta begins at $16,990 with a whole big bunch of standard items, including power windows and locks and a nifty feature where you can roll up or down all four windows with the key in the driver’s door, electro-mechanical speed sensitive steering, split folding rear seats, eight-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo, as well as ABS, traction control (Anti-Slip Regulation in VW speak), Electronic Brake-pressure Distribution and TPMS (tire pressure monitoring). Add the Tiptronic six-speed automatic and you’re only talking another $1,075, for a grand total MSRP of only $18,065. For what you pay, you really get a whole lot of automobile here for a very reasonable price.

Think of the VW Jetta as a pair of sensible shoes that you can take out for a comfortable jog on a nice sunny day.