Sunday, November 10, 2013

Car Review -- 2013 Volkswagen Passat 2.5SE with Sunroof and Navigation

A couple days ago, my 2002 Passat GLX wagon was due for rear brakes, an oil change, an oxygen sensor, and a purge valve (to extinguish a nagging check engine light), so I brought it to Fuccillo VW of Schenectady.  They armed me with a 2013 Passat SE sedan with the sunroof and navigation package to drive for the day and a half that I left my car with them.  Here are my thoughts:

1.  This is a big car.  Way bigger than my wagon and comparable in size to my 2010 Accord.  It feels more ponderous than the Accord, though, and much more difficult to maneuver in tight spaces and park.  The backup camera that they added to the SE trim for 2014 would have been very helpful.

2.  The space pays dividends on the inside, though.  I never lacked for room, and actually had to stretch a bit for my elbow to reach the soft part of the door armrest.

3.  Speaking of armrests, the console rest on this car neither slides nor adjusts for height (the armrest on my 2002 wagon does both, and I missed both adjustments).

4.  However, all four windows are one-touch down AND up, which is highly convenient when one needs to quickly let a fart escape from the confines of the interior.  Also, the "tap for three flashes" directional stalk was extremely useful when making lane changes.

5.  The seats were upholstered in leatherette (the S model gets cloth and the top-shelf SEL model gets a mixture of real leather and a suede-like material).  This upholstery is awful.  It's stickier than leather and doesn't feel particularly upscale.  The seat heaters were a nice touch but not nearly as effective as those in my 2002 wagon.

6.  While it was nice to have a power-adjustable lumbar balloon in the driver's seat, it didn't inflate nearly enough.  Maybe I'm weird in that I like a nice football in my lower back when I drive, but coming from the awesome lumbar support of both the 2002 wagon and my Accord, this was a bit disappointing.

7.  A couple other features from my 2002 wagon that I missed were the automatic climate control and rain-sensing wipers.

8.  I also missed the torque of my V6 engine and responsiveness of my manual transmission.  The 2.5 liter inline-five, while decently powerful, was unrefined by comparison and much weaker throughout the rev range.  It didn't help that the six-speed automatic was reluctant to let the engine wind itself out when a quick boost of power was needed (for the record, it had a manual mode, but I hate Tiptronic systems, as they feel too much like a gimmick and don't feel connected).  Thank goodness they're replacing this motor with a 1.8 liter turbo 4 for 2014, which will help power, torque, and fuel economy.

9.  I think I would have liked this car much more if it had the 2.0 liter TDI (diesel) motor.  I drove one with this motor a few months back and loved the responsiveness and "right-now" torque.  The DSG (dual-clutch automatic) also was much more in-tune with my right-foot's power requests than the 6AT on this car was.

10.  The stereo was decent and put out some OK bass, but it lacked the crystalline clarity and Chuck Norris-esque punch of the Monsoon system in my wagon.

11.  The car was very quiet; more so than either my current rides, and the ride was comfortable and controlled.

12.  It handled pretty well for such a large car, too, but the steering was too light and too devoid of road feel for my taste.

13.  The soft-touch padding on the dash was pretty awesome and felt truly German.

14.  The Bluetooth system, as well as the design of the trip computer / information display in the gauge cluster, was outstanding.  It was easy to pair my phone and stream calls (and audio) directly through the system.  The steering-wheel redundant controls were some of the most intuitive I've ever used, and the screen between the gauges displayed the perfect amount of information.  I could also toggle between missed calls, etc. on my phone by using the steering wheel controls; very cool.

15.  Overall, I liked the car quite a bit, even though it may seem that I'm criticizing it pretty severely.  I would've liked it much better if it had the TDI motor, SEL trim, a wagon body, and a stick shift, but VW doesn't offer that combination in the US.  Here's hoping that the 2015 Jetta Sportwagen will be offered in such a configuration; if so, that's a car I would trade for.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Albany Auto Show Fall 2013

Today marked my annual trip to the Empire State Plaza for Albany’s fall auto show.  Here are my observations in no particular order....

1.  The new GM full-size pickups are quite nice, and their interiors were extremely well-finished.  I had a few issues with the seats, though.  First of all, the Chevy truck on hand had the front bench seat, which had neither a head restraint nor a shoulder belt for the front center position.  What is this, 1995?!  Also, neither truck had a rear seat with a center headrest and/or adequate comfort for my six-foot frame.  

2.  Actually, the number of vehicles with inhospitable rear seats for six-footers was astonishing.  However, the new Toyota Tundra Double Cab’s rear seat was extremely accommodating for me, even in its center position.  It made the rear of the GM pickups seem like the under-a-staircase closet in which Harry Potter spent his early years.  

3.  All of the Acuras were locked, as were the Mercedes-Benzes and the Porsches.  Lame.  

4.  Out of approximately 150 vehicles on the show floor, only two that I saw had manual transmissions.  One was the Audi S4, which presented itself as an all-around exceptional automobile, and one that I would love to own someday.  The other was the Nissan Versa Note.  It had crank windows, no cruise control, manual door locks, and a sticker price of approximately $15,000.  The shifter felt like it was stirring a bucket of rocks, and speaking of rocks, the door armrests were rock hard, unlike those in my friend’s first-generation Versa SL hatchback, which were probably the softest, plushest door armrests I’d ever experienced.  Also, while the rear seat was exceptionally comfortable and roomy (more so than that in the new Chevy Impala, to put things in perspective), it did not fold flush with the cargo floor, which seriously compromised its hatchback utility.  

5.   The Buick Verano knocked my socks off last year.  It impressed me again this year, but not to the same extent given how many other new vehicles had been introduced between now and then.  

6.   The Cadillac CTS (2014 model) was nice, but the back seat was a joke.  It also didn’t feel appreciably nicer than its many competitors that were on the show floor.  And what is with General Motors’ newfound love of enormous front head restraints that shove people’s heads uncomfortably far forward?

7.   With the exception of the new Jeep Cherokee (which was quite nice), the Chrysler products on display were disappointing.  No new vehicle should have as much vertical play in the headliner as the new Dodge Journey.  And no vehicle should have as poor seat comfort and build quality as either of the Chrysler minivans on display (a stripped Caravan and a loaded Town and Country).  And no sedan should have rear headroom as abysmal as that in the Dodge Dart.  

8.   The new Corvette looked exceptional.  I need to own one.  

9.   The refreshed Malibu wasn’t half bad.  The new Impala was slightly better, though neither sedan had enough headroom in its rear seat to justify its exterior size.  

10.  The Kia Forte (new model) was surprisingly nice.  So was the Honda Civic LX (the cheapest Civic available this year).  

11.   The new Toyota Corolla’s rear seat was not nearly as accommodating as several auto journalists have said it is.  The car also wasn’t anything special, and not nearly as special as it should be given that it’s a new design.  

12.   The Prius V, on the other hand, was awesome.  Huge interior.  Very versatile.  Hybrid fuel economy.  If one vehicle could make me give up my manual transmission, it would either be this or the Acura RLX.  

13.   The Toyota Sienna was a nice minivan and the seats were better than those in most Toyotas (which usually stink).  The Honda Odyssey was even nicer.  

 14.  There were lots of compact crossovers with nice interiors and comfortable back seats.  The Hyundai Tuscon and Chevy Equinox were probably the only exceptions.  The most impressive to me were the VW Tiguan and the Honda CR-V.  I would’ve loved to try the new Nissan Rogue but they only had the old model there.  

15.   The new Mazda3 is quite nice, and the back seat is a bit bigger than auto critics would lead someone to believe.  However, the switchgear still feels a step below that of a comparable Honda product.  The new 6 is awesome, though, and I would surely consider one if I was looking to replace my Accord.  

16.   The VW Jetta Sportwagen is an exceptional vehicle, and I can’t wait for the 2015 model.  I’d consider trading both my vehicles on one of them if they offer the TDI motor, 6-speed stick, Fender stereo, and leather interior packaged together.  

17.   I wasn’t disappointed with any of the Subarus on hand (new Forester, new Impreza crosstrek, Outback).  All were very well designed, comfortable, roomy, and versatile.  

18.   The Honda Accord EX-L has some of the best front seats I’ve ever sat in.  These thrones are just sublime.  Too bad they don’t offer the leather seats with the six-speed manual transmission in this country (they do in Canada, but that does me no good).  

19.  The Buick Encore has less space between the front seats than just about anything this side of a Smart car.  

20.   Anyone in the market for a car would be an idiot not to test everything in the segment he or she is considering; the market is so competitive and so many products are too genuinely good not to be considered.