2012 and 2013 Volkswagens Preview by Carey Russ +VIDEO
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyers Guide
What's new at Volkswagen? Plenty -- and to demonstrate, VW recently hosted members of the automotive press in Half Moon Bay, CA, just south of San Francisco and conveniently close to the company's engineering research center in Belmont.
Highlighted were the 2013 CC four-door coupe and the 2012 Golf R, the most powerful Golf variant ever sold in the US. But there's more -- the supercharged hybrid Touareg and new Beetle are also particularly noteworthy. The Passat is all-new, with American-spec models now made in VW's new plant near Chattanooga, TN. The hardtop convertible Eos and Tiguan crossover have freshened styling, and there are trim and equipment changes for the Routan minivan and Golf and GTI hatchbacks. The Jetta sedan, VW's core model in the US, gets trim and equipment changes and a new turbo GLI model.
As is usual in such programs, the day started with a briefing on all of the changes in the Volkswagen lineup. Then it was time to drive, from the hotel to the VW Electronic Research Laboratory (VWERL). I picked a CC, a 2.0T Sport with the six-speed manual transmission.
The drive route wasn't exactly the best for a manual as it was the morning commute. Up Highway 92 (which had been closed all day one day the previous week due to a collision between a semi and a garbage truck) and over the hill to US 101 South a fortunate few miles to Belmont, at the northern end of Silicon Valley.
Impressions of the CC: the Sport is the "base" model. It's hardly that, as the standard equipment list includes bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights and the Adaptive Front-Lighting System, LED taillights, rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, heated power front seats, a touchscreen-controlled audio system with iPod connectivity, Bluetooth technology, and V-Tex leatherette upholstery at a base price of $30,610. Which is considerably less than the other four-door coupes on the market. It's comfortable, has fine road manners and reflexes, and the 200-hp turbo engine is as strong as ever.
The front and rear have been restyled to bring the CC into line with current Volkswagen design language. Underneath, it's still the previous-generation Passat platform, no demerits for that. Inside, besides upscale styling and appointment is the most important change -- the rear seat now can hold three people, as the center section has been upholstered over and a third safety harness added. It's not really meant for long-term occupation by anyone, let alone anyone larger than a ten year-old child, but does remove what was a prime reason that previous intenders found not to buy.
Above the Sport, the 2.0T Sport Plus adds larger wheels and tires and a navigation system. The six-speed dual-clutch automated manual DSG gearbox, optional in the Sport, is the only choice. Then there's the 2.0T Lux, with a more luxurious interior and available now, and the 2.0T R-Line, to debut in early 2013 with sportier external styling and either transmission. VR6 models are the new front-wheel drive Lux, with a higher equipment spec than the 2.0T model, and the premium all-wheel drive 4Motion Executive.
Watch the VW CC promo video
After a tour of the Electronics Research Center (see sidebar) it was time for the next leg of the day. My partner got the good stint, up 84 through Woodside to 35 on the top of the ridge south of San Francisco, and from there north to the day's drive base. Those are familiar roads to those of us who are local motorcyclists, and they're just as good in a CC.
Upon reaching the afternoon drive base, we could pick out and drive a variety of new VWs. Subject to availability… and the Golf Rs always seemed to be out. So I arranged to drive one back to Half Moon Bay later in the afternoon. Meanwhile, there was no shortage of interesting vehicles to test on the narrow mountain roads in the area.
Jetta TDI: The previous generation of Jetta TDI was a most impressive car, with a fine combination of fun-to-drive character, especially with a stick, and excellent fuel economy. The new one's even better. The suspension is a bit firmer for less body motion and better control on twisty roads, but it's still as comfortable a small sedan as is made. The example I drove had the six-speed manual transmission, and the 140-horsepower, 236 lb-ft 2.0-liter turbocharged, direct-injection diesel is as happy to play as ever. New to the Jetta lineup for 2012 is the GLI, which shares the GTI's (and CC's) 200-hp turbocharged, direct-injected four-cylinder engine. Upcoming, in late 2012 as a 2013 model, is the Jetta Hybrid, which will utilize a 1.4-liter turbocharged gasoline engine and 20kW electric motor with a 220-volt, 1.1kWh lithium-ion battery pack driving through a seven-speed DSG transmission for a combined 150hp and 45mpg.
Touareg Hybrid: Speaking of Volkswagen hybrids… this seemed a little strange. Hybrid with a supercharger? The idea is V8 power with V6 fuel economy. With a combined 380 hp and 428 lb-ft, power is in abundant supply, and like the other Touaregs, with the 3.6-liter, 280-hp VR6 or 3.0-liter 225-hp/406 lb-ft V6 TDI, it can tow up to 7700 lbs. Acceleration is brisk, and then comes the surprise. Lift off the throttle, and the engine is decoupled and shut off while on level ground or a slight decline. Regenerative braking helps stop it very well indeed, and the Touareg Hybrid can run at speeds of up to 30 mph in electric mode. EPA fuel economy is 20mpg city, 24 highway, which compares well with the TDI's 19 and 28.
Beetle 2.5: I haven't been in the latest Beetle since its debut, and so was interested. The TDI is the new news in that lineup, and there was one at the event. It was popular, and never around when I was. It should be similar to the Jetta TDI on the road. The one I got into had the "base" 2.5-liter, 170-hp five-cylinder engine. It was plenty quick enough, with typical VW good handling as well. Most apparent was a much-improved interior. In the original New Beetle, you traded space for style, especially in the rear seat. A new roofline was an important part of the exterior redesign, and if it makes the car look, as VW states, "more masculine", it also improves rear headroom, with no lack in front. Besides the five-cylinder engine, this one had the six-speed automatic transmission. Which worked quite well in D, even on tight, steep second- and third-gear roads.
Watch the VW Beetle promo video
And that left the best for last. The Golf R is the heir to the throne of the R32, but instead of the VR6 engine used in those it has a more highly-tuned version of the 2.0T with 256 hp and 243 lb-ft of torque for less weight. The torque peak is at a very useful 2400 rpm, and all four wheels are driven, with a six-speed manual gearbox only. No automatic. For the first time in the US, VW's hottest hatch will be offered with two or four doors. Base price with two doors is $33,990, and only 5000 of all varieties will be imported. I suspect it'll sell out, quickly. Exterior changes are relatively subtle and appropriate. Inside, it's a premium-equipped Golf and then some in base trim. The "Golf R with Sunroof and Navigation" adds those, as well as pushbutton start/stop and an eight-channel, 300-watt Dynaudio® audio system at $35,490, or with four doors for $36,090.
The example I drove back south on Skyline and then west on 84 toward the coast was the base model and no complaints at all. It's the business, with the upper level of its abilities better sampled at a track day than on the street. Despite that, it's comfortable, well-appointed, and completely civilized. Think GTI on steroids. I'm hoping some or all of the cars end up in the local press fleet (yes, I live in that part of the world and am familiar with the roads involved) and will have a further look if that's the case.
Watch the Golf R promo video
Volkswagen Electronics Research Laboratory
Volkswagen Group has had a presence in Silicon Valley for a while now. VW collaborated with Stanford University for "Stanley", a specially-modified Touareg that won the DARPA Challenge for autonomous cars out in the Southern California desert in 2005. The VWERL is the top automotive R&D center in the Valley and is there to combine Silicon Valley innovation culture and knowledge base with automotive research and development. Location, location, location…
The ERL started out doing research only, but now does plenty of development. Traditional electronic areas like infotainment and multimedia systems, driver assistance systems, the human/machine interface, and electronic mobility may be the core, but there is also testing and validation of systems and powertrain research, encompassing not only electric and hybrid powertrains but alternate fuels as well. There are several bio-fuel companies nearby and involved with VW.
Although run by the North American part of Volkswagen Group, the ERL's findings and output may be used by any of VW's affiliated brands, which include Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini worldwide and Skoda, and SEAT in Europe.
The Google Earth navigation system used in the current Audi A8 and A7 is a product of the ERL, as are the LED lights that were first introduced on Audis and by now have been copied by most auto manufacturers. There's plenty more to come.
Watcht the complete VW Press Conference at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show