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2019 Volkswagen Atlas: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As with the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas, sometimes the lesser of two choices makes all the difference — in this rendering, the $37,000 version versus the one north of $50,000.

2019_Atlas-Large-8753You might say that about many new vehicles. Sure, it seems everybody would like the one loaded with every option for safety, performance, comfort, convenience and even luxury surroundings.

But there’s a school of thought, endorsed by this reviewer, that even base automobiles and light trucks can be appealing — and not only for their parsimony. After all, every car must have an engine, transmission, tires, brakes, steering, seats, controlled climate and safety equipment mandated by the U.S. government.

Moreover, though the manufacturers like to tout the superiority of their lavishly-equipped products, the truth is there is no junk out there any more. Ask most experts what kind of new vehicle you should buy and many would simply say, “What do you like?”

2018_Atlas-Large-7501Ratings nowadays are informed not by engines that gobble oil or wheel bearings that fail, but more by whether there’s too much wind noise or a baffling infotainment system — not so much by things that put you on the side of the road at midnight.

Which brings us to the 2019 Volkswagen Atlas SE. It is a full-size, three-row, seven-passenger crossover sport utility vehicle that can satisfy  minivan-averse customers, though it comes up short with 21 cubic feet for cargo space behind the third row.

It can accommodate seven adults with head-room comfort, though the second-row passengers must give up some of their generous leg room for the folks in the third row. It is easily done because the second row has about eight inches of fore-and-aft travel to divvy up, as well as seatbacks that flip forward so even creaky oldsters can get back to the third row.

2018_Atlas-Large-6591On the SE model, everyone sits on VW’s V-Tex leatherette upholstery, which is about as comfortable as real leather and likely will last way longer, though the preference here would be for a durable cloth that is soothing in all climates.

The SE is a bottom-dweller, just one step up from the base S in a line of seven trim levels topped out by the SEL Premium. So, the SE doesn’t come with such amenities as leather upholstery, panoramic sunroof, 20-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, park assist, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats, a Fender premium audio system and captain’s seats in the second row, which reduces the passenger accommodations from seven to six.

But the SE does have forward collision monitoring with emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and rear traffic alert, hill start assist, pushbutton starting, 10-way powered and heated driver’s seat, Bluetooth connectivity, three-zone automatic climate control, SXM satellite radio, and LED headlights and daytime running lights.

2018_Atlas-Large-6604The base price of the tested SE came to $36,490, including the destination charge. With an optional towing package, it topped out at $37,040. One reason for the reasonable price is that it came with front-wheel drive instead of the optional all-wheel drive, which accounts for an $1,800 difference.

For most customers, except for those in severe snow belt areas, there’s no need to spend the extra money for all-wheel drive. Independent tests have shown that front-drive vehicles accelerate, brake and turn as well as all-wheel drive models in most circumstances except for low-speed maneuvering in heavy snow and other slippery conditions.

2018_Atlas-Large-6597The tested SE came with Volkswagen’s 276-hp 3.6-liter V6 engine that makes 266 lb-ft of torque, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The base engine is a 235-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 258 lb-ft of torque.

Though the four-bangers, both turbo and naturally aspirated, are becoming ubiquitous everywhere in the motoring industry, there’s still nothing like the silky power delivery of a six-cylinder engine, either inline or with a V configuration.

With the easy-shifting eight-speed automatic, the Atlas is an elegant and quiet conveyance that has a supple ride, tracks cleanly in a straight line and, if you don’t push it too hard, easily handles curving roads.

2018_Atlas-Large-6613Though the Atlas feels smaller than its length of 16.5 feet and height of nearly six feet, maneuvering in traffic and on ramps inside parking garages requires attention and care.

But for anyone who needs to carry seven passengers—or five passengers with 56 cubic feet of cargo space—the Atlas SE comes with a decent price and city/highway/combined fuel economy of 17/24/19 mpg of regular gasoline.

2019_Atlas-Large-8755Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.6-liter V6; 276 hp, 266 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 6 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 154/21 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,343 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/24/19 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $36,490.
  • Price as tested: $37,040.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2018_Atlas-Large-7510Photos (c) Volkswagen

 

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2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T Rabbit: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Light a few candles. The Volkswagen Rabbit GTI has been resurrected, though now it is called the 2019 Golf GTI Rabbit Edition. As ever, it is a hatchback performance model of what basically is an economy car.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9348The original, called the “Rabbit” in the United States, made its debut in 1975 as the replacement for the beloved Beetle with its air-cooled horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine behind and driving the rear wheels.

It was a new direction for the German manufacturer. The Rabbit, named Golf in other world markets, came with front-wheel drive and a liquid-cooled inline four-cylinder engine mounted sideways up front as the gods of the era intended.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9351Most of the Rabbits were built in the U.S., in a plant in Westmoreland, PA. They were spunky little creatures with four-speed manual gearboxes but unfortunately were fragile compared to the anvil-like reliability of the Beetle.

Not long after the Rabbit’s introduction, Volkswagen introduced the GTI, a higher performance version with 110 horsepower, or 43 more horses than the standard version. Later versions also came with a five-speed stick. GTI stands for Grand Tourer Injection, referring to the engine’s fuel injection.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9336By today’s lights, those early GTIs were brittle and shaky. But they captured the imagination of small-car enthusiasts with limited incomes. It is fair to say that the GTI was the progenitor of what came to be known as the “hot hatch” niche in the market.

In the mid-1980s, the Rabbit name went away and the U.S. models adopted the world-wide name of Golf. From then on, the performance models, with two- and four-door versions, became the Golf GTI.

Now with the four-door only 2019 model, the Rabbit name is back, though now with one of those interminable names that decorate cars from German manufacturers. Its proper title is the “2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T Rabbit Edition.”

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9329The 2.0T, of course, describes its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which makes 228-hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. With its slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, it can nail 60 mph from rest in about six seconds. An even quicker seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is available for an additional $1,100.

The Rabbit Edition is a bit of a bare bones version of the GTI, slotted between the base S and SE, with more trim than the S but less equipment than the SE and top-line Autobahn model. There’s  also an all-wheel drive Golf R.

2018_Golf_GTI-Large-6700But with a price tag of $29,790 for the tested manual model, including the destination charge, and a city/highway fuel consumption rating of 27 mpg, it delivers a relatively low price and everyday economy commuting as well as that tingle of excitement when you hammer the throttle and snap-shift the transmission to poke into that traffic hole in the next lane.

On the road, handling is sharp with quick moves around curves and solid straight-line tracking. The suspension system soaks up road irregularities to deliver a ride that is stiff but supple. Road and engine noise are mostly muted for fatigue-free Interstate cruising.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9325Missing from the Rabbit are a sunroof, automatic climate control and SXM satellite radio, which is not available on any GTI trim level. That reflects the trend toward streaming audio. Equipment includes an AM-FM radio and one USB port for streaming capability.

The Rabbit comes with basic safety equipment, including a crash response system and electronic brake assist, but lacks such advanced features as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9322One of the more endearing features of the Rabbit Edition are its sport seats up front and accommodating passenger seats in back. The upholstery is a substantial cloth with an attractive plaid design that grips the torso. It is augmented by aggressive bolstering on the front seats that encourages spirited motoring on twisting mountain roads.

Too bad that if a customer decides to move up to the SE edition to get additional equipment, he or she gets leather upholstery, which in this case is inferior to the Rabbit’s beautiful plaid cloth, which should be available on every trim level.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9347In back, two passengers sit comfortably with generous head and knee room. There is a seatbelt for a third passenger, who deserves pity for sitting scrunched on a hard cushion straddling a big floor hump with knees banging on the intruding front console.

But hey. The Rabbit GTI is a sports car that delivers daily driving enjoyment with small family practicality.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9339Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI 2.0T Rabbit Edition four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 228 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six speed manual with front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 10 inches.
  • Height: 4 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 98/23 Cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,965 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 24/32/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,790.
  • Price as tested: $29,790.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2019_GTI_Rabbit_Edition-Large-9350Photos (c) Volkswagen

2019 Volkswagen Beetle Final Edition: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Sniffles. After so many years it sounds so, well, final: the 2019 Volkswagen SE Beetle Final Edition, for this review the two-door convertible model. There will be waves of nostalgia.

This is a thoroughly modern automobile with all of the comfort and conveniences not dreamed of by owners of the originals in the middle of the 20th century. Think back on some of the differences.

2019_Beetle_Convertible_Final_Edition--8697The 2019 Final Edition convertible has a padded top, so tight and quiet you’d swear you were driving a luxury coupe. You can barely hear exhaust sounds. Old Bugs were raucous, with twin exhaust pipes that sometimes whistled while they worked.

Check out the automatic climate control. Set it and forget it. The reviewer’s ’65 Type 113 Bug came with little vents on the floor that carried warm air from the rear engine compartment into the passenger pod — maybe. Air conditioning? Swing the front vent windows all the way out to force that humid summer air inside. Notice the cranks on the doors? Open the windows and get a bit of exercise.

Grasp the 2019’s sturdy console lever that controls the six-speed automatic transmission. Totally not as engaging as the early Bugs’ fragile floor-mounted shifter with the tiny pancake shift knob for the four-speed manual gearbox. Truth be told, it was a delight to snick through the gears.

Historic_Beetle-Large-2284Sadly, the Final Edition’s engine is in the wrong place. It’s up front under the hood, where the trunk should be, instead of out back behind the wheels. Plus, it’s a 174-hp, turbocharged, upright four-cylinder engine, not a proper 40-hp boxer with its cylinders reclining like sunbathers.

The Final Edition comes with a small trunk of seven cubic feet. Bugs had their trunks up front plus a generous uncovered bin behind the rear seat.

That old ’65 Bug did have other advantages: Six-volt battery to keep the headlights so dim they would not blind oncoming drivers or light the road; windshield washers powered by air fed from the spare tire  in the trunk up front.

2019_Beetle_Final_Edition--8699Armrests? Padded beauties on the Final Edition. Nonexistent on many older Bugs because the German engineers decreed that owners should keep their hands on the steering wheels instead of elbows resting on armrests.

Though the Final Edition has that six-speed automatic transmission, you can order a six-speed manual if you want it. Some older Bugs came with a transmission called the Automatic Stick Shift, which one enthusiast magazine dubbed the A.S.S. It was so efficient, especially on the Bug’s big brother, the Microbus, that you could walk faster than it could accelerate from a stop sign.

Doggone it, Volkswagen finally went and did it. After all these years — nearly 80 overall and 70 in the United States — the rambunctious and familiar Bug, the modern New Beetle and, simply and finally, the Beetle, will be no more after the 2019 model year.

It actually was thought to be dead in an earlier time. After a slow start in the U.S. after World War II, it became wildly popular for its reliability and economy. More than 15 million of the little two-door sedans were sold from 1949 until 1955, beating out Ford’s model T as the best-selling single-model car of all time. It continued for two decades after that.

Historic_Beetle-Large-2295In 1975, the Bug ended its run, giving way to the Rabbit, called the Golf in other countries. But it was dead only in the U.S. It continued abroad in Brazil, Mexico and other places. Then, after selling 21.5 million cars overall, the last of the original Bugs rolled off the line in Mexico in 2003.

The U.S. Rabbit was different. Where the original Bug had an air-cooled, horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine mounted behind and driving the rear wheels, the Rabbit had a conventional liquid-cooled four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels.

Timeline_1976-Large-3786Though more modern, the fragile Rabbit was not the reliable equal of the old Bug. It lasted only about a decade until it was replaced by other Volkswagen models. But there still were no Beetles sold in the United States.

Then VW showed a prototype of a thing called the New Beetle, with updated attractive styling that resembled the original. It was displayed at the North American International Automobile Show and was an immediate hit. Volkswagen wasted no time in bringing it to market and it lasted until from 1997 to 2010, when it was replaced by a new version simply called the Beetle. That is the car that we mourn now.

Produkte: New Beetle USA Version (1998)
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Specifications

  • Model: 2019 Volkswagen Beetle SE Final Edition two-door convertible.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 174 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 81/7 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,239 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/33/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $28,190.
  • Price as tested: $30,690.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2019_Beetle_Convertible_Final_Edition--8701Photos (c) Volkswagen

2018 Volkswagen Golf R 2.0T: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

You could argue that the 2018 Volkswagen Golf R is superfluous, or at least a bit of overkill. It is the pinnacle of the Golf lineup, which also includes the best-selling GTI, for many years the darling of so-called “hot hatch” enthusiasts.

In full-blown Autobahn trim, the GTI comes with a sticker price of $37,020. The tested Golf R — the initial likely refers to “racing” but the preference here is to think of it as “randy” — jumps up to $40,635. With all-wheel drive, 292 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque from its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, it eclipses the front-drive GTI’s 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.

2018_Golf_R--7564So, it’s fair to say that Volkswagen’s Golf overall is more of a high-performance machine than a pedestrian runabout, though lower-priced and less powerful Golfs exhibit much of that famed “German feel” as well.

Sales statistics bear that out. Between them, the R and GTI outsell the economy-oriented Golf models. In 2017, for example, they accounted for 55,426 U.S. sales, compared to 13,552 for the other Golf versions.

In the first half of 2018, GTI sales totaled 9,189 and the standard Golf had 4,036. The R’s sales, likely reflecting its higher price, totaled 2,240.

2018_Golf_R--7566The tested Golf R — it comes only as a four-door hatchback — arrived with a six-speed manual gearbox. For an additional $1,100 you can order the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which actually gets you up to speed quicker than the manual, computer controls being superior to the human right hand on the shifter and left foot punching the clutch pedal.

For 2018, there’s only one version, down from two, which now incorporates VW’s Dynamic Chassis Control as well as a navigation system. The DCC includes adaptive shock absorbers, which with precise steering helps deliver outstanding handling and a good ride for a hatchback that measures just 14 feet bumper to bumper.

So, while the Golf R easily handled bumps in the road, the manual shifter sustained bumps in the throws. This was the one disappointment in the entire R package. While it was easy to smoothly upshift at low rpm — much like expert European taxi drivers maximizing fuel economy — at other times the shift linkage felt clunky.

2018_Golf_R--7567Also new for 2018 are an idle stop-start system to enhance fuel economy, rated at 21/29/24 mpg on the EPA’s city/highway/combined cycle. Exterior touches are refreshed front and rear styling with LED headlights and taillights, as well as newly designed 19-inch alloy wheels. Inside, there’s a new eight-inch center touchscreen, up from 6.5 inches on the previous model.

Leather sport seats hold the torso snugly during spirited cornering on twisty roads while the driver looks through a flat-bottom steering wheel at the R’s Digital Cockpit, a 12.5-inch configurable information screen that displays different vehicle functions.

One annoyance is a display that reminds the driver when to upshift the manual gearbox, mainly to enhance fuel economy. Experienced drivers usually shift by feel and likely won’t look at it much anyway.

2017_Golf_R--5366The center touchscreen incorporates controls for the navigation system, SXM satellite and HD radio, and a JPEG viewer. A Bluetooth system can pair two smart phones simultaneously and the system has the capability to send and receive text messages. There are three USB ports.

Interior comfort is first rate, with supportive bolstering on the front seats. In back, the outboard seats have plenty of headroom and adequate knee room. The center-rear position is compromised by a big floor hump and a hard cushion. There’s 23 cubic feet for cargo.

A full suite of state-of-the art technology and safety equipment includes forward collision warning and braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, blind-spot warning with rear traffic alert, park distance control front and rear, automatic headlight high beams and a rear-view camera.

2018_Golf_R--6684On the road, depending on how you drive, the Golf R’s personality is as soft as a velvet cushion or as raucous as a race car. Throttle response is quick, though sometimes there’s a slight lag. It’s a good idea to turn off the stop-start system to avoid hesitation off the line.

In a test drive of both the manual-transmission R and GTI at the Road America road racing course near Elkhart Lake, Wis., both Golfs showed capable racetrack manners. With an all-wheel drive system that can send up to 50 percent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels, the R felt more composed in the corners.

2018_Golf_R--7563Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Volkswagen R 2.0T four-door hatchback.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 292 hp, 280 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 93/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,300 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/29/24 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $40,635.
  • Price as tested: $40,635.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2018_Golf_R--6683Photos (c) Volkswagen

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SE: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Volkswagen ups its game in the crossover SUV arena with a triple-double by a new player, the 2018 Tiguan.

It has nothing to do with points, rebounds, assists or blocked shots in a basketball game, though the German manufacturer would be delighted if the Tiguan managed some steals from competitors.

To that end, it has doubled its overall warranty to 72,000 miles and six years from the standard 36,000 miles and three years. It also has added a third row of seats to all Tiguans, standard on front-wheel drive models and a $500 option on all-wheel-drive models.

2018_tiguan_-_sel_premium_7316It’s all part of VW’s effort to win over new fans and rebuild trust among existing ones who were angered and disillusioned by the company’s cheating on diesel-engine emissions. Not surprisingly, the new Tiguan is powered by a gasoline engine, though a gasoline/electric hybrid could eventually follow.

The Tiguan’s triple-double certainly enhances its appeal, although the South Korean Hyundai and Kia brands currently offer an overall warranty of 60,000 miles and five years, as well as 10 years and 100,000 miles on the engine and transmission.

For now, the Tiguan’s power comes from a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that delivers 184 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque through an 8-speed automatic transmission. City/highway/combined fuel economy is 21/27/23 mpg.

2018_tiguan_-_sel_premium_7283The Tiguan plays in the current automotive version of March Madness, in which crossover sport utility vehicles of all sizes are knocking sedans out of the game. That’s particularly true in the compact cluster where the Tiguan competes against such proven competitors as the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage, Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tucson and Mazda CX-5.

With the new Tiguan, VW reckons that it now can brag that it is a family-oriented full-line company. It joins the midsize Touareg and new full-size Atlas, along with the Golf Sportwagen, Golf hatchbacks, Beetle, and Jetta, CC and Passat sedans.

The new Tiguan is nearly 11 inches longer than its predecessor, now stretching to 15 feet 5 inches in length. That delivered enough space for the third row, which increases the passenger capacity to seven. However, the third row should be reserved for athletic small children and forbidden to senior citizens of any age. It takes a gymnast’s twists and turns to get back there, where there’s barely enough space for backpacks and watermelons.

2018_tiguan_-_s_7268Likely most owners will reserve the third row for dire emergencies and simply leave it folded to expand the cargo area, which in two-row versions has 38 cubic feet of space, about triple what you find in compact sedans.

The Tiguan comes in four trim levels with a starting price of $24,245 for the base S and ranging up to $38,450 for the all-wheel-drive top-of-the-line SEL Premium. The focus here is on the two-row all-wheel-drive SE, which carried a price tag of $31,280.

To get all the goodies like navigation, lane departure and collision mitigation, blind-spot warning, rear camera, SXM satellite radio and other safety, connectivity and convenience items, you must order one of the more expensive versions.

2018_tiguan_-_sel_premium_7325Accommodations vary with cloth seats on the S, leatherette on SE and SEL, and leather on the SEL Premium. The choice here was for the comfortable and supportive cloth seats on the S, which look durable enough to survive many years. The leatherette should be durable as well, though it is less comfortable for long distances, especially in summer.

The Tiguan has a character that owners often refer to as its German feel. It tracks cleanly down the road, has a suspension system that absorbs bumps and, with accurate steering, handles curving roads without fuss. In addition, the ride is comfortable and very quiet with little intrusion of mechanical, road or wind noise.

2018_tiguan_-_sel_premium_7290A couple of quibbles are in order. The CD changer, in a nod to the past, resides in the glove compartment. Also, on models with the panoramic sunroof, the shade is made of a flimsy material that mimics cheesecloth and allows too much sunlight to intrude. Sun shades should be opaque.

Another cheesy item that saves a couple of bucks: The driver’s side sun visor slides on its support rod to fully block sun from the side; the passenger does not get the same courtesy because that visor is rigidly fixed.

Overall, this is an improved and more competitive Tiguan in a tough fight.

2018_tiguan_-_s_7266Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SE four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter 4-cylinder, turbocharged, 184 hp, 221 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/38 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,858 lbs.
  • Payload: 970 lbs.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 21/27/23 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $31,280.
  • Price as tested: $31,280.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2018_tiguan_-_s_7265Photos (c) Volkswagen.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas: A DriveWays Review

by Frank A. Aukofer

The Beetle builder goes big with the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas.

Though the Beetle’s sidekick — the famed VW microbus of the 1960s — could carry as many passengers, the Atlas is the biggest Volkswagen ever. Moreover, it was designed for American buyers and is built in the United States.

Of course, VW’s reputation was established with the Beetle, the sturdy two-door, rear-engine sedan that entranced buyers following World War II and into the mid-1970s.

2018_atlas_7017Nowadays, however, if you want to compete in the world-wide vehicle industry, you must field at least one crossover sport utility vehicle. Better yet, provide choices.

Compact and midsize crossovers are taking over the marketplace as buyers recognize the utility of a machine that carries big cargo loads and passengers, can be equipped with all-wheel drive for safety in foul weather, and deliver modest off-road performance.

Volkswagen already had two crossovers in its lineup: the compact Tiguan and the midsize Touareg. Both have two rows of seats to accommodate up to five passengers.

2018_atlas_7014But VW’s country of origin is Germany, where manufacturers like BMW are relentlessly trying to plug every market niche with their vehicle lineups, especially with crossovers. It was inevitable that Volkswagen, with its goal of becoming a full-line family-oriented automobile company, would deliver a full-size crossover that can carry up to seven passengers.

Moreover, the company is working hard to regain the trust of consumers in the wake of a scandal in which it admitted violations of federal anti-pollution laws by faking diesel engine emissions test results.

No surprise, there will be no diesel engine for the new Atlas. Two gasoline engines are offered: a 235-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, offered only in front-wheel drive models; and a 276-hp 3.6-liter V6, available with either front-drive or all-wheel drive. Both get the power to the pavement through an eight-speed automatic transmission.

2018_atlas_7009At the introduction, the tested Atlas crossovers were equipped with the V6 engine, most with all-wheel drive. The 2.0-liter four-banger will arrive later in the model year.

The Atlas enters the market against formidable odds. Among the proven competitors are the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, GMC Acadia, Ford Explorer, Dodge Durango, Mazda CX-9, Hyundai Santa Fe, Buick Enclave and Chevrolet Traverse.

Starting prices for six trim levels of the Atlas, including an S launch model with the V6 engine and front- or all-wheel drive, range from $31,425 for the base four-cylinder S version to the top-line Atlas SEL Premium at $49,415. The latter was tested for this review. All prices include the $925 destination charge.

2018_atlas_6963The SEL Premium was as well equipped as almost anything you’d find in a showroom. In addition to the V6 engine and all-wheel drive, it comes with leather upholstery, three-zone automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, 20-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights, park assist, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats, and a Fender premium audio system. The tested Atlas also had the optional second-row individual seats, which reduced the passenger accommodations from seven to six.

The captain’s chairs are slightly smaller than the front seats but offer support and comfort. They recline and feature about eight inches of fore and aft travel, which helps to divide the knee room between the second and third rows of seats. Head room is generous.

A minor complaint: the shade for the sunroof is made of a perforated cloth that allows too much sunlight to intrude into the passenger pod. This has unaccountably become a common feature on some luxury cars. Sunshades should be opaque.

2018_atlas_6969With either the second-row bench seat or the captain’s chairs, the Atlas maintains 21 cubic feet of space for cargo behind the third row, which can accommodate two average-sized adults, though they sit with their knees raised high. Fold the third row and the cargo space expands to nearly 56 cubic feet.

On the road, the Atlas has a substantial feel. It is a big vehicle — 16.5 feet long and weighing 4,502 lbs — and it feels big. It has plenty of power though it is not particularly nimble. But it tracks cleanly on the highway with few steering corrections needed. Cornering on twisting roads is capable as long as you don’t push it too hard.

The ride is comfortable and there’s little intrusion of wind and mechanical noise, though rough pavement elicited a harmonic thrum from the tires that made its way inside.

Like its competitors, the Atlas will please customers who want family space and comfort without resorting to a minivan.

2018_atlas_7004Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:6-liter VR6, 276 hp, 266 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 6 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 154/21 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,502 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 17/23/19 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $49,415.
  • Price as tested: $50,040.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2018_atlas_7020Photos (c) Volkswagen.

2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

In the interest of accuracy discussing the 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, let’s call a spade a spade—or, this case, a wagon a wagon.

VW folks perhaps would like us to think of it as a compact crossover sport utility vehicle because small and compact crossovers currently are the hottest items in the market, rapidly muscling into sales of compact and midsize sedans.

But Volkswagen already has a compact crossover called the Tiguan. The Alltrack basically is the same vehicle as the Golf SportWagen, only slightly taller with better ground clearance and all-wheel drive.

2017_golf_alltrack_6343The Tiguan had respectable sales of 43,638 in 2016. But it was way down the ladder from the compact crossover leader, the Honda CR-V, which sold 357,355 copies.

Generally, crossover SUVs have unit bodies, built like most automobiles. The original SUVs were, and are, built like pickup trucks with their bodies sitting on separate frames. An example of a truck-based SUV is the Chevrolet Tahoe. The car-based Subaru Forester is a crossover.

For some unfathomable reason, U.S. buyers decided some time back that they didn’t like station wagons or hatchbacks. The distaste continues for wagons, which had their heyday back in the 1970s. But customers are warming up to hatchbacks, mainly because manufacturers finessed the situation by jacking up hatchbacks to crossover height and adding all-wheel drive.

2017_golf_alltrack_6349Nevertheless, modern station wagons—especially one like the Alltrack with standard all-wheel drive—continue to be useful and driver friendly. They usually handle and perform as well as their sedan siblings with the bonus of, in some cases, double the cargo carrying capability.

That’s not the case with the Alltrack. Because it’s based on the hatchback Golf, its cargo space of 30 cubic feet is only about seven cubic feet more than the Golf’s. Nevertheless, it’s a welcome windfall. The Alltrack also is a foot longer than the Golf and better looking with its stretched profile.

The tested Alltrack was a midlevel SE version with a $31,350 price tag. It was well equipped overall but lacked a couple of desirable features, including automatic climate control and a fully powered driver’s seat. To get those you must step up to the top-line SEL.

2017_golf_alltrack_6329But the motorized seatback recline feature and manual seat adjustments, which include seat height, should satisfy almost everyone. They lack only the full fine-tune power adjustments favored by finicky drivers. The seats themselves deliver support and comfort, though they are covered in man-made leatherette, which is durable but sticky in summertime. Front seats are heated so they are only briefly chilly in wintertime.

Interior space is not generous. The driver and front-seat passenger have plenty of head and elbow room. But the outboard back seats, despite decent space for the noggin, come up short on knee room. Though there’s a seatbelt for a fifth passenger in the middle, it’s not worth the bother, compromised by an intrusive floor hump and a hard seat cushion.

Safety equipment included a standard rear-view camera, stability and traction control, fog lights, heated windshield washers and tire pressure monitoring along with a crash mitigation system.

2017_golf_alltrack_6327Desirable convenience features included a motorized glass sunroof, upscale Fender audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, SXM satellite radio with an informative center touch screen, keyless entry, pushbutton starting and selectable driving modes: Off-road, custom, normal and sport.

The sport setting holds the transmission to higher engine revs before shifting for better acceleration and passing. Though the off-road mode incorporates hill descent control, the Alltrack should not be confused with a genuine boondocks basher. It can handle foul weather and, with its slightly better road clearance, can negotiate unpaved forest roads. Mostly what the all-wheel drive provides is more secure handling on curving two-lane highways.

The Alltrack, despite weighing about 250 pounds more than the SportWagen, nevertheless is a spunky performer. It is powered by VW’s ubiquitous 170-horsepower, turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a smooth but snap shifting dual-clutch automatic transmission that can be shifted manually.

With a mid-seven-second 0-60 acceleration time, it won’t win many stoplight sprints. But it exhibits a lightness of being that infuses throttle inputs, and steering and suspension system feedback, which impart an eager and nimble feel.

About the only thing the Alltrack lacks is a taller profile. Many drivers derive confidence from sitting up high and looking over the traffic, though that’s problematical now with the proliferation of crossovers.

Maybe VW should simply jack it up a bit more.

2017_golf_alltrack_6346Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack TSI SE four-door station wagon.
  • Engine:8-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 170 hp, 199 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 94/30 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,497 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/30/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $31,350.
  • Price as tested: $31,350.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

2017_golf_alltrack_6336Photos (c) Volkswagen

2017 North American International Auto Show: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Detroit, Mich.—Bucking the tide of compact crossover sport utility vehicles, three new sedans from Japan’s Toyota and South Korea’s Kia captured onlookers’ attention here at the 2017 North American International Auto Show, which runs through Jan. 22.

A few manufacturers introduced new compact crossovers, which have taken over as the hottest category in U.S. sales—mainly at the expense of midsize and compact sedans. But they were few and overshadowed by three four-doors.

They are the all-new 2018 Toyota Camry, the 2018 Lexus LS500 from Toyota’s luxury division and the 2018 Kia Stinger, a new midsize sports sedan that looks as if it could threaten some of Europe’s best.

On the small crossover front, Nissan unveiled the new Rogue Sport, a smaller version of its compact SUV. It is based on the Nissan Qashqui, which is sold in other world markets. Mercedes-Benz introduced an all-new GLA and Chevrolet presented its redesigned Equinox, a compact crossover that tilts toward midsize.

But that was about it unless you count the new Chevrolet Traverse, a full-size, three-row crossover, the stretched Volkswagen Tiguan—also with three rows—and the smaller performance-oriented Audi SQ5.

toyotacamryDespite the booming popularity of compact crossovers, manufacturers still obviously believe in midsize sedans. The Camry, despite losing 40,737 customers between 2015 and 2016, still topped the midsize field with 388,618 sold in 2016.

The 2018 model, seeking to mitigate the Camry’s reputation as durable but bland, boasts styling changes and improvements across the board. It is longer, lower and wider, with a lower center of gravity for better handling.

As before, there are four versions: LE, XLE, SE, and XSE. The LE and XLE models have a different grille from the S and XSE versions and are oriented toward comfort. The S and XSE models have a more sporting personality. Power choices are a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, a 3.5-liter V6 and a hybrid.

For 2018, all Toyota Camry models get the company’s Entune 3.0 connectivity system, which includes navigation and a host of other state-of-the art features.

lexusls5502Over at the Lexus display, the attention grabber was the all-new LS500, which at 17 feet 2 inches long is bigger and classier than ever, rivaling the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, Jaguar XJ and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The LS500 is powered by a 415-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine with twin turbochargers, a 10-speed automatic transmission and a predicted zero-to-60 mph acceleration time of 5.1 seconds.

Among other things, its standard and optional features include a 12.3-inch center screen with navigation and handwriting recognition, air suspension system, heated, cooled and massaging front and rear seats, and a detection system that can trigger braking or steering around a pedestrian.

kiastinger2Most of the excitement among enthusiasts, however, focused on the Kia Stinger, an all-new car with a new name. It marks a milestone at the South Korean manufacturer, which delivers high quality cars, crossovers and even a minivan.

The midsize Stinger is a performance-oriented Gran Turismo four-door with a fastback design and a rear hatch, not unlike the larger Audi A7, which competes among cars that can cost up to $80,000.

Few Stinger details were available at the introduction, including the price, but it likely will be way less than the A7’s—more competitive with the likes of the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Jaguar XE, Lexus IS and Mercedes-Benz C-Class cars.

With rear-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive with torque vectoring for improved handling, the Stinger will offer two power plants: 225-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine or a 365-horsepower twin-turbocharged V6 engine. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters for a manual shifting mode. No manual gearbox was considered.Vice President Joe Biden Visits 2017 NAIAS

Photos and Logo (c) NAIAS.

2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune: A DriveWays Review

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune has nothing in common with Frank Herbert’s fantasy novel and its scary giant sandworms. But the stylish makeover of VW’s Beetle should worm its way into the affections of Beetle buffs.

It’s a proven technique in the automobile biz. When a given model has been around awhile and familiarity begins to breed indifference, manufacturers dream up newbies. They rearrange options lists, lower prices, invent new names, and add equipment and colors so the vehicle appears fresh and new.

Volkswagen has been particularly adept at such spinoffs, especially with the Beetle, which was resurrected in 1997 as the New Beetle, a front engine, front drive two-door instead of the original rear engine, rear drive Bug. It has since formed the foundation for many special editions and, in 2011, the company dropped the “New” designation to simply keep it the Beetle.

2016VWBeetleDuneConvertible-2The Beetle Dune actually amounts to a bit more than options shuffling. Inspired by the Baja 1000 off-road adventure in Mexico’s Lower California peninsula, it can boast of some miniscule boondocks credibility—a slightly wider stance and a bit of extra road clearance.

But in the end it’s all about styling. From one perspective, the Beetle Dune mimics a high-powered Porsche race car overtaking you on the road. At the same time, it resembles a customized dune buggy. So it has both curb- and sand-blaster appeal. Even if you don’t like the look, you have to concede that it has personality and panache.

What it doesn’t have is a pit stop full of performance. Other than its arresting looks, the Beetle Dune is, well, a regular Beetle. That means it comes with a 170 hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 184 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission.

A manual gearbox would be more attractive to enthusiasts who like the control and driver involvement that comes with shifting for themselves. But VW goes with the flow, recognizing that the automatics obviously have wider appeal. In the U.S., stick shifts have diminished to less than 4% of total new car sales.

2016VWBeetleDuneConvertible-10However, the Dune’s automatic comes with driver selectable Sport and Manual modes. In Sport, the onboard computer holds each gear to higher rpms before upshifting. Car and Driver magazine clocked a respectable 0-60 mph acceleration time of 7.4 seconds.

What the Dune excels at is respectable road manners. The steering delivers responsive feedback while the suspension system, body rigidity and tires keep everything planted around corners. Though the tradeoff favors handling, the ride is supple and reasonably comfortable in most situations.

The Dune, like other Beetle versions, is available as a two-door hatchback—tested here—or as a two-door convertible. In the hatchback model the rear seatbacks fold flat to double the cargo space from 15 to 30 cubic feet.

There’s no pretense of a fifth seat. The Dune is a four-passenger car with adequate but not generous rear seat room for regular sized adults. On the plus side, the manually operated front seats slide back and forth to ease access to the back seats.

The same cannot be said for the sun visors. On the driver’s side, the visor slides on its support rod to fully block sunlight from the side. But the passenger’s sun visor does not slide, perhaps saving Volkswagen a buck per car.

2016VWBeetleDuneConvertible-7Even at that, the Dune has a starting price of $24,815, including the destination charge. With options that included $250 for the special Sandstone Yellow exterior paint and $1,695 for a technology package, the test car came with a bottom line sticker of $26,760, including the destination charge.

The yellow paint theme, which borders on orange, carries over to the interior, where the seats are crafted of quality cloth with stylish vinyl trim and gold stitching. All seat adjustments are manual but there are enough to of them accommodate almost anyone. They provide good support for long distance cruising.

Standard features include cruise control, 18-inch alloy wheels, parking assist and an array of safety equipment: traction and stability control, rear view camera, tire pressure monitoring and crash mitigation.

The technology package included a motorized sunroof, automatic climate control, a Fender premium audio system and keyless access with pushbutton starting. Though the glass sunroof is large, it only opens about half way.

With clogged highways that sometimes seem impenetrable, the 2016 Volkswagen Beetle Dune’s exceptional looks, passable performance and decent handling go a long way toward replacing frustration with motoring satisfaction.

2016_beetle_dune_5731Specifications

  • Model: 2016 Volkswagen Beetle 1.8T Dune two-door sedan.
  • Engine:8-liter four cylinder, turbocharged, 170 hp, 184 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 85/15 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,093 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/34/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $24,815.
  • Price as tested: $26,760.

Photos (c) VW, Jason Fogelson

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