Archive for December, 2004

Move Over Fahrvergnugen

I’ve been a Volkswagen guy for a long time.  My dad has worked for VW/Audi for pretty much my whole life.  My brother works for VW, too.  I’ve only owned two cars in my life, and both were VWs.  Fahrvergnugen isn’t just a slogan in my family; it’s a tradition.

I’ve always liked the VW brand.  There’s something about VWs.  Frankly, there’s something about people that drive them.  It’s hard to explain.  But it’s more than just a car.  When you drive your VW, you’re more than just a driver.  Everyone I’ve ever known who has owned a VW has simply loved to drive it.  Invariably, I tend to get along well with other VW drivers that I meet.  Fahrvergnugen, man.

Sadly, my VW Passat is starting to rack up quite a few miles.  For a long time, I figured I’d buy another VW — maybe even another Passat — as my next car.

Enter conflict.

As I started to seriously think about what my next car ought to be, I came to the following conclusions.

  • I need a bigger car. Let’s face it: I need a minivan, SUV, or a wagon.  I’ve got two dogs that I take with me everywhere I go, and babies aren’t so far off that I can pretend a sedan will cut it for much longer.
  • I really want something that gets above average gas mileage. It’s a matter of principle for me.  It doesn’t take a prophet to see the impending oil crisis, and I’d like to stay ahead of the curve.  So, I’m thinking about a hybrid or maybe a diesel.  (Except diesels, even the clean ones, are polluters.)

These two options are, sadly, damn near incompatible.  A fuel-efficient SUV?  It’s practically an oxymoron.

So, with a hopeful heart, I went to check out what VW had to offer.  (Where else?)  My options were limited: the Diesel Touareg or the Diesel Passat Wagon.  I’m not really crazy about the diesels, either.

After relaying my dilemma to a friend, he began to suggest a number of other cars that — horrors! — weren’t even VWs!  I began explaining to my friend how I couldn’t possibly buy those cars.  He asked why.  Well . . . because I’m a VW guy!  Yeah, but why?  I have to admit that he stumped me there.

Sure, I love my VW.  It’s great to drive.  But honestly, it’s been a little bit of a hassle, and also pricey to maintain.  And it’s not just me; according to Consumer Reports VW has been “losing ground” in terms of reliability.  Consumer Reports turned out to be a treasure trove of facts I’d never even thought about.  For instance, they say that VWs, Audis, and other European cars, while better than domestic cars, have been shown to be less reliable than Asian cars.  Furthermore, they said of Asian cars:

As they age, Asian vehicles generally have fewer problems than U.S. or European vehicles. The 2001 Honda CR-V, for instance, with 12 problems per 100 vehicles, was more trouble-free than many 2003 models. 

Well, as it turns out, this is news to no one except me, and possibly my dad.  If you look at the reliability rating for Hondas and Toyotas in Consumer Reports, the assessment is staggering.  They’re as close as it gets to trouble-free.

So, in light of this new information, I arrived at a third and very important conclusion:

  • I need to consider cars other than VWs and Audis. Specifically, I should consider Japanese cars that have excellent reliability ratings, like Toyotas and Hondas.

That one was earth-shattering for me.  It’s part of who I am that I drive a VW!  So what if they’re less reliable than Toyotas or Hondas — it’s the Fahrvergnugen, baby!

Enter reality.

If you take my three conclusions all together, there are still remarkably few options.  One notable exception is the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, due out in 2005.

The regular gas-powered Highlander has gotten terrific reviews.  Consumer Reports recommends it.  The hybrid engine is based on the engine used in the Prius, which also has gotten great reviews.  It’s a full size, 7-seater SUV and it gets gas mileage like a sedan — roughly equivalent to my Passat or better.

Then, somewhere in the back of my brain, a voice says, “But it’s not a Volkswagen!”

Yes, I reply.  But maybe that’s . . . ok?

I have to admit that I would really like to own a hybrid vehicle.  With so few hybrid SUVs available, the Highlander becomes an easy choice.  I just need to get over my life-long bias towards buying German cars.

So, to sum up, I guess what I’m saying is: Dad, is it okay if I buy a Toyota?  I promise I won’t like driving it as much as my Passat.  But it might be exactly what I’m looking for right now.

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