Sometimes, you have to take a flight.
I am not referring to the act of getting on a plane and going somewhere. I have not done so in months, before Congress decided to walk away from the budget and not pay for air traffic control. They certainly made a mess of the aviation business. This is the impression I get, when I read my social media feeds. There had been plenty of postings akin to wanting to scream bloody murder over being a few hours late or seeing their flight cancelled even if the weather is awesome outside.
This kind of flight is something you love. You go to a nice bar or restaurant and ask the server for a flight. That kind of flight would be a sampling of beverages or certain food groups. The server returns with a rack of beers ranging from basic to adventurous. You may have a choice of brews, flavors, colors and so forth.
That kind of flight sounds wonderful – except I am sober. My alcohol intake is now down to miniscule. Instead, if I want a sampling – sort of like a "flight" – it would have to be automobiles.
This sampler just happens to be of the Teutonic kind. Something from a place called Wolfsburg. You probably guessed that this sampler of automobiles is from Volkswagen.
For this "flight" of VWs, I had a nice variety of three at my disposal. There was the Beetle Convertible with the 2.5litre five-cylinder engine, the Passat SE sedan with the same five-pot mill and a GTI Drivers Edition five-door hatch. They represent three distinct flavors of VWs that go well with most palettes – but which would satisfy the most?
For starters, the Beetle Convertible is the second generation of the front-engine, front-drive, and liquid-cooled variety. Having only driven the previous generation, I only had a chance to sit in the coupe, but not the cabriolet. For the sampler, I had the top down – it was such a beautiful day for a day, to begin with.
Driving with the top down provides a different perspective that I rarely have a chance to enjoy. In the Beetle, you find the new generation’s maturity come through with its masculine lines inside and out. Tire noise is minimal on most surfaces and the body seems stable from both underneath and above the roof cut. Any wind could not buffet the Beetle even if it tried.
The stability of the Beetle translated to a decent ride/handling package with good brakes. The let down is in the steering, where it felt soft and loose. Turning is decent, but not reactive or sharp. The five-pot is fine under the Beetle's hood with the six-speed Tiptronic automatic serving its needs. Some enthusiasts would rather opt for the 2.0-liter TSI turbo or the 1.9-liter TDI turbo diesel. The fact that both options are available on the convertible is indeed a good thing.
Inside is a serious cabin, despite some paeans to the old Bugs. Having painted metal on the door edges and instrument panel offers its own risks, especially on hot days. I would keep the elbows away from them and concentrating on the steering wheel. Seats are bolstered enough to keep me inside the convertible's cabin, but I would prefer the seat belt be more available to me as a tall driver.
Having downed one from the flight, the Passat came as a huge surprise amongst the trio. Having questioned its awarding of Motor Trend's Car of The Year in 2012, I came to realize why it won.
For starters, it is a large sedan. In truth, it is in the middle of the mid-sized family sedan segment that is skewed towards American-made, Japanese-branded sedans. Yet, the Chattanooga-made Passat offers a lot, despite it being supersized for North American tastes. Four adults – driver included – can enjoy more than enough room to stretch out on long drives. That is how big the cabin is.
The sampler had the 170-horsepower five-pot with the six-speed Tiptronic gearbox on board. Though it offered plenty of power, it is not the primary choice for Passat owners. Soon, a 1.8-liter TSI turbo will be in its place under the hood for the 2014 model year, though you can get a Passat with the 1.9-liter TDI turbocharged diesel or 3.6-liter V6. Still, the five-pot is for cruising lazily across interstates and two-lane blacktops.
Back to the cabin, the seats are big, but offer some bolstering to keep the driver locked in behind the wheel. Instrumentation and switchgear are familiar – perhaps almost last generation Passat, with the exception of the switchblade key inserted into the column. However, one will find the Passat a quiet place to drive in. The cabin is well insulted from road, tire and wind noise – confirming the point about being a good long distance driver.
The last sampler on the flight is a spicy one. Perhaps one for the enthusiasts, because if you have not driven one – or, refuse to do so – you are missing out on one of the most important points on the automotive map.
Six generations on, the GTI remains the hot hatch to match, if not beat. After being born as a Golf, the GTI is transformed into a masterful piece of fighting gear. The roar of the 2.0-liter TSI turbocharged engine – spewing 200 horses – is all you need to introduce yourself to the feeling.
One may find the ride very harsh and stiff. Road imperfections could never be absorbed by the firmness of the GTI's suspension. It is the price you pay for superb handling, sharp steering and fantastic brakes. If every road was smooth, without anything sticking out or sunken in, the GTI would be an awesome drive to master. While some would prefer the manual gearbox, my left leg was thankful the DSG six-speed dual-clutch gearbox was well matched with the TSI's revs and response.
Inside will get some used to, if you are not a fan of highly bolstered seats and sport touches all around. The GTI interior as designed for serious work and the seats will adjust to you – your body will respond, trust me. In all, the GTI is very spacious for the driver, a few passengers and some of their gear – the main reason why it has been an icon since its European introduction in the late 1970s.
Its arrival in 1982 in the Pennsylvania-built Rabbit (that is the Mk I Golf for those who comprehend 'Murican), the GTI symbolized the entry point for enthusiasts who like snap shifts, great clutch work and amazing maneuverability in a comfortable and practical hot hatch.
It is plainly obvious which Volkswagen was my favorite of this flight trio. I will admit to liking a bit of spice when it is called for. I will take a full pint of GTI, please?
DISCLAIMER: All vehicles were provided by Volkswagen of Inver Grove, Inver Grove Heights, MN
All photos by Randy Stern