More Car Research: Volkswagen Jetta, Volkswagen Passat

Ok, here I am again. Found a car, but I want to share some of my experiences (and besides, I wrote this while still looking), so here we go:

As I was still looking for the right car, I did my best to test drive each and every one on my “wants” list (and a few on top of that) in order to make sure I got the right car. This was my first time buying a used car, so I wanted to be sure I liked what I bought, and that what I bought was something I can rely upon.

Edit: I stopped editing so that it read correctly time-wise. Just read and enjoy. Pretend I hadn’t yet bought a car.

If you bothered to read the title (and you probably did), you know I just finished testing out the Volkswagen Jetta and Volkswagen Passat. Each has its ups and downs, and I’ll try to put in my observations here.

Last night, the Wife and I decided to check out a couple of the cars on our list, the Volkswagen Jetta and Passat. I had put these two down on my list because, having tried VW’s before, I knew that they were comfortable and from what everyone always says, they tend to be pretty reliable. (I’ll emphasize the “from what everyone always says” part because the stories told by owner reviews are generally a bit different than those I hear “through the grapevine.”) From everything I’ve heard, and this includes Howard, the sales person I spoke with last night, they don’t break down often, but they’re expensive to fix when they do, unless you have warranty, which lasts 7 years, 75,000 miles for VW (at least for the ones I saw).

Now, believe it or not, I’m actually a little leery about Volkswagen. “Oh my God, Gnorb! How can you be?! Don’t you know? That’s that Legendary German EngineeringTM you’re talking about there.” Yes, I know, I know. Everyone says they’re good cars, but here’s my reasoning: no one I know who owns a VW drives as much as I do. Those that do drive as much as I do all tell me the same thing: VWs (particularly Passats) start messing up after about 80,000 miles, or 5,000 miles after the 75,000 mile factory warranty expires. My trusty little Honda Civic is 4 years old and already has almost 130,000 miles on it and it’s still going strong. (I’ve taken pretty darn good care of that thing, so reliability is not a concern of mine when it comes to that one. I think “babying” would be a suitable term.) The same people that drive all those miles all tell me the same thing: If you’re going to buy European, buy a Mercedes. If you can’t, look to the far east.

The Jetta
Anyway, so we get to the VW dealership last night at about 8:15pm. We wonder around for about 10 minutes, checking out all their available cars (they had both new and used VWs, as well as a few Mazdas, Volvos, and Hondas) before our sales person, Howard, showed up. We told Howard what we were looking for and he started by showing us this sharp looking, black-on-black Jetta with tinted windows, moon roof and a few power options (windows and rear-view mirrors, but not seats). He showed us the engine, the trunk, the pretty lights inside the car (every button is lit inside the car, either soft orange or blue), then let us take it for a test drive.

Volkswagen

I have to admit, driving a Jetta is pretty fun. If you’ve ever driven a European car, you know the seats are built for comfort. Add to that the sporty feel of the car (something that can’t be said about older Corollas or Civics) and you have yourself a fun little monster. We took the car out to the highway and drove it up I-95/I-595 for a few miles, making sure to test out the promised power. It delivered, for the most part. The 1.8 liter Turbo engine had a bit of kick, but the transmission wasn’t very smooth, giving a bit of a kick every time we switched gears. (Yes, it was automatic. I don’t drive stick.)

After getting back, the Wife and I pretty much knew that as fun as it was, the Jetta wasn’t the car for us. While it was comfortable and very fun to drive, it was smaller than what we were looking for at this time. The Jetta is a fun car to drive, and definitely something I’d recommend for someone looking at that style of car, but I’m looking for something bigger, sooooo… it’s off the list.

The Passat
After we told Howard this, he took us to see a 2004 VW Passat that was sitting on the lot. Ever since VW came out with that cool curved back design that has since been copied by every car company out there (Nissan Altima, Maxima; Ford Five Hundred; Infinity G35 Sedan; etc.), I’ve loved the way they look. Now it was time to see whether I liked the way it rode.

Volkswagen Passat

I got inside expecting only a bigger version of the car I had just been in. I wasn’t disappointed. The car had a very comfortable feel, with all the controls within easy reach, and the seats were — well, they were VW seats; they were comfortable, covered by something called “leatherette”, which is essentially a synthetic leather that feels better than vinyl. I slid the seat back all the way to get the most room possible, and while the steering wheel’s telescopic feature made the setting just right, the leg room wasn’t as ample as I’d expect it to be. It wasn’t as small as the Jetta, but it was still smaller than I’d expected it to be. (If, like me, you’re 6’1, you know how hard it is to find a comfortable car, especially in the leg-room department.)

After we started driving around, I found out and noticed a few things. First of all, this car was a 4-cylinder, using the same 1.8 liter Turbo engine as the Jetta, but modified for the Passat’s. (This little bit worried me.) While the car was very responsive and fun to drive, it was a bit louder than I’d anticipated. The shifting between gears didn’t feel as sudden as with the Jetta, but the Passat was nowhere nearly as responsive, either.

Regarding the engine, I found out later that there are two engine types available with the Passat, a V4 1.8T engine and a larger V6 engine. As some research showed, the V4 engine is generally overworked, and while the Turbo is a nice feature, in the Passat it’s used to compensate for the lack of power, not to give it that extra kick. (In contrast, the Toyota Camry has a 2.4 liter engine, which is why it’s so smooth — and bland.) The V6, while not as fuel efficient, offers the kind of power this car needs, so if you’re considering getting a Passat, you’ll probably want to take this into consideration.

Once we got back to the dealership — a half an hour after it closed — I knew almost all of what I needed to know. While the Jetta was out due to space constraints, the Passat was still under some consideration. (I wouldn’t have minded trying out a Phaeton as well, although I know for a fact that one’s out of my price range.) The only thing that worried me was the fact that this particular Passat had almost 50,000 miles on it, meaning that in less than a year the warranty would be out, and I would have to contend with doing the fixes sans-protection. (Having to replace the gas pump in my Honda — a job costing somewhere in the line of $832 — taught me the value of having 100,000 mile, bumper to bumper protection.)

Sidenote: For the record, Howard, the guy that helped us out at this dealership, was extremely good about providing information, answering our questions honestly and thoroughly, not being pushy on the sale, and allowing us to try out the cars, even given the time of night. (The one attitude I can’t stand in a sales person is that whole “you’ve got my money in your pocket” attitude. Frankly, nothing will turn me away from a dealership faster than that. Remember dealers, one representative is all it takes so smudge your good name. Howard was not one of those salesmen.)

If you’re looking for a used (or new) VW in the Fort Lauderdale area, consider going to Gunther Used Cars, (link goes to home page, with inventory) located at 1660 South State Road 7 (aka 441), Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33317 (this is a couple of miles south of 441 and Broward Blvd, just north of the 441 North exit of 595. Ask for Howard Fenton (you’ll recognize him by that lovely Jamaican accent he sports). You can reach them at 954-717-3301 or 954-453-6325.

By the way, no, I’m not getting anything from him (though a deep discount on a Phaeton or Passat would be nice), I’m just giving readers my honest opinion and recommendation regarding that particular person.

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