In a struggle to be happy and free

Drystone Wall

My new German

As I promised, I brought my new German home on Wednesday. I think we’re going to get along just fine. It’s been a very long time since I’ve experienced that new car smell. It’s a bit disconcerting. The last time I had a new car, I was a lot more willing to park at the far end of the lot and wash it twice a week. Frankly, I have less patience for this sort of thing. This car won’t be so babied. So let me share with you some random thoughts about it.

It’s great to have air conditioning again. The air conditioning in the Accord failed a few years after I got it, which was also just after the warranty coverage on the repair had expired. They told me the refrigerant lines were corroded right through and would have to be replaced. The cost? About $600. So I enjoyed air conditioning for only two or three of the twelve years I owned the car. Repair it for $600? Give me a break.

I’m not very impressed with the thought of car payments again.

Frankly, I wonder what people are buying when they spend $50,000 for a car. This one is so cushy and has so many conveniences, I can’t imagine many other things could be added. I don’t have a navigation system, leather seats, alloy wheels, any sort of DVD player, a CD changer, electric seat adjustment, or a sun roof. If these would double the price, I can’t see how they’re worth it.

When it came time to decide on options, I knew I wanted nothing to do with alloy wheels. If you drive them through the winter, they can corrode. While it’s unsightly, the real problem occurs when the corrosion worms its way under the tire’s bead. The corrosion produces a powder which compromises the tire’s seal. Try and keep your tire inflated once this happens! At one point, I had to top up the tire pressure every other day. Once, I had a tire lose 10 lbs of air over the course of 14 hours. No, I’ll take regular unattractive iron rims any day of the week.

Because of my insistence on avoiding alloy wheels, I also gave up the sun roof. The Jetta combines alloy wheels, a sun roof, and chrome trim around the windows for some $2075. It’s just as well because my use of the sun roof was infrequent at best in the Accord. I hated having the sun blast me in the face from above. It usually managed to avoid my sunglasses and get directly into my eyes. No, I’ll keep the $2075, thanks.

The only disadvantage of not having a sunroof is it reduces the means by which I can keep the interior cool. What I sometimes did in the Accord was open both the rear windows and the sunroof. The air would get sucked in the windows, and funnel out the roof. It was quite a vigorous ventilation, let me tell you! Relying on the rear windows in the Jetta is problematic because they are far more susceptible to buffeting than the Accord’s rear windows were. Roll them both down at speed, and your ears are pounded by a periodic subsonic assault. It’s nasty.

The Jetta’s fuel tank is ten litres smaller than the Accord’s 65 litre tank. Despite this, the only time I’ll be getting 500 or 600 km per tank is if there’s a hole in it. I went a step further in my zeal for saving fuel and got myself a diesel Jetta. That’s right folks, I should be getting 833 km per tank of fuel if the city mileage rating is accurate. We’ll see though, because even though such a distance seems hard to believe, I know I can do better than the city rating. For comparison, the highway rating indicates a distance of 1058 km per tank! So far, indications are promising. You know how when you fill the gas tank to the top, the fuel indicator typically rises above the ‘full’ mark? Well I drove 175 km before it dropped to just full. This is a third of the distance a whole tank took me in the Accord before I started driving for efficiency! Still, I know fuel gauges never seem to give a linear indication of the remaining fuel so I can’t extrapolate this result over a whole tank. The only downside is it’s going to take a loooong time to use a tank of fuel so I can work out the numbers.

Oh, there’s something I need to add here. I mentioned to a friend that the diesel produces more nitrogen oxide and particulates in excess of 3 microns than a gasoline engine. She asked why I got it since the environment was so high on my list of concerns. If I gave this impression, let me correct it right now. At the top of my list is efficiency. Overall, I think an efficient car is the best thing for the environment, but the environment itself wasn’t at the top of my list.

So far I can see only two disadvantages to the diesel. First, not all gas stations have diesel. This is no big deal really, because even after the low fuel indicator comes on, I have seven litres left, which should be good for more than 100 additional kilometres. The most significant drawback involved financing. For the gas Jetta, Volkswagen offered 2.9% or 3.9% financing, depending on the model. Because of the demand for the diesel models and their scarcity, I’m guessing the manufacturer felt no need to dangle any carrots in front of buyers, so I’m stuck paying nearly prime. I’ll pay it off early though. The federal government is encouraging buyers to purchase fuel-efficient automobiles so they will be mailing me a cheque for $1500, which I will apply directly to the principal I owe. I should also be able to make extra payments here and there. If it weren’t for this interest discrepancy, the premium for the diesel would be paid off within about four years. It’ll take longer to make up the difference because of the interest rate, but I will.

Volkswagen has specified the use of engine oil conforming to a standard they’ve set. It’s not widely available at this time. This did not sound like good news. I asked about oil changes at the dealership and was told they run eighty-something dollars. While this is a large amount, the first oil change is required at 8,000 km and only every 16,000 km thereafter. Since I’m accustomed to scheduling oil changes every 5,000 km, it works out to be a comparable cost per distance. The bonus is I don’t have to do it as often.

The diesel engine has a break-in period. It does not require gentle driving but I’ve read that maximum compression is achieved only when the engine closes in on the 100,000 km mark. While I have no idea if this is true, it certainly implies that even though my initial fuel economy will be outstanding, it will improve over time. Some have reported being able to drive 1,000 miles (yes miles) on a single tank of fuel. Granted most of these drivers have the previous Jetta body style which is lighter, and they are on the highway for almost all of their travels, it still shows me I should expect quite a difference compared to the cars I’ve owned before.

In addition to the usual protection, Volkswagens provides a twelve year rust perforation warranty with no distance limitation. The dealer not only didn’t try to get me to buy any sort of rust proofing or undercoating, but he suggested I not have these things done.

The gearing is radically different than my old Accord. In the Accord, the bottom of 4th gear (about 2000 RPM) is 60 km/h and the the bottom of 5th gear is 80 km/h. The Jetta seems to be geared for a combination of fuel economy and the low-end torque of the diesel because the 2000 RPM points of 4th and 5th gear are not 60 and 80 km/h, but rather 80 and 100 km/h. I expect this will do wonders for highway efficiency. I haven’t figured out exactly where the other gears fall, but I just up-shift at 2500 RPM when the engine’s cold and 3000 RPM when it’s warm, and keep the engine in the neighbourhood of 2000 RPM when running at speed.

And on a related note, the Jetta is remarkably fun to drive. Despite having only 100 horsepower, it brings 177 lb/ft of torque to the table. Further, all of this torque is available from 1800 to 2400 RPM. The result is you don’t have to wind the revs up into the stratosphere to throw the car around.

I was exceedingly displeased to read the cruise control cannot be set at speeds above 110 and it will disengage if the car reaches 110 while cruise control is active. How presumptuous of the manufacturer to disallow us from taking advantage of this feature at just 10 km/h over the highway limit! But then I noticed it’s actually 110 mph or 180 km/h. Okay, never mind.

Note to self: get floor mats. Carpet mats are provided, but those aren’t going to work in the winter.

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3 Comments

  1. I’m sorry, but car talk bores me to tears, so I skipped to the end to leave a comment about what I think more $$ cars might offer. The fancier cars I’ve been in have dual a/c controls, heated seats (you do live in a cold place, right? I know if you tried it, you’d want it), no bucket seats, at least in the larger cars which I will probably never buy (but oh how I long to be seated not in a bucket on long car rides). That’s about it. Oh, and a button on the remote that also opens the trunk.

    That being said, we have a Honda Civic and it suits us fine since we take public transport to work. I actually feel a little guilty having a car since we don’t really NEED it.

    • Rick

      But wait, I have heated seats and a button on the remote that opens the trunk too!

      Funny you should mention it because I think I’ve only ever tried heated seats once. I didn’t think it was much of a big deal. It’s my face and lungs that get cold, not my ass. And I wonder how effective a heated seat is given that I’m sitting on my coat, which is an excellent insulator, by design.

  2. WTL

    We own a 1993 TD Golf, which regularly still gets ~ 50 MPG and we love our little car. We’re about to decide if we are going to get the bits of rust taken care of and get the car painted, or if we’ll start looking for a new used Golf.

    The reason VW TDIs are so scarce right now is that VW is about to introduce their new TDI common-rail engines in, I think 2008.

    Enjoy the new Jetta.

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