One Car, Two Car

This is my way-ahead-of-time research and analysis on what my next vehicle should be. It basically come down to Volkswagen GTI vs. TDI.

When I was in high school, I learned to drive on my mom’s 1999 Volkswagen Jetta Wolfsburg Edition. It had a manual transmission, which I originally hated, especially at that stoplight at the top of an incline. Over time, I learned to love driving that car, and even in stop-and-go traffic, it wasn’t a nuisance. It would have been my car, but it died a few months before I started college.

Instead, my dad kindly gave me his 1999 Toyota Avalon XL. It’s brown inside and out, nice and roomy for when I transport friends, and achieves the North American sedan average of about 21 MPG. It’s a nice reliable car, but it is at a stage in its life when it demands things to be repaired and replaced — like struts and window regulator assemblies. Nevertheless, I want to keep it for several more years to avoid monthly car payments.

Meanwhile, the plan is to save for a healthy down payment on a new car; even better, I would love to save up the full cost of a car. Here are some things I’m considering:

  • would love to drive a VW again
  • I want an improvement in gas mileage
  • must be 4 doors
  • I miss driving a manual
  • long-term maintenance costs

Volkswagen, really?

‘Be careful with Volkswagens,’ my friends tell me. ‘They look nice and handle well, but they are unreliable.’ In my experience, though, this is not the case. The first issue we had with our ’99 Jetta was well after 100,000 miles — a reservoir cracked. Afterward, we had one or two issues with sensors and the driver’s side power window. Finally, around 199,000 miles, the clutch went out. Overall, I’d say the beloved Jetta fared well.

Fuel Mileage

Honestly, almost anything available today is an improvement over 21 MPG. At least, there are more options available with better fuel mileage. However, the Volkswagen GTI is not one of them. It is EPA rated to achieve 21 city MPG and 31 highway MPG. But technically (okay, maybe just if I rationalize), that is an improvement because it offers much better performance than my Avalon.

I have no interest in hybrids, but I’m open to the VW Golf TDI. It is EPA rated at 30 city MPG and 42 highway MPG. However, TDI-owning webizens say that once the diesel engine is broken in around 15,000 miles, it achieves somewhere around 50 MPG with mixed driving. Thus, a single tank offers a range closing in on 700 miles. Volkswagen claims that a pair of “mileage experts” achieved 84 MPG in a Passat TDI that was EPA rated for 43 MPG. Even though diesel fuel in the United States is more expensive than regular unleaded, the fuel cost per mile ends up being less than my Avalon.

Four Doors

I don’t have a family of my own, but I do regularly offer rides to friends. This is so often the case that a two-door car won’t cut it. Both the GTI and TDI are offered in a four door configuration. They’re compacts, and my friends won’t have ample legroom in the backseat, but maybe it is time Americans got used to smaller cars.

Transmission

I ended up loving to drive manual, and I regularly say I miss it while driving my slushbox Avalon. However, I primarily drive in a city, under which circumstances an automatic transmission is usually considered the smart choice. What to do, what to do?

It turns out that Volkswagen offers two transmissions on their Golfs: 6-speed manual or 6-speed DSG (direct shift gearbox) automatic transmission. The 4-door TDI adds Tiptronic and Sport mode to the DSG transmission at all trim levels. The DSG offers superior shifting — many reports even considering it superior to a professional driver with a manual transmission. Sport mode, according to Wikipedia, causes the transmission to upshift at higher revolutions and maximizes engine braking. In the end, I can probably live with a DSG + Tiptronic transmission. This adds about $1,100 to the cost of the vehicle.

Maintenance

Oil changes are necessary every 10,000 miles, but it appears that they are simple enough to do yourself, as long as you have the right oil, which appears to run around $8 per liter.

If you choose the DSG transmission, fluid changes must be done every 40,000 miles and run anywhere from $250 to $400. 

My Personal Conclusion

Moving from a Toyota Avalon from over 10 years ago, either VW would be a marked improvement. However, I am strongly in favor of a 4-door Golf TDI with DSG transmission. I am still undecided on whether to stay at the standard trim level or spring for the Tech package.