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Sunday, November 29 Front Page >> Random Rants >> Buying a New Car, Part One

May 27, 2004, 2:55pm

So for the last two weeks, I've been searching and researching the marketplace, thinking about a new car. It's been a long time since I bought a new car, but it's time.

As you may know from my rants here, I really dislike big gas guzzling, poluting SUVs. They are the bane of our driving lifestyles today in N. America.

When I decided it was time for a new car, I had four criteria

  • had to have low emissions / amazing gas mileage
  • had to have some power under the hood
  • had to look cool, (to my eyes, not yours)
  • had to have a reliable record, and relatively economical service life

I also have a penchant for European and Japanese cars and styling (more Euro than Japanese...). And I wanted a four door sedan. No hatchbacks, no two door "coupe".

Initially, I narrowed my choice down to the following:

Toyota Prius
The 2004 Toyota Prius has a lot going for it - a unique hybrid system (different from the Hondas), a drastically different styling, and some great reviews. But the price of the model I was considering (about $32K), and the lack of power under the hood, plus the greatly variable fuel economy (some reviews said it was as low as 35mpg city, depending on your driving style) turned me off.

Honda Civic Hybrid
My initial first choice was the Civic Hybrid; I drove a Civic LX last year (rental in Anaheim) and was impressed with it. The Hybrid has a bit more oomph under the hood than the Prius (not much 82 foot pounds at 4200rpms for the Prius, 87 foot pounds at 3300rpms, a bit more overtaking power) But the price (around $33K with taxes), and the still-lack-of-power and the whole "experimental" thing about the car scares me off a bit.

Honda Civic LX
The gasser Civic has some amazing gas mileage (upper 40s highway, low 40s city), and has some cruising power. It also has a low-emissions rating in Canada.

Jetta GLS TDi Sport
A turbo deisel - and only 2,000 of the "Sport" editions have been made - Canada exclusive... my next car?

Volkswagon Jetta TDI
Initially, it was the above three. Then a friend said to me "have you considered one of the TDi cars from Volkswagon?

So I did some research. A turbo deisel? Do they even sell deisel cars in Canada any longer? Well, yes they do. Volkswagon has a TDi Golf, Jetta, and Passat in Canada (the TDi Beetle is coming next year I think).

Initially, I was very impressed with the specs. The Jetta GLS TDi has a whopping 61mpg (imperial) highway, 52mpg (imperial) city. It has only a 100 horsepower engine, but it produces an amazing 177 footpounds of torque at only 1800rpms (zoom zooom zooooooom). I liked the looks. I liked the included amenitites (power everything, imobilizer, $300 electronic stabilization program option, nice interior, etc etc). The price was a bit up there, but still lower than the Prius and Civic Hybrid. And it ran on deisel, which is $0.20 less or more than gas in these parts.With its 55 litre gas tank, I could drive as much as 1100 kilometres on a full tank (4.8l / 100kms highway), or 900 kms of city driving between fillups. Wow.

I visited every website possible that talked about Jettas and the TDi models especially. One site of particular note is TDi Club, an enthusiast site for all things TDi from Volkswagon. Literally seven days of reading (about 3 hours a day) made me start to fear buying the car. Turns out the last few years of Volkswagons have had their bad points. Lots of QC issues with the car. Some disgruntled owners. Some expensive repair jobs.

And Volkswagon's customer satisfaction rating is low.

Test Driving

In the past four days, I've test driven six cars. A used Civic LX-G model (2002, with 34,000kms on it). I could have driven away from the dealer with the car for around $15,500. Nice car, fully loaded, clean, fast, efficient. But when I test drove it, I counted at least 14 Civics I passed in my travels. Blah.

I also test drove a new 2004 Civic, which seemed to have a bit more oomph than the used one. I test drove a Prius - that was an experience. It's eerie to not hear the car at some speeds. But it was clunky, slow, slow responsiveness, and I didn't like the interior.

I test drove a Civic Hybrid (that was a challenge - only one dealer in the lower mainland had one for test driving). Again, it was nice, and the amenities inside are almost identical the normal Civics. But it was slow and sluggish.

Then I testdrove three Jettas. I drove a standard Jetta GLI (gas model). I test drove a Jetta GLS TDi Sport model (stick shift), and the Jetta GLS TDi with the tiptronic shifting.

Gotta say. I loved the Jettas. The GLI is their high end, and a torquy, high horsepower model, but a gas guzzler. The GLS TDi Sport was sweet, with super snug seats, tighter "sport" suspension and better inside, but I'm not crazy about the stick shift. The GLS TDi with Tiptronic shifting? Absolutely loved it. If I could get the Sport TDi in the Tiptronic... I would have probably bought it.

And guess what. The Jetta GLS TDi Sports Edition, Tiptronic shifting (about $28.5K before taxes) is available. And is on its way to my local dealer for me to test drive next week.

I'm still wary of the car's service record and reliability. I'm continuing to do my research. But now, it's down to two cars. The 2004 Jetta TDi Sports Edition (in Platinum Gray, Tiptronic automatic), and a stick shift 2004 Civic LX model. There's a hefty price difference between them - $22K vs $28.5K. Civics are rock solid. Jettas have spotty service histories.

But there's heaps of Civics on the road. And the Jetta TDi Sports? Only 2,000 in all of N. America. Jetta resale values are higher than Civics, and even higher for the TDi models. And the Jetta would smoke the Civic on the highway - stock. Add a chip and a few other enhancements (tuning box, etc), and the Jetta would smoke most N. American cars off the road, including most sports cars. And the best part is, it's ultra low emissions, you can use bio-deisel, and you still get insanely great gas mileage even while you're drag racing that souped up Civic. :)

I still haven't made my choice. I'm going to get to drive the TDi Sports model for an extended period (about one or two hours, including some distance travelling) before I buy. And the dealer and I have already verbally negotiated a tentative price for the completly loaded version (which includes sunroof, ESP system and side curtain airbags) that is about $2,400 off list. And I will drive the Civic again, and speak to my reasonable, sensible friends about the purchase. But the Jetta's definitely in the lead.

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