Volkswagen is working hard to become the largest automaker in the world. It’s a quest that demands strong sales figures from all parts of the Volkswagen Group family, with most of the pressure placed on Audi and VW itself. An internal goal was announced last year, which pegged the VW sales target at 800,000 units per year in the United States.
The automaker wants to hit that goal by 2018. To reach that target, Volkswagen sales will need to climb 14 percent per year, every year from here on out (thanks for that number Forbes, we’re not good at the maths). That’s rather ambitious, but dealers around the country are getting help thanks to the Volkswagen product planning department.
The current lineup features a family of cars that’ve been refreshed, updated, or are all-new. Let’s take a closer look at a handful of them.
2012 Volkwagen Jetta GLI
Volkswagen offered up a redesigned version of its popular compact sedan in 2010 for the 2011 model year. Initial reactions were mostly negative from the motoring press, but the car is selling well. This proves that that average automotive journalist doesn’t know a thing about what the car-buying public actually wants. An automaker is not staffed by said journos, but by folks who do pay attention to customer demands, and thus the 2011 Jetta was built to reach a wider audience by way of its lower entry-level pricing.
Still, that base car is quite boring. Thankfully though, there exists a Jetta which is in fact a blast to drive. Just look for the GLI badge on the back, as well as the more aggressive front fascia treatment and larger wheels. The 2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which pushes out 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. That doesn’t sound like a ton in this era of ever-expanding power figures, but it’s plenty to push the car firmly into the fun-to-drive zone. The relatively low 3,150-pound curb weight certainly helps here. On top of that, the engine provides a nearly shockingly awesome amount of growl and grunt.
The turbo mill is paired with either a six-speed manual gearbox or the six-speed DSG unit. Most of the time, it’s not a terrible idea to avoid the mushy manual setups found in your everyday Volkswagen, but that’s not the case here with the 2012 GLI. The shifter slides cleanly into place every time, and feels far better than row-your-own Volkswagen vehicles we’ve driven in the past.
Pricing for the 2012 Jetta GLI is nearly as aggressive as the vehicle itself. A base car, which is nicely equipped out of the gate, runs in the low $23k-$24k range, while a maxed out car should wind up on the better side of $30k.
2012 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo
The iconic Beetle is back, and it’s got a whole new shape. All you super heterosexual men should no longer be afraid to come and give the Beetle a big hug, because its not quite as girly as before. In fact, it’s pretty damn slick looking while also retaining the exterior lines that clearly show it’s a Volkswagen Beetle.
On top of that, it can also come fitted with the same powertrain setup that was just mentioned above. We’re talking about a turbo-four making 200 horses and 207 torques. This means you get the same great noise and levels of fun as found in the Jetta GLI, but it comes in the infinitely more interesting shape that is provided by the all-new Beetle. That said, the GLI feels more composed on a twisty road, and the Beetle felt as if it afforded less grip. It most likely comes down to the suspension setup, and wheel and tire packages found on each vehicle. The GLI we drove was loaded whereas the Beetle Turbo was a mildly equipped example.
Regardless, the Beetle Turbo is still a surprisingly engaging driver, and a joy on your local back road. Should you desire a bit more low-end thrust, a TDI version is set to hit dealerships this summer. A 140-horsepower turbodiesel will provide the forward the motivation, and the mighty mill is good for 236 pound-feet of torque that arrives low on the rev counter than falls off a cliff above 3,750 rpm.
2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI
If Volkswagen wants to make a dent in that über-aggressive sales goal, it has to start moving the Passat in greater numbers. The mid-size sedan segment is overflowing with excellent choices from all angles. Getting the latest Passat named as the Motortrend Car of the Year will certainly help get more eyeballs on this particular German product, and taking a gander at the sales figures show that the automaker’s hard work is finally paying off at the dealership level.
Just two years ago, Volkswagen sold about 10,000 examples of the Passat in one year. Now? It’s on track to sell 10,000 per month.
We can see why too, as we spent some seat time behind the wheel of the TDI-equipped Passat. The car has received a makeover for the new model year, and the exterior boasts subtle lines that present a rather understated look. It will work for some, but we’d prefer a bit more splash. That’s a minor nitpick, but Volkswagen designers should make sure they’re not creating a car which evokes visions of the Toyota Avalon in our minds.
Those visions are washed away upon entering the cabin, however, as this latest Passat is endlessly comfortable inside. On top of that, you can equip the car with a diesel motor that returns over 40 miles per gallon all day long. In fact, the EPA-estimated range for the 2012 Passat TDI is 795 miles. That’s a round-trip run from Hooniverse HQ in Southern California to Las Vegas and back… and then nearly back to Vegas on one tank of gas. Granted, we’d have to hypermile our asses off, but it would be worth it for the eventual late-night self-loathing we find after striking out at the blackjack table. “Free” drinks can only wash away so much of our shame.
Besides the standard affair of production or near-production vehicles we drove in Northern California, Volkswagen also offered up a few minutes of seat time in its all-electric Golf. As more automakers offer up zero emissions vehicles, we find that we’re less surprised with them. That’s a good thing, because it means we’re beginning to accept them as part of the norm. The Volkswagen eGolf is no exception, yet it still managed to throw out a nice surprise.
This electron-swilling Golf has an estimated range in the 75-100 mile space, and drives just like a standard Golf, just with more road noise. A nifty trick we found was the use of the standard steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, which served a different function here since there’s no DSG mounted under the skin. You can dial in the amount of brake-regen from the paddles, ranging from “none”, “some”, and “a lot”. If you need to eek out a bit more juice, head for a nice downhill section, tap the paddle to kick those brakes into action, and earn some more go-go energy to make it home.
While Nissan has paved the way for an everyday electric vehicle, the Volkswagen eGolf should step up and command some more of that eco money. Mainly because it won’t appear as daunting to those on the electric-car-buying fence (ZAP!), and also because it doesn’t look like a Leaf.
2012 Volkswagen Golf R
Here it is, the real reason we wanted to trek to Northern California to drive a handful of VW-badged machines. The 2012 Golf R is just the third Golf to wear the R badge here in the states. We’ve had two iterations of the R32, and Volkswagen learned from something from each one. Mostly, they’ve learned not to mess with a good thing. The 2004 R32 was excellent while the 2008 was a disappointment.
For 2012, Volkswagen is leaning back towards the excitement it churned out in the 2004 example. Under the hood is the familiar 2.0TSI, a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Here in the Golf R however, it pushes out 256 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque. That represents a 56-horse and 36- pound-foot leap in power over the 2012 GTI. Also, the torque is available from 2,400 rpm up to 5,200 rpm, which is nearly diesel in its delivery.
Since this hot hatch holds enthusiasts in its heart, the Golf R is only offered with a six-speed manual gearbox. Two-pedal humpers need not apply.
To further separate the car from its GTI sibling, Volkswagen has fitted the Golf R with unique 18-inch wheels, a rear diffuser, an aggressive front fascia with LED running lights, and twin exhaust outlets in the back. If you look really close, you might see that it sits 0.6-inches lower than the GTI as well. If you can see that though, you must have super-human vision and need to be locked up and studied by the government.
If you have a Golf R, you’ll have fun running from those feds. All-wheel-drive comes standard here, and pairs nicely with all of that grunt running across the majority of the rev range. The handling is crisp, the engine note is fantastic, and the price is situated neatly above the GTI while below that of a Subaru WRX STI. Sure, the STI would dust the Golf R, but it also costs $4k-$7k more. Pricing on the Golf R starts at $33,990 and runs up to $36,090.
As you can see, we had our hands full with Volkswagen steering wheels for a day. There were more cars to drive, but we ran out of time trying to get to them all. From what we did drive, however, we’ve learned that VW is pushing a wide array of products that should help it inch ever closer to that mammoth sales target.
There’s more coming too. A Jetta Hybrid will be available alongside the base car and the fun-to-drive GLI. The Passat CC has been redesigned for the 2013 model year, and Volkswagen even plans to bring back the R-line for the CC lineup. We also learned that you can buy a $38,000 Tiguan… OK, so the lineup isn’t entirely perfect, but it’s pretty impressive nonetheless.
[Disclosure: Volkswagen wanted us to take a look at a large portion of its current lineup, so the automaker flew us to Half Moon Bay in California, and put us in a swanky hotel. We were also fed both food and alcohol.]