Red Bull Global Rallycross Mid-Season Update

As the Red Bull Global Rallycross is heading to Washington D.C. – presented by Volkswagen – this weekend, there have been some exciting mid-season developments from the series.

It was announced earlier in the week that both Dave Higgins and Travis Pastrana will be competing in the September Los Angeles double-header alongside their Subaru teammates Bucky Lasek and Sverre Isachsen. Higgins is currently unstoppable on a rally winning streak, most recently taking the podium at the New England Forest Rally in Maine this past July. Pastrana is right on his tail, too, having taken P3 at the same really – this despite missing a stage with mechanical issues. It will be very competitive on the course in California with four Subies on the course – watch out, Ford.

Dave Higgins | Craig Drew rallying to a win in the 2015 New England Forest Rally

Travis Pastrana | Chrissie Beavis competing in the 2015 New England Forest Rally

While Dave Higgins has been tearing through forests in a Subaru, Rhys Millen won Pikes Peak this past June 2015 in an electric car. After Hyundai pulled sponsorship from Rhys Millen Racing after the 2014 GRC season, Millen decided not to compete in the series for 2015. But now he’s hinting strongly, in figurative all caps really, on social media that he just might bring the Hyundai out of retirement and rejoin the competition in LA. In fact, he’s begging people on Instagram to start a rumor that he will be racing in LA, so here you go, Rhys. Here’s a reminder of what his GRC Veloster sounds like:

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Rhys Millen on the GRC podium in Los Angeles 2014

Back to this weekend in D.C. – all eyes will be on Tanner Foust and Scott Speed in their manufacturer’s home territory. Foust just finished third at FIA World Rallycross in Trois Rivieres August 7. Speed took P2 in both finals of the GRC double-header in Detroit, so the Beetles will be primed to give some fierce competition to the dominating Ken Block – but don’t overlook Patrik Sandell who won the second day in Detroit, and also won last year in D.C.

Tanner Foust, GRC-Detroit, 2015

Supercars Podium Sunday

If you’re in the US, keep your eyeballs on NBC Sports for the Supercar live broadcast Saturday August 15 at 3:00PM EST, and he Supercar Lites will be shown Wednesday August 19 at 4:30PM.

Gallery: The Desert Dingo Class 11 Beetle

As one of three automakers supporting drivers in Red Bull Global Ralllycross, Volkswagen brought a special display of racing and off-road vehicles to the Detroit doubleheader July 25-26, 2015. Scott Speed and Tanner Foust both compete in VW Beetles with Andretti Autosport. While the record-setting Jetta Hybrid LSR and Jetta TDI Cup Car were both pretty cool, they didn’t catch the eye quite like the Desert Dingo Class 11 Beetle.

Desert Dingo Class 11 Beetle

This isn’t the actual 1107 – according to the Desert Dingo blog, it’s currently being prepped for Vegas 2 Reno – but it’s 1115 wrapped with the same graphics and dubbed 1107B. No matter – the air-cooled 1.6L four-cylinder 1969 Beetle is beyond cool. With some changes to the engine and transmission, 1107b is equipped with desert racing tires and Bilstein suspension to handle tough off-road desert races such as the Mint 400 and Baja 1000.

If you’re going to GRC in Washington DC August 15, be sure to check it out as it will be there as well. In the meantime, here’s a full gallery.

Red Bull Global Rallycross Detroit Double-Header

It may seem like a no-brainer for a series such as Red Bull Global Rallycross to bring their bombastic brand of motorsport to the traditional center of the American automobile, Detroit – but after a few failed attempts, they finally made it happen. What’s more, the .757 mile course – one of GRC’s longer, faster courses – was set up on Belle Isle, incorporating part of the Grand Prix track which IndyCars more commonly zoom around. The counterclockwise course wrapped around the fountain in four turns, with the Joker Lap a quick turn around the fountain’s north side on the inside of the course loop. After traversing the jump, drivers headed into the dirt hazard at turn 8 – then a fast straightaway to gradual turns 9 and 10 to finish. Across the Detroit River loomed the Ford-funded, General Motors-owned Renaissance Center.

GRC does the D.

This season, instead of using truck loads of packed dirt, the trademark jump was constructed with scaffolding and wooden planks. Arriving for practice on Friday, things were a bit tense as workers rushed to complete the already behind schedule jump. Things got a bit more worrisome when practice began and whole planks had to be replaced after being torn up and broken by the cars on each run. Dirt was packed onto the jump entrance and exit for smoother, more solid transitions, but GRC Lites qualifying was eventually cancelled to get the jump truly race-ready.

Deegan Debris Trail

Lasek Inspects Jump

The jump was in much better shape for the first of two days of finals on Saturday. A muggy day threatened rain, but thunderstorms were thankfully avoided. 18-year-old Alex Keyes was a favorite in GRC Lites, and Brian Wong was stepping in to represent Rhys Millen Racing in Detroit. 16-year old Austin Cindric – slated to race a Lamborghini Gallardo R-EX in the upcoming Pirelli World Challenge in Mid-Ohio – held on in the final to place third, while Californian Miles Maroney came in second. GRC Lites rookie Tanner Whitten, supported by DirtFish rally, took first place.

Tanner Whitten

Lites Podium Saturday

Fresh off a second-place overall finish the previous weekend at the New England Forest Rally in Newry, Maine, Ken Block maintained his momentum to win his first round heat. Patrik Sandell, racing in a Ford Fiesta, led the final until he ran into some mechanical issues. Block took over the lead for the top spot on the podium in his sixth career win, and Scott Speed prevented a Ford trifecta with his Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross Beetle wedged firmly in second between Block and Sebastian Eriksson (driving a Red Bull Olsbergs MSE Ford Fiesta) in third.

Ken Block

Supercar podium Saturday

Sunday was hot, hot, hot, and primed for some shaking up. The Lites heats saw some carnage, ultimately knocking four cars out of competition. There was some tight competition between Miles Maroney and Alejandro Fernandez, with Maroney besting his previous days podium to come in first. Fernandez placed second, and Austin Cindric once again took third.

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Lites Sunday Podium

Sandell was back with a vengeance, winning the Supercar semi-final. The entire field, in fact was even more competitive than on Saturday, and a first-round pile-up in the final rendered Tanner Foust’s Beetle too damaged to continue. The final was started over with Sandell shooting to the front, as points leader Block incurred a controversial (to him) penalty for rough driving. Sandell jubilantly won the race, with the rest of the podium not changing at all from Saturday; scrappy Scott Speed with his Beetle still sandwiched in second between the Ford Fiestas of Sandell and Sebastian Eriksson.

Foust's Dead Beetle

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Supercars Podium Sunday

Detroit marked Red Bull Global Rallycross’s mid-season, and heads next to Washington, DC August 15, 2015. Patrik Sandell won in DC last year – so it will be interesting to see if he can do it again this year. Or, will the dominant Ken Block come back to win his seventh GRC victory? Will the VARX Beetles edge the Fords off the top of the podium? Can the scrappy Subaru Rally Team, well, rally and regain the competitive edge they honed last year, and we saw glimpses of in MCAS New River? The competition is itchy – tune in this August. 

 

World’s Fastest Car Review: Enviro Dad and the VW Touareg TDI

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It has been a couple of weeks since I last posted an episode of the World’s Fastest Car Review, so I figure I had better get going on some production!

Today’s episode comes to us from Eric Novak, who is also known as the Enviro Dad. His kids are having a tough time figuring out how to say the name of Volkswagen‘s SUV.

Lucky GTI driver uninjured after massive crash at Nurburgring

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Unlike the Toronto area kid who chose to explore his GT-R’s upper limits on a public road yesterday, the guy you are about to see was doing it right. He took his Mk5 VW GTI to the track. That track however is the famously unforgiving Nurburgring and when he needed to be forgiven, the Green Hell was not in the mood to help out.

The YouTube poster reports that the driver was unhurt, but was taken to hospital to get checked out anyway. His Golf is pretty much finished.

Introducing The World’s Fastest Car Review

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Regular readers may have enjoyed my 15 Seconds With series, but the time has come to morph that into something new. Something even more fun. It is called The World’s Fastest Car Review.

Instead of just my ugly mug all of the time, the WFCR is going to feature super fast reviews from some of my auto journo friends too. If you have an idea, whip out your phone and make your own. Send it to me at thegarageguy at rogers.com and I will make you part of the project!

The first episode comes from Russ Bond at Painkillerz. Russ got a little bit confused about the name of Volkswagen’s hottest Bug.

CRUSH

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I might be able to press the shutter release and string together a few sentences, but I can’t create any sort of graphic content to save my life. Even an attempt at drawing a VW Beetle ends up looking more like a deformed turtle, so you might say that I am somewhat in awe of people who can draw. Even more so who can bring their images to life.

For his final project of the 3D Animation and Visual Effects program in Vancouver Film School, Malek Rizkallah turned to the crash test dummy to showcase his creativity. When an unexpected spark between two dummies occurs, Rizkallah brings life to the inanimate beings who then play out a short love affair that is fitting for a crash test.

It’s a shame they weren’t wearing seatbelts, or the VW Scirocco might have saved them.

Review: 2014 Volkswagen CC

164666342252ab4e6bc1fa5A couple years ago, Volkswagen, already one of the biggest auto manufacturers in the world, announced that they wanted to step sales up further, especially here in America. Here’s the strange thing though-when VW made this pledge, there was nothing wrong with their cars. Far from it. Fun to drive, expertly engineered, and boasting near luxury car standards on the interiors, the powers that be at VW saw one problem. You certainly got what you paid for, but the reality was, Volkswagens cost a little more than its competition. The brass at VW North America seemed to think this was their Achilles heel.  The solution? An all new Jetta and Passat, except this time we’ll sell them at a much lower price, drastically reduce the quality of the materials in the cabin in which we had grown such a great reputation for, and offer the Americans a cheap but roomy interior. They’ll never notice. And by golly, they were right. Us Americans are really that stupid. Sales went up because VW was now selling cheaper, but inferior cars than before.

But not all Americans. Before VW decided they wanted to conquer the sales charts, they had a hard core fan base here, who loved and embraced their cars because they were simply excellent cars. While all the media focuses on the ‘American-ized’ VW’s, Volkswagen still quietly offers cars for the loyal folks who have been long time fans and customers. The Volkswagen CC is one of those cars. Originally sold here as the Passat CC, VW wisely distanced the CC by dropping the Passat moniker once the Passat sold here took a new path.

The CC is part of a small, but elite group of German sedans whose styling is meant to mimic that of a coupe, albeit in four door form. The CC is easily the most handsome of all VW’s currently sold here, with a level of class and sophistication it’s siblings cannot even come close to matching. In 2013 the CC received some minor styling revisions front and rear, but with such timeless styling, VW has not tinkered much with the look of the car. Sure, I love the silhouette of a Mercedes-Benz CLS, but cannot afford it. The VW CC offers the same styling concept at a much more approachable price.

85232746752ab4e0ed00a8Inside the CC, you can set aside any reservations you may have about VW’s appetite for cost cutting. This is the VW you know and love from ten years ago. Excellent build quality, and rich feeling materials. The design is clean, simple and elegant. This is an easy cockpit to get to know and use, but I find VW’s infotainment/navigation system a step behind the competition. Up front, the CC is plenty roomy and extremely comfortable. However, there is a trade-off for the swoopy exterior. Rear seat headroom isn’t great, and the trunk space is merely adequate. The good news is that VW ditched the center console that ran the length of the car front to rear, so the CC now can seat five adults instead of four.

The CC is offered with two engines, the first a 2.0L turbo four cylinder rated at 200hp. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual or a six-speed DSG automated manual. The Garage last sampled a CC back in 2010, and we had the turbo four with the DSG, and for a car this size, I came away satisfied. This time around, our CC was fitted with a 3.6L V-6 rated at 280hp, paired to a six-speed automatic and 4Motion all-wheel drive. VW offers the CC with a diesel engine in Europe, but not here. Sure, the six under the hood adds a little more refinement, but considering how well the turbo four performed, I’d save my money and take that motor over the V-6 and enjoy better fuel economy and only losing a couple tenths of a second on the 0-60mph run. The CC is comfortable and compliant, but is not what I would call a sports sedan. Quiet and comfortable, the CC was a perfect accomplice to cruise the interstate for a family party in north eastern Connecticut.

73663073352ab4e7917163VW offers the CC in Sport, R-Line, and Executive trim levels. Our test car was the CC V-6 4Motion Executive, otherwise known as the top dog in the CC family. Standard equipment included navigation, premium Dynaudio sound system, panoramic sunroof, rear view camera with park distance control, bi-xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights, dual zone auto climate control, power rear sun shade, leather seats, and front heated and ventilated seats with driver massage. Total price comes to $43,310USD, including destination charges. You can argue that is a lot for a VW, but I dare you to find a sedan that looks this good, with this level of content for less money.

There has been plenty of hand-wringing about VW going mainstream here in the US, and coming from someone whose first car was a VW, and has owned more VW’s than any other brand, I can’t say I am impressed with the latest cars. But, when a car like the CC is dropped off at my door, it is with a sigh of relief, and a reminder that the folks at Volkswagen still remember how to build a great car with the solidity, elegance, poise, and luxury that once defined Volkswagen’s presence in North America.

How To Buy A New Car Part II

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Welcome back to my story of leasing a new car for my wife. Part I detailed how, even though General Motors had cleared me for $2,500 off sticker price, two Chevy dealers did not honor the discount, with no explanation whatsoever. Our other consideration was a four door Subaru Impreza. Again, Subaru gave me employee pricing, and I approached Dan Perkins Subaru in Milford, CT. To his credit, our salesman honored the discount, but said he could do better, and he did. But, as I stated in my first post, I wanted no down payment apart from the first month’s installment. And Dan Perkins was having none of it. Even with exceptional credit, they demanded a substantial down payment.

Even accepting their terms, my largest hurdle was communication. The sales person I met gave me his card, and I e-mailed him the options and colors we were interested in. No response. I called the dealer, and spoke to him, but never got a call back. I visited the dealership in person, after my wife and I cruised the lot looking for cars we might be interested in. He wasn’t available, and the sales person who was available told me all the cars I looked at had been moved, and the dealership was closing soon, and I would have to come back. I again e-mailed my first sales person, specifying the Impreza we were interested in. No reply. And I know the e-mails were going through because I never received an undeliverable notice. But what burned me is Dan Perkins had me running around desperately around their lot looking for the car I wanted, and when I could not find it, told me to leave. When I sold Honda’s, the rule was as long as a customer was there, we stayed. Period. We never turned anyone way. Ever. With a complete lack of service from Dan Perkins Subaru, we threw up our hands and gave up. If they couldn’t be bothered to service and take care of us, they did not deserve our business.

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During this awful process, it was Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, and the VW Beetle Convertible was the sponsored car. My wife has owned a ’92 VW Cabriolet and a ’95 VW Cabrio. Not to mention our romantic relationship started after watching Patrick Dempsey’s ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ movie, where his female interest drive a 1987 VW Cabriolet. It was serendipity, and although pricier than the Cruze and Impreza, I was determined to make it happen. I first called Curran Volkswagen in Stratford, CT. I was told they had one denim blue Convertible in stock, and they refused to discuss price over the phone.

So, we made a trip up to where we leased our 2010 Jetta, at Langan Volkswagen in Meriden, CT. Alexio, our sales person was very helpful, and for the first time in our shopping experience, was determined to find the exact car we wanted, not what was on the lot. It so happened my test car that week was a VW Beetle Convertible Turbo. On our way to and back from a family gathering in rural Connecticut, we were totally sold on the car, now it was a matter of price. I know my wife wanted the car badly, but it was a bit of a stretch from our Jetta. But I had to make it work.

We did get a discount off the sticker price. I then went to Truecar.com and got a slightly lower price than what I was quoted. Langan VW met that price. Then they also honored the discount I received from VW America. In buying a car, timing is everything. Since my wife was happy with the 2.5 inline five cylinder in her Jetta rated at 170hp, paired to a six-speed automatic, I had an ace up my sleeve. The five banger is going away for 2014, to be replaced with a more powerful and fuel efficient turbocharged four cylinder engine. With that in mind, VW wants to dump all remaining five cylinder Beetles.

Alex found us a gorgeous Reflex Silver 2013 VW Beetle Convertible, and my wife could not be happier. Yes, you might find it mad that for a family of three this is our family car, but may I remind you millions of families around the world had the Beetle as their sole car and it worked out just fine. The trunk can hold a week’s worth of groceries. The Beetle has so far worked out great for us, and again I thank Langan VW, and Alex personally for making the buying process as stress free as possible.

 

Review: 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

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Between Asian, American and European auto makers, it is an understatement that the Europeans have been, to put it mildly, reluctant about hybrid technology. What’s not to like about hybrids? Stellar fuel economy is a good thing, right? Sure it is, but keep this in mind: Europeans have been living with mega-high gas prices for decades, and embraced the diesel engine as the fuel-sipping motor of choice. Providing bucket loads of torque, smooth performance and clean emissions that appeal to their domestic market, you can see why European car companies are not throwing all their chips into the hybrid car idea.

And that philosophy works fine…in Europe. In North America, the perception of the diesel engine seems permanently stuck in 1982. Memories of your quirky neighbor’s Mercedes-Benz 240D or Peugeot 505 belching black smoke or your uncle’s Oldsmobile diesel self destructing every 2,000 miles have seemingly left permanent scars on the psyche of the North American car buyer. I will plead with anyone that will hear me that today’s diesels are the model of refinement. No smoke. No self-destruction. Another factor may be that we are simply creatures of habit. Truth be told, not every gas station sells diesel fuel, and with that fact it is justifiable that some buyers would be turned off.

Volkswagen already offers the Jetta with a diesel, and has a loyal following, but they want more. Hence, the Jetta Hybrid. The view from VW seems to be that the car buyer seeking great gas mileage defaults to a hybrid vehicle. Or, to be blunt, the average fuel conscious car buyer is thinking about a Toyota Prius. Not a Jetta TDI. Make no mistake, VW has a solid fan base of its diesels, but taking the long view, VW sees this is as a cult following, while hybrid technology has been more widely accepted on our shores.

To look at the Jetta Hybrid, well, it looks like any Jetta you see on the road every day. It would take a true VW fanatic to tell the difference between this and any run of the mill Jetta. Apart from some hybrid badges, a slightly different front grill, different wheels and a modest rear spoiler, you would never know the difference. And that design language works for many people who like the idea of hybrid technology, but don’t feel the need to shout to the world that they care more about the environment than you. As with all current Jetta’s, it is a fine looking car, even if it has lost some of its German accent in an effort to appeal to more Americans.

IMG_1639While the exterior styling got a tad generic to appeal to more buyers, Volkswagen slashed the price of the Jetta, and no where was that more apparent than the interior. The Jetta Hybrid softens the blow slightly with a padded dash and better armrests, but this is still a far cry from quality of materials seen in Jettas of the past. The keyless ignition button, placed just ahead of the shifter seems like an afterthought and not at all intuitive. The black slab of hard plastic that on the center console with two holes for drinks was more likely designed by an accountant, not an actual interior designer. The contrasting black/light grey leatherette seating surfaces are the main departure from other Jettas. You get the feeling VW management sent a memo saying the interior has to be different somehow, but don’t let it cost us any money. It’s obvious, and VW, you’re not fooling anyone.

The positives of the Jetta’s cabin remain. Seats offer decent comfort, visibility is excellent, and plenty of room is available in the back seat, but again it is disappointing that VW went cheap and deleted the rear seat vents seen on the last generation Jetta. Jettas have always been known for generous trunk space, and among hybrids, the Jetta is at the top of the class. Still, the batteries have to go somewhere, and the Jetta Hybrid loses about four cubic feet of trunk space. That’s not a lot, but it gave me pause as to how I would pack a full-size suitcase.

Hybrids have a well-deserved reputation for being an absolute bore to drive. Thankfully, the Jetta Hybrid is not. Powered by a 1.4L turbocharged four cylinder, along with the electric motor make a combined 170hp, paired to a seven-speed DSG automated manual transmission. In essence, it is the drivetrain that is a hybrid designed for people who hate hybrids. No wheezy, weak-kneed engine coupled to a miserable CVT wailing at 5,000 rpm just to get up a hill here, thank you. VW claims a 0-60mph time of 8.6 seconds, making the Jetta Hybrid one of the quickest on the market for its class. The Jetta Hybrid also has a rear independent suspension, something VW gave up with on lesser Jettas in the interest of cost cutting, but here it returns to better support the extra weight of the batteries. With decent pep, controlled road manners and quiet highway ride, the Jetta Hybrid is an accomplished performer. EPA fuel estimates are 42/48 MPG city/highway, which are impressive figures, but according to the trip computer, I wasn’t even close to attaining those lofty figures.

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The Jetta Hybrid follows the rest of the Jetta family’s trim options with S (factory order only), SE, SEL, and SEL Premium. Our test car was the top of the line SEL Premium. Standard features included SiriusXM satellite radio, dual zone auto climate control, LED tail lights, sunroof, navigation, heated seats, power driver’s seat, Fender premium audio, bi-xenon headlights, rear view camera and 17″ alloy wheels. With a first aid kit as our test car’s sole option, the tally comes in at $32,010USD, including delivery. And that is where the Jetta Hybrid completely loses me. Yes, I understand that hybrid technology comes at a higher price. But this comes in a car that was built to a price. You can buy a 2013 Jetta for less than $17,000. And sitting in this $32,000 Jetta Hybrid, I am constantly reminded of that fact.

With a built-in following of the Jetta TDI, VW is modest about sales expectations at around 5,000 Hybrid sales predicted. Critics and VW purists howled with the new down-market Jetta, but the proof is in the numbers. VW is selling more Jettas. It’s that simple. And, selling more cars is the point. The reality is you can buy a Jetta TDI for a couple grand less, get similar fuel economy, keep the trunk space lost from the battery pack, and not worry about the longevity of said batteries. Again, VW knows that they are doing-hybrids are more widely accepted here than diesels, even if the actual dollars spent for car and fuel point wildly in favor of the diesel. To quote Natalie Merchant, “Give them what they want.” Even if it makes no sense, that is precisely what VW is doing with the Jetta Hybrid.

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