Auto 2014
Auto 2014

2009 VW Jetta TDI Road Test: Turbocharged Torque

Torque is described as a force that tends to turn things and, in the case of the 2009 Jetta TDI, its abundance turned me into a fan of this latest in a long line of Volkswagen "oil-burners" by providing strong performance and flexibility along with exceptionally high levels of fuel economy.

Torque is what you get when you, for example, tug on the handle of a wrench to tighten or loosen a nut. Doing so exerts a twisting force still expressed here, in Ye Olde English, in lb-ft, as nobody on this side of the Atlantic has any idea what a newton-metre is.

Torque in an engine is generated by burning a fuel/air mixture in a cylinder, with the pressure of the expanding gases pushing the piston, which is linked to the crankshaft by a connecting rod, downwards.

As this occurs, the angle generated by the crankshaft "throw" increases and the rod, like the wrench handle above, rotates the crank. And that, with a few things such as clutches and transmission gears in between, is what makes your car move.

The Jetta TDI, with its turbocharged diesel engine, does this with a degree of vigour, accompanied by a high degree of overall flexibility not normally experienced in the compact-car category. Most small-displacement gasoline engines don't produce a lot of torque, and what they do is generated at higher engine speeds.

The TDI's four-cylinder engine delivers a disproportionate (for its displacement) amount of low rpm "grunt" that lets it charge off the line like a V-6 but also maintains that strong pulling power at highway speeds.

This allows it to coast along at minimal revs in top gear while sipping fuel at such a frugal rate that 1,000 km per tank wouldn't be an unlikely achievement. In fact, the number on the trip computer that estimates how much distance I had before needing more gas disconcertingly went up for the first hundred kilometres or so that I drove the car.

The TDI's arrival last year marked the return of the popular diesel engine option to the VW lineup in North America — it hadn't been able to sell a diesel here in 2007 due to U.S. emission standards — and the Jetta range now offers three engine choices, each of which gives the car a different driving character.

There's a gasoline-fuelled, 2.5-litre, four-cylinder that makes 177 hp at 5,700 rpm and 177 lb-ft of torque peaking at 4,250 rpm. With six-speed automatic transmission, it delivers very good performance and fuel economy ratings of 10.5 L/100 km city and 7.2 highway.

Also available is a performance-oriented, gas-burning, turbocharged 2.0-litre unit rated at 200 hp at 5,100 rpm and 207 lb-ft of torque from 1,700-5,000 rpm. This makes the 2.0 TSI Jetta a very quick car indeed and, thanks to the turbo, produces plenty of torque over that wide rpm range, which helps it garner very good fuel economy ratings of 9.0 city and 6.8 highway.

The 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine in the TDI delivers the least power, 140 hp at 4,000 rpm, but the most torque, 236 lb-ft, all of which is available from 1,750 to 2,500 rpm. Its fuel economy ratings are 6.8 city and 4.9 highway. The on-board readout was showing an average of 7.1 L/100 km when I returned it.

The "oil burner" appellation used above is in reference to the bad old days of low-powered and stinky diesel engines. This new one makes 40 hp more than the previous 1.9-litre unit and burns ultra-low-sulphur diesel very efficiently and cleanly and is also quieter.

And the direct shift gearbox (DSG) is a treat, snapping off lightning-quick shifts automatically or allowing you to select gears yourself. Although it takes a while to get used to the fact that it only revs to about 4,500 rpm between the gears, acceleration is surprisingly strong.

And its direct steering, firm suspension and good brakes also contribute to making it a very enjoyable car to drive.

The Jetta TDI is available in base manual transmission Trendline form at $24,275, in Comfortline trim at $26,775 and Highline versions go for $29,775. Our DSG-transmission-equipped tester had a sticker price of $31,175 and an all-in-but-the-taxes cost of $33,510. By comparison, a base gasoline Jetta 2.5 goes for $21,975 and a base 2.0 TSI for $27,475.

The base TDI comes with the usual features at this price, plus cruise control, climate control, 16-inch wheels, exterior temp gauge, a single CD audio system and front, side and side-curtain airbag systems.

The Comfortline has some extra chrome trim, a power-reclining driver's seat, heated seats, leather-wrapped wheel and a premium six-disc audio system. The Highline adds a compass, leather upholstery, a multi-function wheel, a sunroof and a rear armrest/pass-through.
In typical VW fashion, the interior is designed to meet more utilitarian than utopian standards for style. There's rather-uninspired plastic aplenty, not only where you can see it but also feel it — the surprisingly nasty and hard-edged door pull, for example.

The somewhat stark look and feel is ameliorated by stitched padding on the armrests, rather-nice mesh-finish aluminum trim and thin aluminum bezels around the gauges that perk up the plainness a bit.

The cabin is quiet enough at highway speeds, the leather-clad front seats are supportive and comfortable, the rear seat will handle two in comfort, headroom is good front and rear and the trunk capacity is fine at 400 litres.

In fact, if I had to cover a lot of mileage on an annual basis, I'd be happy to do it in the TDI, and would likely save some money if I kept doing it long enough. But the potent 2.0 TSI turbo's fuel economy numbers are pretty good, too, and it would still be my choice among the Jetta triad.

2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible Road Test

If the 2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible is the answer, the question, Alex, is, “What took them so long?”

Indeed, the first and last droptop Infiniti before the new G37 Convertible was the 1990-’92 Infiniti M30 Convertible, a rebadged Japanese-market Nissan Leopard without its roof. The current Infiniti G-series models inevitably indulge in sharing its “FM” platform with the Nissan Z-models, but with two decades of maturation at Infiniti the model line is more independent and the G-series not the stopgap the original Infiniti M-series was.

The subject 2009 Infiniti G37 models were designed from the outset to accommodate the convertible version. It’s not a conversion or chop-topped Coupe. But it’s also not a roadster, like the topless version its corporate cousin S-cars, but a convertible with a with a rear seat.

Never mind that it’s a bit snug back there, real adults will fit. The only way that will happen with a Z roadster is by putting the extra people on the rear deck like homecoming king and queen.

One of Infiniti’s goals, too, was to make the G37 Convertible “more female,” to attract a higher percentage of female buyers than the G-coupe traditionally has but without losing its masculine appeal. It’s a fine line because just like an old man will drive a young man’s car, but not vice versa, a guy won’t drive a “girl’s car.”

No worries with the 2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible. The immediate aspect of that dichotomy, appearance is sufficiently on the toasty side of Infiniti’s marketer’s machine-like/warmth continuum while still keeping to the avant garde margin of what Infiniti sees as differences between progressive and traditional. Boil that down and it becomes “inspired performance.”

We’ll buy that.

Designed to look good with top and down, the G37 succeeds, though probably better from a traditional sense, with the top up. Of course, “traditional” is not as noted what Infiniti’s designers had in mind. Everything from the A-pillar back—doors, flanks, rear (including taillight clusters) and of course rear deck differs from the coupe, the latter higher than the conventional convertible might have. It looks right, we think, for an Infiniti convertible, styled with its own bit of funk.

The G37 Convertible has the expected chassis reinforcements to compensate for the loss of its roof and has a new rear suspension, still independent, to make room for its retractable hardtop roof. Collapsing the roof under the trunk lid and tonneau takes about 30 seconds. The segments don’t fully nest, however, stowing in what Infiniti calls a “clamshell” configuration for, Infiniti says, more trunk room.

The official trunk volume numbers are 10.33 cu ft top up and a mere 1.99 cu ft top down, and what’s under the roof when its retracted is inaccessible, so those planning to go touring al fresco in the G37 Convertible ought best pack soft-sided luggage and be prepared to throw it in the back seat. As one Infiniti product planning chief put it, “there’s no pretence of a cross country drive in the back seat,” which for passengers is “not pretty but it’s acceptable.”

The Infiniti G37’s interior, however, is luscious, in Graphite, Wheat or Stone (that’s almost black, tan and gray for non-Infinitites), with combined with new G Convertible-exclusive Silk Obi Aluminum trim finish, inspired by a kimono sash, according to Infiniti designers. The seats are sport type with large bolsters for support—adjustable as an option—and the contours favoring the driver. Aluminum pedals and magnesium paddle shifters with the seven-speed automatic transmission are optional.

Optional for audiophiles is 13-speaker Bose Open audio with 24-bit Burr Brown DAC and AudioPilot 2.0 optimized for both top positions, Bose front seat speakers mounted in the headrests and Pod compatibility.

Infiniti’s standard dual-zone climate control automatically adjusts fan speed and air volume to whether the top is up or down and Plasmaclusterair purifier is optional. For true driving decadence, owners can have heated and cooled front seats, and that’s truly cooled, not just ventilated and with a fan. There’s also a rigid, foldable windblocker that clips over the rear seat and makes a huge difference in over-the-shoulder turbulence and cool-weather draftiness.

The 2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible can generate draftiness with its 3.7-liter dohc variable valve lift and timing V-6. Rated at 325 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, the six is available with either the aforementioned computer-controlled (and down-shift blip producing) seven-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission.

We had the opportunity to drive both, and Luddites that we are, we favored the manual just out of natural predisposition. However, if we were doomed to spend most of our driving in stop-and-go urban traffic, the automatic would be our choice and not a terrible burden with its easily-controlled and quick-responding automatic.

Thanks to the hardtop and sophisticated climate control options, driving top up would be more endurable in workaday driving as well). A major advantage of open air motoring, however, is the internal combustion symphony that goes with it and there the G37 delivers in spades, hearts, clubs and diamonds. Performance is vigorous as well, though we don’t have acceleration numbers to back that up (Fuel economy is 17 city/25 highway with the 7-speed automatic, one less than that with the manual gearbox).

We were surprised by cowl shake--the quivver often felt in convertibles on bumpy roads--in the G37 Convertible. It's subtle but still there and we hadn't expected any.

The Infiniti G37 Convertible isn’t a sports car or a roadster, however, and particularly with the base suspension, the car has a comfortable degree of understeer, best for the casual driver. A sport package replaces the 18-wheels with 19-inchers and wider wheels, bigger brakes, “sport-tuned” steering, front sport(ier) seats, and the pedals and paddle-shifters we’ve mentioned before. We drove the sport-equipped G37 but not in anger. We’ll have to wait until we can perhaps drive that model again, oh, sometimes in the summer, eh, Infiniti folks?

The G37 Convertible is also offered with a premium, navigation, technology and performance tire and wheel options, plus a standalone choice of a rich African rosewood interior trim.

Tardy shoppers have already missed the special limited-edition Bloomingdale edition. That specially-equipped Christmas gift special sold out almost immediately, even with only the promise of a price of about $60K. Depending on equipment, expect the regular 2009 Infiniti G37 Convertible to list in the mid-$40,000 to mid-$50,000 range.

Infiniti expects the 2009 G37 Convertible to sell to a slightly-older and modestly more female clientele than the Coupe, which wound up in the hands of late 40’s and predominantly male drivers. Despite the current unfavorable economic climate, Infiniti claims that a pent-up demand for a convertible G convertible will produce a worthwhile level of sales.

That’s perhaps whistling past the graveyard or a bit of smiling through their teeth for the assembled auto scribes, but who knows, maybe there are enough potential owners out there who will indeed ask Infiniti, “What took you so long?” In this particular game of Jeopardy, it’s certainly a worthwhile question for an answer that’s certainly worth driving.

2010 BMW Z4 U.S. Priced From $46,575

BMW North America has just released the U.S pricing for the new 2009 BMW Z4. As expected, there is a price increase over the previous Z4 generation, but still significantly lower than the German pricing.

The BMW Z4 is all new for 2010, and the updated roadster will be ready for production later this spring.

BMW gave the Z4 sleeker sheet metal, a folding hard top, and upgraded powertrains, but the biggest change could be to its price tag. Buyers looking for a new Z4 can expect to plunk down $46,575.

That's a big jump from the base $36,700 of the 2008 Z4, which packed less power and less road presence. The 46 large is also exactly the same price as the Z4's nemesis; the Porsche Boxster.

The 2010 model will net you a 258-horsepower inline six capable of hitting 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. The base Bimmer will also come standard with leatherette seating surfaces (upgrading to Kansas leather tacks on another $1,250).

The 306-horsepower, twin-turbo Z4 sDrive35i will cost a whole lot more, with a starting price of $52,475, including destination and handling.

The 2008 Z4 M was a bit cheaper at $50,400 and carried more power, but the 2010 car's higher torque numbers make for an equally-quick droptop, as evidenced by its 5.1 second 0-60 time with the dual-clutch gear box.

Options abound for the Z4, and they're both expensive and confusing. Bundles include a Premium package at $3,900, or $2,800 when also ordering the $2,300 Sport package, which is $1,900 when also going premium.

You can also get a performance 19-inch tire and wheel package for $1,200, but only if you purchase the sDrive35i and the Sport package. A seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox can be had on the 35i for $1,525.

2010 Ford Mustang GT Road Test

A Mustang with a Track pack?

Corvettes and Vipers grab the glory for Old Glory at temples of speed such as Le Mans. The lumbering, log-axle Mustang is just a quarter-miler for the tattoo-and-tobacco crowd, right?

Actually, mes amis, the Mustang is America’s other road-racing workhorse. It has its own pro series, the eight-race Mustang Challenge. And there were more than a dozen Mustangs on the grid at Daytona this past January when a Roush-prepared Mustang finished second in the three-hour Koni Challenge race. It made all its rights and lefts better than Porsche 911s and BMW M3s.

No, we wouldn’t expect that hierarchy to hold on the street, even if the 2010 Track-pack Mustang GT is billed as the hairpin-and-carousel king of the newly reskinned Mustang lineup. Still, Ford’s old pony has a long history of making incremental improvements as it ages, and the Track package shows that the late-night lights still burn in some windows at Ford.

Building a Track-pack Mustang on the order form starts with a GT Premium and its 315-hp, 4.6-liter V-8 and five-speed manual, for $31,845. The $1495 Track package swaps out the 3.31 or 3.55 axle for a 3.73 limited-slip rear end with carbon friction plates. The shocks are less forgiving in both compression and rebound, the anti-roll bars are thicker, and dual-piston front brake calipers with performance pads from the 2009 Bullitt model do the stopping. Also, the stability-control system is retuned to tolerate more sideways play.

Finally, some very expensive Pirelli P Zero summer tires are fitted with white gloves. The size is 255/40ZR-19. The replacement price at Tire Rack: $398. Each. Avoid parking in dark alleys.
Off to the track we marched, taking along a standard Mustang GT rolling on its Pirelli P Zero Nero all-season tires for comparison. The results were illuminating.

Besides new sheetmetal, all 2010 Mustangs are recalibrated for less squish, less wiggle, less pogo, and less teeter-totter in the turns. Lay on the Track-pack version, and the strings are pulled even tauter.

The body isn’t allowed to slump to the outside as much. Helm response quickens, and corner placement gets finer. The sticky Pirellis earn their tariff, maintaining a gummy, squeal-free grip that keeps the front end carving smooth arcs.

Mustang steering has always been numb, and the Track pack doesn’t force any more circulation into it. Don’t bring along a Miata, as we did, or you’ll just get depressed. The Mustang’s flat seats allow you to flop around—we had knee bruises at day’s end—and the brake pedal started melting after a few laps, requiring frequent cool-downs.

At $33,340 before discounts, a Mustang GT with the Track package stampedes into territory prowled by the Nissan 370Z, among others. Some would say, “So what?” More is at issue than test numbers cavorting on paper. The Mustang is America, Manifest Destiny rolling on radials. Lining it up next to a Z—we did it once, back in 2002—is like serving sashimi with succotash.

And the Mustang is as fun as firecrackers on the Fourth. Everything is oversized and executed at volume 11, from the broad sweep of the double-hump dash to the big-grab shifter to the Yankee roar of the V-8 getting to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds.

It’s easy to be fast and pitch it sideways in a drift. And a sport mode in the new-for-2010 stability control allows a little more hooliganism within the safety net.

The quality is better for 2010, especially inside, where stitched panels on the doors and tighter-fitting, squishable plastics have relieved the gloom of cheapness in the previous model. But curses were muttered when the jagged splinter of an indifferently applied spot weld in the trunk tore an expensive down comforter. A Friday build, perhaps?

Though freeway ride suffers some with the Track package, Mustang fans who prefer candy-cane curbs to Christmas trees get a lot more control of their fillies. And for not much extra cabbage.

2009 Fiat 500c

Since the success of the retro style Fiat 500 that came out in Europe, it should come as no shock that a 2009 Fiat 500c is on the way. This is a great version of the car that now has a great drop top to go with it. The design of this soft top does not make it your typical convertible car at all. However, the main goal was to make this car stay true to the original 1957 open top model cars, and

2009 Jaguar XK Series

There are a lot of great cars out there, but the Jaguar XK series offer both sporty features and luxury all rolled up into one. The 2009 Jaguar XK Series is a 2 door, 4 passenger sports car. It comes in both a hard top and convertible model.When the car first comes out, it is going to come with a standard 4.2 liter engine. It's going to be a V8 with over 300 horsepower! Of course, even with this