26 March 2012

Getting Sidetracked Over a Cargo Net

We all know how a web search works. It's a lot like my writing. Like having ADD. Or OCD and ADD.

You type in your search parameters, peruse the results, click a link and hope for the best. Sometimes, though, before you know it you've clicked your way far from your intended path. For example, I get regular e-mail messages from eBay showing new results for saved searches, which help with my never ending quest for hard-to-find 1967 Pontiac Grand Prix parts. The reminders help until I follow a link, become interested in some other link, and click, click, click my way to Plan 59 or end up searching current market value for my convertible.

Three years ago I saved an eBay search for "2007 Volkswagen Passat" after buying my Passat 3.6 4Motion wagon. I have been thrilled with the decision, but sometimes I feel like I need reassurance that I make the right choices. So, I read "Consumer Reports," among other review sites and magazines. Even the toothpaste we use was the top rated, best cleaning, whitening brand the last time CR did a study on such things and I can often find it regularly priced at 99¢.

I'll follow values on purchases for just about anything significant for a while after buying. Maybe I want to make sure my purchase isn't depreciating too quickly.

I watched pricing and consumer reviews for more than a year after purchasing a new KitchenAid refrigerator and dishwasher to reassure myself that I waited for the perfect time to buy the perfect appliances to suit our needs. So far, it looks like I've done well. But if I hadn't what difference would it make? We don't get Mulligans when on another day we find we might have done things differently.

Anyway, back to the VW. I love German cars for a number of reasons. In particular, though, I love Volkswagen because they give us great German engineering without the "I have more money than sense" price tag. (That's personally speaking, of course. While I want the most value for my money, and I might enjoy the prestige of driving an Audi, Mercedes or BMW, I can't justify the cost. Particulary when my loaded-with-everything-except-navigation VW listed for, in some cases, $20K less than other German cars).

Distraction is the mother of procrastination. I started down this path because for as long as I've owned the VW I have never figured out the proper way to install the factory cargo net. Does it hook here? It CAN'T hook here, can it? Well, that doesn't make sense. And, neither does that.

So I type "2007 VW Passat Cargo Net" in my Google search field and one of the results was the following article from Edmunds. I am pleased. But I still haven't figured out the damned cargo net. And, I really don't know what I'll do when it comes time to trade since VW has apparently decided not to bring the new Passat stateside. And, I don't do crossovers. At least for now.

Road Test

Follow-Up Test: 2007 Volkswagen Passat Wagon 3.6 4Motion

Just right

BMW 325xi Touring. Too small.

Audi A4 Avant. Way too small.

Audi A6 Avant. Too expensive.

BMW 530xi Touring. Way too expensive.

Mercedes-Benz E350 Touring. Way, way too expensive.

Dodge Magnum R/T. Too plasticky.

Subaru Outback. Too gimmicky.

Volvo V70. Too safe.

Mazda 6 Wagon. Too monochromatic.

Volkswagen Passat Wagon. Just right.

We hope you've enjoyed your trip through the mind of the average Volkswagen Passat Wagon buyer. Please watch your step when debraining.

For nine years, VW's midsize wagon has carved a nice little niche for itself. It's been more refined than its domestic and Japanese competition, yet more affordable than other similarly sized European wagons.

Although its mission of affordable luxury remains the same, the 2007 Volkswagen Passat Wagon is essentially an all-new car. VW has given it the same extensive redesign it laid upon the Passat sedan in 2006, which means it has grown a little larger, a little heavier and a lot more powerful than its predecessor.

Many models to choose from
One look at our test vehicle's $38,000 sticker price and you realize the term "affordable luxury" is relative. Its base price is even lofty at $33,100. But this 2007 VW Passat Wagon 3.6 4Motion represents the very top of the range (the Passat Wagon Value Edition starts at $25,225), and a similarly equipped BMW 530xi sport wagon or Mercedes-Benz E350 Touring would be north of $60,000.

So you get a lot of butter for your bread. Standard stuff includes a 3.6-liter V6 engine, a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, 4Motion all-wheel drive, electronic stability control, a power tailgate, keyless entry, 17-inch wheels and tires, a power sunroof, a trip computer, satellite radio, an in-dash six-disc CD changer and front, side and side curtain airbags.

Options on our well-equipped Granite Green tester were limited to a DVD navigation system ($1,800) and the Package #1 Luxury ($2,750), which added a truckload of stuff, including leather upholstery, a dual-zone climate control system, 12-way power-adjustable heated front seats and a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel.

Fact is, our test car was incredibly well equipped. Missing features are difficult to identify, even when compared to the last 530xi sport wagon we tested, which cost $62,865. Wait a minute. The BMW had a retractable cargo net that, when attached to the headliner, keeps your stuff from flying forward in the event of an impact. The VW is without this net.

Strong performance
Net-loving VW shoppers can find redemption in the Passat's acceleration, which makes the BMW 530xi sport wagon feel like it's running on four. The VeeDub's 3.6-liter V6 makes 280 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 265 pound-feet of torque at 2,750 rpm. It also makes this 3,953-pound wagon quite quick.

Zero to 60 mph takes just 6.7 seconds. The quarter-mile is left behind in 15.1 seconds at 93 mph. Both performances better the BMW by a bunch.

If it isn't quick enough, leave the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system off your order sheet. It'll save you $2,000 and about 250 pounds. The last front-wheel-drive Passat 3.6 sedan we tested weighed 3,576 pounds and ran a 14.7-second quarter-mile.

Much of the Passat's thrust can be credited to its tightly geared six-speed automatic transmission. It's a Tiptronic, so manual shifting is available should you feel racy, but we seldom felt the need. When left in "D," the transmission does well enough on its own, so we just left it there most of the time. We didn't even make much use of its Sport mode, partly because the gearchanges and throttle inputs become too abrupt for smooth city driving and partly because it's just unnecessary.

One other nice aspect of the six-speed is its highway gearing. At 80 mph, it puts the engine at 2,500 rpm, which is on the cusp of its sweet spot. The V6 pulls like a freight train from 3,000 rpm up to its 6,500 redline, so there's plenty of passing power, even when the wagon's weighed down with family, Fido and Aunt Freeda's fruitcake.

Still not so sporty
Despite that propulsion, the Passat Wagon 3.6 4Motion is not a sport wagon. Oh, sure it's sporty, riding on sizable 17-inch tires and snaking through our slalom test at a very respectable 62 mph, but it isn't a very engaging drive. When you're holding the keys to this machine, spending your day driving mountain roads won't occur to you.

On the other hand, the Passat's turn-in is crisp and its stability noteworthy. Although steering is oddly numb on center and unnaturally light, it's also quick and controlled by a well-shaped four-spoke steering wheel. Tire noise is overly abundant on the highway, especially L.A.'s concrete freeways, but the ride is well damped and appropriately cush.

The Passat's brakes are another dynamic standout. Four-wheel discs with ABS are standard, and they stop the heavy wagon from 60 mph in just 127 feet with a firm pedal.

A little bigger than before
Three inches of additional width give passengers more hip and elbow room, plus rear legroom has been increased by 2.4 inches. Cargo volume is up as well, to 35.8 cubic feet, which means it can swallow quite a lot of Freeda's fruitcake. The BMW offers 33.6 cubic feet.

The rest of the interior is identical to the two Passat sedans we've already tested, which is to say beautifully screwed together and richly appointed. Problems are still limited to seat bottoms that lack shape and thigh support, cupholders with little hold, and the misplacement of the push-button parking brake. Instead of down by the shifter where it belongs, VW put it way over left of the headlight switch.

We also found the optional navigation system to be a bit lethargic. Although it has thoughtful features like "Back" and "Gas Station" buttons, it seems to think slowly compared to other units.

Another plus is the heft of the Passat's doors. They just feel substantial, as do its chunky pull-type door handles. Visibility is also excellent and the felt-lined big bin left of the steering wheel is a nice touch. But the biggest ergonomic improvement is the growth of the Passat's door bins; they've gone from miniature to massive and can now hold a good-size water bottle.

Knows its place
Like its four-door brother, this latest round of redesign has been good to the Passat wagon. It's improved in every measurable way, and it continues to deliver on the promise of an affordable midsize luxury five-door.

Although there's now more competition in the wagon world, maybe even more than in the days of Vista Cruisers and Country Squires, the Passat Wagon 3.6 4Motion should once again find a loyal following.

For many, its unique blend of size, refinement, features and price will be just right
  • 280-hp 3.6-liter V6
  • Six-speed automatic transmission
  • All-wheel drive

What Works

Fast, larger than before, class-leading fit and finish, still a ton of car for the money.

What Needs Work

Too much tire noise on the highway, the occasional ergonomic glitch, slowpoke navigation system.

The Emperor is Naked

Entries such as this may become a regular feature here on my little corner of "the Soapbox."

Or, it may not. Much like "Luncheonette," it may be all but forgotten after a while. For now, though, I've decided to take some of the most unflattering photos I can find of people who eschew acceptance and diversity, who vehemently campaign against any segment of society that isn't like them, who denounce any form of religion or spiritual beliefs that differ from theirs, who work to force being different unlawful in the eyes of the State.

I see this as a place for telling the naked truth, as understood by me and many of my peers. Common decency may sometimes fly out the window here and we'll sometimes "call a spade a bloody shovel."

The first charlatan to be featured here is Maggie Gallagher, founder of National Organization for Marriage. NOM campaigns against gay marriage by inserting its convictions, mostly based upon religion, into politics, corporations and society in general. Lately, it seems they are not getting the support they once did -- evidenced by the lackluster of support of 18,000 pledges for their "Dump Starbucks" campaign. I'm happy for their failure and pray they continue with that success.

Thankfully, campaigns such as "Thank Starbucks" from Sum of Us is only eight signatures short of reaching 300,000 supporters:"

Amazing! We’ve blown past 200,000 in just over 48 hours!

We are going to send a special “Thank You” card from all of us to Starbucks! The anti-marriage National Organization for Marriage has now received over 18,000 signatures on its petition, so we’re upping our goal to  250,000 — way more than 10 times the number of signers they have.  You all are phenomenal!

Thank you, Starbucks. And, thank you Sum of Us. Together, our voices can drown Maggie's droning, tired, non-Christian rhetoric.