As Longtime Readers know, I’m a huge fan of VW cars. I’ve owned many:

  • Beetle (actually a former girlfriend’s but I drove it as much as she did)
  • Kombi panel van (carrying band equipment for many years)
  • Passat and Golf (both company cars, as a junior executive)
  • Jetta (actually three, two sedans and a wagon)
  • and right now I’m on my second Tiguan.

I would also have owned the magnificent W12-powered Phaeton, but in the early 2000s we were too poor to afford one and by the time we got the funds, VW had pulled it from the U.S. market, the idiots (see below).

VW seems to have (or have had) a reputation for unreliability, but that hasn’t been my experience, ever, throughout all those that I’ve owned and driven.

Let me now sing the praises of the car I’m driving now: the Tiguan — crap name, by the way, but at least it’s better than the “Toe-rag” (Touareg).

As I’ve got older, getting in an out of cars has become a pain in the ass. If it’s too low (e.g. sports cars and most saloons), getting out of the thing requires a crane lift; and if it’s too high (most full-size trucks and SUVs), the same crane lift is needed to get me into the damn thing.

Hence my love for the smaller “crossover” SUV type like the Tiguan. Getting in is but a step with hardly any climb involved, and getting out is likewise a simple step. (If I were taller or shorter, of course, this might not be the case, but that’s a moot point.)

I also like the Tiguan because there’s lots of room — two fat- or three skinny passengers can fit in the rear seat, and if I need more storage space, the back seat folds down easily. The venerable station wagon, of course, would pretty much do the same except that, as I discovered with my Jetta wagon, it’s a little too low to the ground and getting out with ease is problematic.

I also hate the current trend towards low rooflines and high door-sills because of head-bumping and poor visibility respectively, and the Tiguan has neither of those problems.

Lastly, the Tiguan has a lovely engine: the 2-liter turbocharged little four-banger — VW’s mainstay engine through out its fleet — has plenty of pep for this old guy, but at low speeds (sans turbo) it’s also economical, and I’ve got very nearly 400 miles out of a tank when cruising on the interstates.

It is, in fact, my perfect car. And as I’ve seldom cared about nonsense like being judged by what car you drive, the fact that my perfect car is a smaller SUV is of no concern. Couple that with VW’s reliability (in my experience), and it’s a no-brainer. In truth, it would take a massive change to get me not to buy yet a third Tiguan when the time comes.

And we all know how much I hate change.

The knock against the Phaeton was of the “why would anyone spend $80,000 on a VW?”, but that missed the point. With the Phaeton’s engine and build quality, you weren’t getting an expensive VW; you were getting an inexpensive Bentley (as proved when the W12 went on, almost unchanged, to provide the platform for the German-owned Bentley’s larger-engined models.

All that said, VW should instead have marketed the Phaeton under the Audi name (A12?), but then-head of VW Ferdinand Piëch wanted to improve the VW brand (forgetting the “People’s Car” heritage), which turned out to be a mistake.

I still think the Phaeton is one of the best large saloon cars ever made.


  1. I always thought that Volkswagen should make a separate line for premium cars, ala Toyota/Lexus. They could call it the Fuehrerwagen. The symbol could replace the VW in a circle with a swastika in a circle.

    Kidding aside, it is sad that the Phaeton was not more popular. It sounded like a fine car.

  2. > VW seems to have (or have had) a reputation for unreliability,

    Unreliability is a relative thing, relative to both other cars in that segment, and to the owners expectations.

    In the 70s and 80s VW had a reputation for being VERY reliable–the same sort of German Engineering and Build Quality in Mercedes and BMW, only that a working man could afford. This was, of course, relative to the utter dreck (in engineering, design and build quality) coming out of the Big Three, and this was just as Japanese cars were turning up *their* build quality.

    By the early 90s Japan was making some *truely* reliable vehicles. Heck, the Toyota Land Cruiser (my personal favorite) 50 and 60 series vehicles established the legend rugged reliability. I’ve got one sitting in the driveway (since March) and after a bit of time on a charger will start right up.

    This means that VW wasn’t competing against the fairly execrable Ford Escort, it was competing against the Toyota Corolla. My wife and I bought a 2 year old Corolla in 1999 and drove it up to IIRC 140/150k before selling it off 11 years later. Still ran well.

    So if you’ve got two vehicles, one you *expect* to be of great quality, and one you expect to be average, and the *great* one is only a little better than the average one, your perception is that the “great” vehicle isn’t all that much.

    When the Land Cruiser finally wouldn’t pass emissions any more (it’s a diesel, from Australia, and getting it worked on is /expensive/) we went out and bought a used Lexus GX-470. Which is essentially a Land Cruiser Prado (J120) soccer-mommed up.

    It’s got a V-8 in it, which is not great on gas, but I live at 5300 feet elevation, and loading the family+dog and heading up into 9 or 10k feet means you want a little more engine under the hood to compensate for the loss of power at altitude.

    I really like our GX-470. It got totaled in a hail storm, which means we paid it off earlier and now drive a silver golf ball, but given that it was purchased to drive in bad weather and to go into the back country of Colorado, that’s fine.

  3. > VW seems to have (or have had) a reputation for unreliability

    I suggest you talk to your current shooting companions and the hotel staff. They will likely tell you otherwise.

  4. Agree with you on VW reliability. I’ve owned a Golf and 3x Jetta. All were mostly driven by the kids but were reliable as long as the normal water pump and timing belt service was done before either failed.

    Audi did get the W12 engine, which they used in the stretch wheelbase A8L from 2001 up through at least 2017. Don’t know about the 2018 model. Those are really pretty luxurious cars with decent performance for their bulk.

    The most reliable vehicle ever to pass through my home garage is my 2000 F250 short bed 2WD super cab with the International 7.3L diesel and ZF 6 speed manual transmission. It currently has 210k miles on the clock and aside from a water pump and a set of brake pads, has needed only the normal consumables. I’m amazed that the brake disks were still in spec when I replaced the pads at 185k!

  5. I’ve liked the VW’s I have owned. However, they are not going to sell me anything until they make a 4WD/AWD with a stick shift that can tow something (does not have to be all that much even).

    I test drove a Tiguan and liked it, but the lack of a stick in AWD was a deal breaker.

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