I am a lifelong VW fan.  While VW isn’t the only brand I’ve ever driven (mostly due to circumstance and timing), over the years I’ve owned nine, starting with a humble panel van like this one (I played in a band so duh):

Note the extreme simplicity:  divided flat windshield, swing-open doors, hard bumper over-riders, manually-adjusted rearview mirrors and single-beam headlights (the ones pictured are far sexier than mine were).  And that’s just the exterior.  The interior was equally spartan:

(This must have been a deluxe version — it had a radio.  Mine didn’t even have seatbelts.)

The only things I ever replaced were the headlights because the originals were so weak that a car coming up from behind would cast my shadow into my beams), and  a clutch plate (at about 80,000 miles).  The engine was the mighty air-cooled 1600cc, which made uphill travel with a full load an exercise in patience (for the cars behind me).

I owned “Fred” (as the band nicknamed it) for eight years.  Then I moved on, over the years driving a Beetle (original model), Golf, Passat wagon, three Jettas (!) and two Tiguans.

Imagine my surprise when (thanks to Insty) I read a review of the 2019 VW Jetta, which contained gems such as these:

Both Jettas we tested were top-of-the-line ($26,945 [WTF? — Kim]) SEL versions, so they came with all the bells and whistles. As an illustration of how interconnected all these various subsystems are, consider the following: switching among Eco, Normal, and Sport modes remaps the throttle, changes the transmission shift points, and can even tighten the steering. But it will also tweak how the adaptive cruise control behaves, changes the climate-control settings, and even changes the interior ambient lighting.


The interior tech might well be the Jetta’s strongest card. SEL Jettas come with the 10.25-inch “Digital Cockpit” display, a VW version of Audi’s “Virtual Cockpit” that I’ve raved about in the past. You can configure it to a great degree, from austere minimalism to information overload, and together with the MIB II infotainment system, the overall experience is slick. (Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and MirrorLink are included.)

I should point out that my panel van had a new-car sticker price of about $4,000 in today’s currency, and my second (top of the line) Jetta had a sticker of $14,000 (also in today’s dollars), thus making the 2019 model nearly double the price, for nowhere close to double the utility.

I’m not saying that VW should return to the austerity of the panel van;  hell, my old Fred made Fred Flintstone’s car look like a Cadillac — it was absolute hell on a cold or hot day, let me tell you, plus it was about as safe to drive as a mobility scooter on the Long Island Expressway.  And no doubt some marketing genius at VW will tell you that this unheard-of luxury is what the market wants (while a VW accountant won’t tell you that all the doodads add thousands of dollars of profit per car, but they do).  I have no problem with many of the safety features demanded of today’s cars, but I absolutely have to question the need for “Eco, Normal, and Sport” gearbox modes in a small passenger saloon car with a farty little 1400cc four-banger engine.  (The next model year will feature VW’s superb 2.0-liter turbo engine — the same one used in my Tiguan — which will cause the 1400cc model’s sales to tank (you heard it here first) because given a choice between needless but anemic luxury and performance, only Alan Alda / Greenpeace types prefer the former.)

I also know that today’s “luxury” becomes tomorrow’s “indispensable”, such is the insidious upward creep of progress.  But as VW cars have become more luxurious, the “People’s Car” has transformed itself into the “rich people’s” car, and VW has opened a gap at the bottom of the market (which they used to own) for car manufacturers from other countries to fill.

I’m going to quit now, because I’m sick of pissing into this particular wind.  And my next  Tiguan will have the “parking assist” software because of all the automotive luxuries ever designed, this is one of the few which actually makes sense.  Yeah, I’m selling out.


  1. Over-complicated for sure. I knew my Caddy ATS-V had swiveling headlights but I didn’t know the half of it until I read this on one of the tech forums –

    the other reason for the wiring difference is the the HID utilizes a Beamforming adaptive headlight…what this does is the car takes the vehicle speed, yaw rate, and the steering angle and calculates the cars trajectory and stretches the light to aim where the car is going to be….this is not simply locked to the steering, and the beams move independently, to avoid creating dark spots when moving beams around.

    Hoo boy! No wonder when these things break, they don’t fix them, Just plug a whole new headlight assembly in (that you can find for fourteen hundred and change per side if you look around for one)

  2. VW made a conscious decision to move up market starting in the 90s or so. That is part of the reason they bought SEAT and Skoda (to be their value brands in Europe). The thing is, there is not a lot of profit in the value end of the market, it is pushing everyone in that direction. Look at the Japanese brands, same thing with them.

  3. Wow, old VW’s were easy to repair, in 1967 I was living in Germany driving my 1958 VW Bug which had all the latest 1930’s technology. When the heater cable broke that closed the little doors under the engine to redirect hot air all you had to do was wedge a piece of coat hanger wire in place to keep the doors shut until the next Spring. I moved up from my Bug in 1968 to a 1963 VW Square Back that was a fairly decent vehicle, on the Autobahn I would just keep the gas pedal on the floor and try to spend as little time in the left passing lane as possible when faster cars would come swooping in with lights flashing signaling me to get my ass over and let them by which was the law. No passing on the right and clear the left as rapidly as possible and why we did not have that in place on our interstate system in the 1950’s is beyond me.

    An yes, VW Bus, I drove one of those for a part time job my second year in college and on the highway going uphill it seemed as if time would stand still, or at least slow down.

    1. I had a Squareback, a toolbox and a copy of the Idiot Book so I was all set when I was in school. I put one of those oil coolers on it, and a set of spring loaded bleeder valves on the brake lines. Replaced the SU carbs with Webers, which were easier to balance.
      Several times I had the car up on jack stands to pull the starter, brake caliper, whatever, and then rode down to the local dealer on my bicycle with the core in my backpack and came back with a rebuilt or new part. Back under the car to finish the job.
      It took years for the valve adjustment scars on my knuckles to go away.

  4. Kim most new vehicle prices are well ahead of inflation but that’s mostly because of mandated additional equipment but also because of rampant feature inflation, as you noted. These features, more properly known as useless unreliable crap, are there because for a manufacturer to do otherwise would be tantamount to unilateral disarmament in the marketing wars.

    There is one other factor at work. Because of all the weight added by mandated equipment much more powerful engines are required than years ago in a given class of car, and manufactures have upped the ante over that substantially for marketing purposes. I owned, and adored, a 1985 VW GTI. It had all the performance and handling one could want, an utter joy to drive. A new GTI not only costs twice as much in constant dollars and weighs half a ton more, its power and handling prowess makes my 85 look like a garbage truck with a flat tire. It even gets better mileage although it has three times as much power. Progress, if you can afford it, and have a stone-axe reliable backup vehicle, such as an old V-Dub.

  5. “I am a lifelong VW fan.”

    I knew there was something I liked about you. 🙂

    Oddly enough, I first heard about “Nation of Riflemen” from a friend of my VW mechanic in Albuquerque, while waiting for him to get my ’78 Bulli back in good health. Glad I found you again.

  6. ‘Feature inflation’
    Hadn’t heard it put that way before, but it’s exactly what I thought of. Not long ago I looked at the Ford website for information on the new Ranger, and damn! There are virtually no ‘options’ because they lard EVERYTHING onto it.

    Which not only bumps up the price, but forces you to take crap you don’t want.

    I really dread having to look for a new truck someday

  7. I rented a new Golf for a few days in France two weeks ago. Nice ride. I didn’t have enough time with it to appreciate all the features, like the adaptive cruise control. I never did figure that one out, but one I did figure out was when you get stopped in stop-and-go traffic, put it in neutral and let the clutch out the engine quits. When the car in front of you moves again the engine starts.

  8. The worst part is that half the gimcracks they load on are either useless or nonfunctional. Example – my BMW came with a navigation system. A $2K option. Which can be outperformed by a $200 TomTom.

  9. Kim,
    surely you have forgotten that VAG now has both Bentley and Bugatti under it’s family umbrella. That makes the shift upmarket a natural consequence.

    My experience with VW in particular is twofold; First, my folks bought a 1982 Rabbit diesel 4 door that we later used that year to tow a clam-shell trailer with our camping gear, tent, sleeping bags to see the World’s Expo in Knoxville, TN (the first year the PRC had a pavilion after 40 plus years). The original engine died some years later, was replaced, and then that thing lived on for a total of 16 years before my automotive maintenance challenged brother finally killed it.

    Second, I worked at a dealership as an apprentice over 20 years ago that sold VW, and while none of them really impressed me, I remember that many of the delivered cars had to have calibration done during the pre-delivery inspection to ensure components that affected emissions were operating properly.

    My time at that dealership also enabled me to preview the SF Auto Show for a few years as that dealership prepped several makes for the show, and that allowed me to view the one car that I’ve always admired since seeing it in the late 1990’s, the Bentley Azure.

  10. Half of my family were in the foreign car parts and repair business (back when that was a separate class entirely) with lots of VW exposure. I kind of liked the Type III squarebacks (my Mom had one for years), and the Karmann Ghias were nice looking. But that godawful wet fart exhaust, and your apt description of the Type II’s gutless performance… Meh. Not a fan of volkswagens

    There was also those damn hippies that took over the neighborhood park and ruined it, their rank body stench, their inevitable beat up VW microbuses with psychedelic daisies painted on them… way too many negative connotations.

  11. The adaptive cruise control is the best thing that’s been developed for a long time. Set it at 80 and go until you run up on someone. It slows you down and once they finally get out of the left lane, it takes you right back up to speed. Fantastic.

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