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Vintage VW microbus a sweet little ride


      Vintage toys have great appeal because they not only reflect an era or specific period of time, they carry fond memories of childhood and play. And vintage die-cast cars are one of the most enduringly popular collectibles. For some, the curators, only mint collectibles—preferably still in the box—will do. For others, the sentimental treasure hunter, the obvious signs of use, the dents, scrapes and wear and tear of play, only add to the appeal. 


      I saved a shoebox full of the matchbox cars my children played with, but although I’ve admired plenty at flea markets and antique sales, I’ve never bought a vintage toy car or truck. Until a few days ago when I saw a 1960s die-cast replica of a VW Microbus on the shelf in a local thrift store and I couldn’t leave it behind.


     The toy is completely intact with none of the little pieces of trim missing. There are a few scratches here and there but the doors still open and close and it rolls straight. But to be honest, none of that mattered. What really drew me to it was that it reminded me of my son, not as a little boy pushing toys around in the sand box, but as a young man who likes to tinker with things.


     Several years ago he bought a real vintage Volkswagen bus the same robin’s egg blue and white as the toy. The bus was in great shape when he bought it and he continued to make improvements to the interior. By the time he was done it was a compact, comfortable, camper. He and his friends camped all over the Pacific Northwest in it.


     While the VW bus was fun to work on, and fun to use, it just wasn’t practical for everyday use so he sold it for a tidy profit. But whenever he rolled up my driveway in the driver’s seat, he had a smile on his face and I hated to see it go.


     So, when I saw the vintage 1960s Microbus I brought it home. It doesn’t have any great monetary value, similar toys are selling online for under $20. But at $3.99, and considering the pleasure it brings me each time I look at it, my new toy was a real steal.


You can read more of Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s work on her Spokesman.com Home Planet blog. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com


Volkswagen shakes a bad case of car flu

Volkswagen summoned journalists to Napa Valley last week, purportedly to introduce its 2014 U.S. product line.
The unveilings included a family of innovative and efficient new engines, a new satellite-based connectivity system called Car-Net and an expanded lineup of “performance-inspired” R-Line cars.
But the event’s real story was a comeback tale, an accounting of a company on the rebound from a nasty spell of car flu. The symptoms: flagging quality, soaring warranty claims, unhappy customers.
As recently as 2007, VW was a “challenged company,” said Marc Trahan, Executive VP of Group Quality. But at about that time, a U.S.-focused initiative called Mach 18 began to bear fruit: 
  • VW has reduced initial quality defects to within a hair’s breadth of the industry standard and should surpass it within the next year. 
  • Since 2009, the number of customer warranty claims has been halved.
  • VW’s JD Power Consumer Satisfaction Index numbers have improved each year for the past five years.
  • Volkswagen has more than doubled its U.S. sales.
  • Customer loyalty is at its highest point in six years.
  • VW tops all non-premium brands in JD Power’s APEAL survey, which measures a brand’s desirability among consumers.
There’s been internal growth, too. Since 2009, VW has added 41 new U.S. dealers. In the global sales battle, the VW Group is closing in on leaders Toyota and General Motors.
But because such growth is unsustainable, the company will hit the pause button on new-product introductions, Trahan said. For the next 24 to 36 months, it will focus on refining its lineup and consolidating its gains. 
In Napa, VW showed its newest gasoline and diesel engines, which are lighter, more powerful and more efficient than their predecessors.
Volkswagen is justifiably proud of its innovative new gasoline engines, which pioneer a breakthrough exhaust-gas management strategy. Integrating the exhaust manifold directly into the cylinder head, VW improves engine output and efficiency and creates an extraordinarily broad and flat power curve.
The new engines are quicker to reach operating temperatures, reducing the friction and wear that accompany lower temps and cutting the time needed to heat the cabin.
We sampled the new engine architecture in a pair of cars, a 1.8-liter, 170-horsepower 2014 Passat and a 210-hp, 2.0-liter 2015 GTI hatchback, which will be available here early next year.
With either engine, peak power comes on at very low engine speeds (1.8L at 1,500 RPM; 2.0L at 1,750) and with virtually no turbo lag. Both engines are extremely responsive, with power available across a broad torque band. 
The 1.8L runs on regular unleaded; the 2.0L needs premium.
The 1.8L will gradually replace the existing 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine in the Jetta, Beetle and Passat. The 2.0L will power performance trims.
Other 2014 updates include: 
  • A retro-themed, limited-edition Beetle GSR.
  • R-Line expanded to include Beetle Coupe and Convertible, CC, Touareg and Tiguan. 
  • Car-Net, a satellite-based in-car connectivity system provides crash notification, roadside assistance, stolen vehicle location assistance; remote vehicle access, onboard and remote diagnostics, enhanced navigation services and more. Available this fall on Beetle, CC, Eos, Jetta, Passat and Tiguan.
VW’s 2014-15 lineup reveals a company enjoying strong health and renewed confidence. Its new products are comfortable, attractive, well equipped and competitively priced. New cabin technology brings them into the modern age.
It’s VW’s renewed focus on quality, though, that speaks loudest for the brand’s prospects. 

Volkswagen to produce 270mpg car

According to my abacus, with its 2.6-gallon fuel tank Volkswagen’s XL1 concept has a theoretical range of 700 miles.  If Volkswagen’s mileage claim proves to be true the plug-in electric diesel could make it from Seattle to the middle of Montana without stopping for gas.  Impressive as that may seem VW is remaining skeptical as to whether or not they’ll sell many of the silver bullets.  

2013 Diesel Beetle mans up

Volkswagen is thumping their clean diesel bible to great success.  They’re also on a mission to increase the masculine appeal of the Beetle, which in years past has looked like it might have a tube of lipstick where the cigarette lighter should be.  With the return of the diesel Beetle this year people of any gender have a new reason to give the people’s car another look.  After taking one for a throttle-happy spin around downtown Portland I was reminded just how impressive VW’s TDI engines are.  As for masculine appeal…

Volkswagen Cross Blue dominates with electrified diesel

Volkswagen announced their foray into the hotly contested midsize SUV market this month with the reveal of the Cross Blue concept. Should it reach prodcution the seven passenger plug-in diesel hybrid would bring VW one step closer to their ultimate goal of complete world domination

It’s no coincidence the Cross Blue bears more than a passing resemblance to the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee and is bragging to achieve a projected 89 miles per gallon electric.  Regardless of whether or not the concept actually makes it to showrooms VW is  using it to make their itnentions clear. 

Lexus CT 200h F Sport

Wearing the F Sport badge while rocking the same powertrain as a Prius gives the Lexus CT 200h a mixed bag of credentials to say the least. The concept of a “performance hybrid” is still regarded as more of an oxymoron than anything else, and for good reason.

But is the CT 200h really trying to posture itself as a sporty hybrid hatchback?

Consider the raw numbers. As mentioned above the 200h uses the same 134hp hybrid system found in the Prius. Each car reaches 60mph in 9.8 seconds. Those aren’t the sort of numbers that will throw Doc Brown back in his seat and leave a set of flaming tire marks on the ground.

Without digging much deeper it’s safe to say Lexus wasn’t very concerned with blowing the doors off a Volkswagen GTI or Subaru Impreza hatchback. In fact those cars aren’t even on the 200h’s radar. At its core Lexus is a luxury brand.

Starting at just under $30,000 the CT 200h is aimed at the burgeoning entry-level luxury market. With 43mpg city, 40mpg highway (only 8mpg less combined than the Prius) it boasts the best fuel economy in the segment.

Impressive as those numbers are they run the risk of losing their luster when compared to the 200h’s real competition: Audi A3, BMW 1 Series and Volvo C30. None of these cars come close to matching the 200h’s fuel economy but all will run circles around it any day of the week.

That isn’t to say there isn’t a healthy degree of fun to be had in the 200h. Using the same double A-arms found in the HS 250h, the suspension was retuned for sportier driving with a Yamaha front and rear damping system that firms up ride quality and reduces body vibration. 

An optional F Sport package includes a tuned suspension, 17-inch wheels, mesh grill, larger rear spoiler, aluminum sport pedals and F Sport badging that insists sporty hybrids are sports cars too.

The first time I sat behind the wheel of the 200h, before pushing the start button to hear the soft hum of hybrid power, it gave every impression of being a car that was destined to have 300hp at the front wheels and an aggressive suspension to do battle with an Impreza STI – gas mileage be-damned.

In the driver’s seat the cabin fits like a glove. The steering wheel has the feel of a meaty performance car, the well-bolstered seats hold you snug in place. Switching to Sport mode cranks up the RPM’s, tightens steering response and increases battery thrust from 500 to 600 volts. The stability and traction control back off to allow for a bit more reckless abandon here and there.

When kept in Sport mode the car’s unimpressive power is far less noticeable, especially around town where there’s not enough room to wait for the Prius-esque acceleration to rear its eco-friendly head on a long freeway onramp. 

That said, even when mashing the accelerator to the floor like a burning bag left on a front porch it’s hard to manage much less than 35mpg.

Handling is a mixture of what you should expect from a Lexus combined with hints of Toyota. It gets the job done in style and lives up to luxury segment standards but isn’t set up to handle any more fun than the synergy drive can muster.

By hybrid standards the 200h is by all means near the top the fun factor list. The closest comparable rival could be the 2012 Honda CR-Z hybrid. Then again, nether car is going to completely satisfy an enthusiast who doesn’t want to compromise performance for fuel efficiency.

Those who are willing to spend a bit more time at the pump in exchange for more jollies behind the wheel should look to the Audi A3 TDI, another fuel-efficient entry level luxury car starting at close to $30,000. The A3 bests the Lexus with 140hp and 236 ft-lb of torque. 

On the comparative downside the A3 only manages 30mpg city, 42mpg highway for a combined estimate of 34mpg, or about the worst you can expect to get out of the 200h.

There lies the rub. In the entry-level luxury market buyers who want performance versus outstanding gas mileage would be better suited to look towards the cars mentioned above to quench their sports car needs.

Drawing on Lexus F-Sport and Prius DNA, the CT 200h deserves a serious look for anyone who wants best in class fuel economy and just enough thrills to keep themselves entertained during a week’s commute.

In the end, regardless of how much sport the F-Sport badge can exude from the 200h, most people still buy a hybrid to save gas and the planet, not because their supposed to be fun to drive.

Looking at it that way the 200h goes above and beyond the call of duty. That’s what a luxury car is supposed to do.

Lexus CT 200h slideshow: http://tinyurl.com/6wq6oea

Hybrid Killer: 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI

Consumers are wising up to the realization they don’t have to buy a hybrid for the sake of fuel economy. On average clean diesel vehicles are 30%-35% more fuel efficient than their gasoline counterparts, meet the same emissions standards and make significantly more low-end power. Not being a Prius should also be a plus to some. 

Volkswagen is fast emerging as the clear leader of clean diesel vehicles in the United States with their TDI models, sales of which are up 44 percent through March versus last year. On the whole 2012 has been exceedingly gracious to the dub brand. 

Thus far the fully redesigned Passat was awarded Motor Trend’s prestigious car of the year award and across the board VW celebrated its best first quarter since 1973. 

The jump in diesel sales coupled with the Passat earning top honors from Motor Trend ought to be big news for any car buyer looking to put a new midsize family car in the driveway. 

With a full tank of diesel a Passat TDI has an 800 mile cruising range (31mpg city, 43 highway). Those are groundbreaking numbers for a mid-size sedan, and from personal experience it’s possible to do better if you’re tender with your throttle foot. 

The question then becomes, “Why buy a hybrid?” 

If a diesel car can achieve comparable fuel economy at a near identical price point there’s little reason to put up with the concessions hybrid cars demand. 

Namely, hybrids tend to be underpowered, aren’t as much fun to drive and… Just aren’t that cool. 

The 2012 Passat TDI lets you have your fuel economy, your power and all of the wonderful things German engineering does for a driving experience. Needless to say the Passat won Motor Trend’s car of the year for good reason. 

Regardless of what sort of fuel they run on, too often family sedans neglect to provide any sort of tangible driving experience. They can be boring, less of a car and more of an appliance for transportation, like a toaster that your teenager wants to borrow on Friday nights. The Passat doesn’t lack character in any capacity. 

The steering is responsive, handling agile and precise, so much so it makes you wonder if there might have been a degree of sports car DNA slipped into its design, even if it was only for the sake of safety.

Inside the Passat feels spacious above all else, airy even. Just because a family sedan technically seats five doesn’t mean they’ll fit comfortably. They will in the Passat, even if the kids happen to be a six-foot tall high-schooler, Chunk from ‘The Goonies’ and a friend he hangs out with to make himself feel slimmer. 

The Passat’s Interior styling is tasteful, nothing flashy. The materials are high quality and stand as some of the best in its class. Running your eyes over the dash, seats and interior arrangements gives the feel of a luxury car that places more concern on fulfilling the role as such without trying to knock your socks off. 

On the exterior styling is more of a head turner, yet still manages to follow suite with rest of the car’s clean design and overall appeal. Versus being dramatic the re-designed body is elegant and understated. There’s nothing ostentatious about it although it is clear even at a glance that it’s a luxury car, albeit one that isn’t too concerned with appearing that way. 

The 2012 Passat TDI is an illustration of everything Volkswagen has going for it and gives a tangible definition to the ideal of German engineering. It should be on the short list of anyone looking to buy a family sedan whether they're ever heard of clean diesel or not. 

Being able to put more than a few hybrids to shame only sweetens the deal.