Road Trip: Coast to coast in five VW TDIs
Cross-Canada challenge helps us assess how much diesel engines have improved
MONTREAL:From the heart of old Montreal, via the Chemin de la C?te-des-Neiges, we head up to the glorious summit of Mont Royal, the splendour of autumn foliage accompanied by a soundtrack of thrumming tires against centuries-old cobblestones.
The fact that road noise is the only sound worth mentioning is, in itself, noteworthy, since the main purpose of our drive is to showcase Volkswagen?s diesel technology ? an engine once known for its distinctive clatter.
We?re part of a fleet of five Volkswagen TDI vehicles driving across Canada, a journey that began in Halifax, and will culminate on the Pacific coast, when the last leg reaches Vancouver.
Our leg, the second of five, started in downtown Montreal and zig-zagged its way through Ontario ? taking in Ottawa, Toronto and some of the province?s most scenic cottage country, before ending in Sault Ste. Marie.
VW has been selling diesels since the 1970s, and TDI clean diesels comprise 28 per cent of their sales. And half of all Touaregs, Passat and Golf Wagons sold are diesel.
The cross-Canada fleet consisted of five vehicles: Beetle, Golf Wagon, Jetta, Passat and Touareg ? all sharing the same 2.0-L, 4-cylinder TDI engine, with the exception of the Touareg, which featured a 3.0-L TDI V6.
The goal? To cross the country on only six tanks of fuel per vehicle.
Departing downtown Montreal in the 2014 TDI Beetle, we earned the occasional curious glance for the colourful decals emblazoned across its flanks.
Of the five, the Beetle is my favourite ? a surprising fact given my loathing of the previous generation?s kitschy cuteness. This one has a more testosterone-boosted attitude than its bubble-headed predecessor.
Longer, lower, wider, the Beetle now has an infusion of sporty sleekness, resembling a 911 with a touch of Audi TT thrown in. The interior is still cute, as befitting its character, but not annoyingly so.
Doors close with that reassuring thunk, but there are abundant inexpensive materials appropriate to its segment. Sports-style seats are cloth-covered and manually adjustable. The centre stack is plain, which is not to say unstylish. It features simple round knobs, complimented by circular brush metal trim surrounding the shifter.
The body-coloured hard dash adds to the retro atmosphere, and there?s a delightful little flat-bottomed steering wheel accentuating its playful, sporty nature.
Under the Beetle?s snub little nose, the turbo-diesel engine puts out 140 hp with 236 lb.-ft. of torque. If the horsepower numbers sound anemic, the generous torque gives the Beetle a nimble quickness.
Since our time in the Beetle consisted of a busy urban rush hour between Montreal and Ottawa, replete with construction stops, our average fuel consumption was a less-than-impressive 7.1 L/100 km. I?d earlier achieved 5.2 L/100 km during a week of mixed driving ? proving the Beetle?s a frugal commuter.
Overall, the Beetle achieved an average of 6.6 over the course of our roughly 1,400-km journey, with every participant having a chance behind the wheel.
Beetle TDI Highline: $27,275 base, $31,460 as tested.
Next, we climbed into a 2014 Golf Wagon (the hatchback isn?t available this year, and won?t be until 2015).
It?s rather soulless when compared to the Beetle, but has a wonderful panoramic sunroof and a solid, substantial feel.
Powered by the same engine, the Golf isn?t as nimble as the Beetle, but the substantial torque keeps it from seeming underpowered.
The interior is rather sombre, but decently built with plenty of soft-touch, high-quality material ? although there are some hard plastics on the door panels and the Golf was the only one of the bunch without a push-button start.
The navigation screen is on the small side, and we were forced to do a bit of backtracking thanks to the vagary of its direction.
Overall, the Golf is a pleasant place to spend a road trip, with surprisingly firm suspension and comfortable seats. We did, however, notice a fair bit of tire noise from the Continental tires.
From Ottawa to Belleville, we averaged 6.0 L/100 km, compared to the Golf?s overall average of 5.7 for the entire leg.
Golf Wagon TDI Highline: $31,785 base, $35,570 as tested.
From Belleville to Toronto, a route I?ve driven countless times, I opted to ride shotgun in the back of the Jetta.
Surprisingly roomy, with plush comfortable seats, I was able to work on my laptop without bump or undue noise interruptions. The Fender sound system is a nice bonus, with clean high notes and a bass that resonates without buzzing.
Behind the wheel the next morning, I head into the aggravating snarl of Toronto?s rush-hour traffic. It?s at least an hour of solid gridlock, punctuated by construction, before we reach Highway 400.
Eventually flanked with rugged Pre-Cambrian shield, the 400 leads us into the Muskoka region, ablaze in autumn glory.
The Jetta is a decent cruiser, if not overly powerful. The 2.0-L powertrain moves the sedan along at a comfortable pace. For 2014, Jetta now offers TDI on all trim levels.
Our average consumption from Belleville, to Toronto and up to Muskoka was 6.1 L/100 km, while the overall average for the Jetta was 5.8.
Jetta TDI Highline: $27,790 base, $32,255 as tested.
After lunching at a beautiful lakeside resort in Gravenhurst, we moved up in both size and comfort to the Passat. Clearly built for cruising, the car features plump, cream upholstery and carbon-fibre-look trim. Head and leg room, both fore and aft, are positively voluminous.
The infotainment interface is more intricate, and takes a bit longer to master. Like many upscale German sedans, the Passat features a decorative analog clock, but comparing it to the jewel-like timepiece in Mercedes-Benz?s S-Class is like putting a Timex next to a Patek Philippe.
The Passat is a solid, comfortable cruiser, but with the same powertrain as the previous, smaller models, it works a bit harder when passing.
By the time we pulled into Sudbury, getting out to stretch our legs in the shadow of the Big Nickel, we?d consumed an average of 6.0 L/100 km. Its overall average for this leg was 5.7 ? better than the Beetle?s 6.6.
TDI Passat Highline: $33,475 base, $36,370 as tested.
We?re now on the final leg of our journey in the Touareg. Leaving the scrubby, hard-scrabble landscape of Sudbury, we hit Highway 17, which passes through towering rock cuts as it winds its way north.
The Touareg?s extra power is immediately noticeable ? not only does the V6 produce 240 hp, but it has a torque output of 406 lb.-ft. Coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission, this is a powertrain that easily eats up the miles.
The interior features soft-touch materials, but it?s a bit plain and utilitarian for a vehicle that is well over $60,000 with options.
I can?t help but reflect on the first TDI Touareg I drove, in 2005: a stump-pulling twin-turbo V10 monster with 553 lb.-ft of torque and an interior to rival any Porsche. However, at $110,000, it had a price to match.
The Touareg is sure-footed and solid, and when we reach our destination in Sault Ste. Marie, our average consumption was among the lowest in our group, at 9.3 L/100 km. Overall, the Touareg managed 9.4 for the two-day journey.
Touareg TDI Highline: $59,970 base, $61,465 as tested.
Transportation for freelance writer Lelsey Wimbush was provided by the manufacturer. Email: email@example.com.