Sam Grobart is a reviewer of cars, and really trusted Volkswagen who he says have slapped him in the face.
So a couple of things about me: I am a Northeast-dwelling, cappuccino-sipping, whole-foods-shopping media professional. I am also a lifelong lover of cars, and have reviewed them professionally, on and off, for 15 years.
Is it any wonder I own a Volkswagen diesel?
I bought my Jetta Sportwagen TDI, perhaps fittingly, on Halloween in 2008. Now it’s frightening what has become of my car, which has been wearing a costume this whole time. The diesel disguise was one of European sophistication and 21st century frugality — a potent blend to a car-loving liberal-arts graduate.
At the time of the purchase I was seeking a car for my new family; my daughter was born the year before and it was time for a car of my own. I’d spent the previous year and a half doing some car coverage for a magazine, so I was driving a new car every week. It was the perfect research you could do before making a purchase of your own: a week-long test drive of every family car in the market.
When I decided I wanted to buy a car, I had the Sportwagen TDI at the top of my list. Over the weeks and months in which I drove every Honda, Toyota, Ford, and Hyundai under the sun, it never fell from that position.
It was, I thought, the perfect car for a poncy Europhile like myself: A German (Euro!) station wagon (so Euro!) with a diesel engine (Eurissimo!). The only thing more Euro would be a Citroën that ran on adultery.
But the TDI also could be justified logically. It’s mileage rating was damn near 40 miles to the gallon. The engine had a poky 140hp rating, and like all diesels it had prodigious amounts of torque: a stump-pulling 236 ft-lbs of it. That made the car a lively performer and a fuel-sipper at the same time.
It was no surprise that more than 50% of the cars sold in Europe are diesels — we dumb Americans just didn’t know what we were missing. And what of diesel’s reputation for burning dirtier and releasing more junk into the air? Well, Volkswagen’s crack squad of engineers gave every impression of having solved all those problems.
I bought my VW and immediately felt a wave of smug satisfaction and superiority wash over me. In the years that followed, I would bask in the glow that I had bought The Smartest Car in America.
I would evangelise to any poor fool who would listen to me about VW TDIs, regaling them with tales of me not going to the gas station, but how it was never a problem to find one if I needed to refill my tank.
How the performance was no worse than the great middle of the US car market, thanks to all that sweet, sweet torque and also that firm-but-not- uncomfortable handling and responsive six-speed automated-manual transmission.
All that smug superiority fell to the ground this week when I learned of VW’s perfidy. Now my TDI is no longer a car, it’s a comeuppance. I placed my faith in the soft, manicured hands of VW, only to have them slap me across my well-moisturized, SPF- protected face.
I now have a car that has been harming, not helping, the environment. It does not provide the benefits I paid a premium for: today’s diesel Sportwagens carry a sticker $3,000 higher than petrol version. My car will perform worse once VW undoes its malfeasance, and it will have a lower resale value when I want to get rid of it.
And selling seems like something I may do sooner rather than later. What to buy next? As the VW scandal spreads, I must say that it casts a long shadow over other diesels, so that option seems off the list.
But I can’t change who I am entirely: I guess I’ll have to trade in my tight-pants European pretension for the more white-bread insufferability of a hybrid.
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