Volkswagen full-line preview: Nothing to wine about

Full_Line_GroupAFor years, automotive enthusiasts have been lamenting that European vehicles are superior to American products by virtue of their power and handling. As the automotive realm continues its march toward a global vision, some manufacturers are bringing those vehicles overseas to a salivating audience. Ford has sated our car lust with the Focus ST and other Euro-platform rides, Fiats have reappeared with Italian flavoring, and the Germans are starting to respond with tasty offerings of their own.

Recently, we attended the Volkswagen full-line preview in St. Helena, California, where we had a chance to drive the 2014 offerings appearing in showrooms soon across America, as well as get behind the wheel of a handful of Euro-spec rides we have been told are coming here in the future.

The wine county was a great location for this event, not only because of the fun driving loops around Lake Berryessa, but also because every time we returned from driving a Euro-spec car we whined about not having it on our shores now.

There was no lack of products to drive, and we did our best to get in as many vehicles as possible during the time we had. VW brought the 2014 Beetle GSR, Convertible R-Line, TDI and Coupe, the CC in 2.0 Turbo and R-Line, the EOS Convertible, GLI, Jetta in all the variations including the new 1.8-liter, the Tiguan and the Touareg, also in myriad flavors.

But the bonus cars were the Euro models: MK7 GTI, MK7 Golf TDI, and a 2013 Scirocco.

VW_DasAuto2013A

While we didn’t have time to drive every vehicle, we did manage to squeeze in seven different rides. But before we regale you with our impressions, let’s get you up to date on VW business.

You might think this German marque is a minor player, but the truth is the Volkswagen Group is made up of 10 brands worldwide, including Audi, Porsche, Bentley, Bugatti, SEAT, Lamborghini, SKODA, and more. In the U.S., the VW brand is on an upward swing, having more than doubled sales in the past five years. Globally, VW Group has sold nine million units, placing it a close third behind Toyota and GM by only a few hundred thousand vehicles.

VW has made bold statements that it wants to be a leader in the U.S., and has a specific game plan to keep moving forward. That blueprint includes growing its dealer network, continually improving quality and the customer experience, strengthening its certified pre-owned sales, and bringing more products to market that customers are demanding. Judging by what it brought to our little wine party, we’d say Volkswagen is on the right track for success.

Now, onto the cars. Here’s a recap of what we drove, our impression, and some stats.

GSR2014 Volkswagen Beetle GSR

Dressed in yellow and black, this limited-edition hardtop is a throwback to the 1970s GSR “Yellow Black Racer.” The colors carryover to the interior as well, and if you collect Bugs, be sure to place your order soon, as the U.S. will get 1,900 of the 3,500 models VW will build for worldwide production. Each limited-edition model will have a serial number to further enhance its collectability. Because the GSR is performance-oriented, it becomes part of the R-Line, which gives it the most powerful engine in the Beetle lineup. On our 45-minute drive, the more time we spent with the GSR the more we liked it. The new electric power steering felt a bit artificial at first, but tightened up sufficiently to provide good feedback when pushing the car through the curves. While the power is good for this size car, we wouldn’t complain if there was more. We also would like to see a little bit more exhaust tune from this bumblebee, but it’s nothing a little aftermarket addition couldn’t fix.

Price: $29,995 6MT; $31,095 with 6AT

Performance: 2.0L turbocharged I4; 210 horsepower, 207 lb-ft of torque

Prediction: Beetle enthusiasts will snatch these up quickly.