You would think the husband might have waited until we had enjoyed a few months of relief from that massive car payment we’d been dutifully mailing in every month for several years. Like, maybe, twelve months of relief. But no. With six months left to pay on the Chevrolet Suburban, Tim Jennings began shopping for a car. The fuel-economy situation was finally wearing on him — no surprise, as he’s a guy who racks up miles at least three times the national average. This is quite a feat, considering that I bring home a test car daily and advance odometers at my own prodigious rate.
We’ve never analyzed how Tim uses the Suburban but, rather, justified our need for its fabulous mass by pointing to the four big dogs and the cages in which they ride on long bird-hunting trips to South Dakota, Iowa, and Louisiana. Then there are the many out-of-state dog shows that Bob the wonder woof travels to in his unlikely quest for Chesapeake Bay retriever supremacy in the ridiculously byzantine and political world of the American Kennel Club. (A breed win at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden? We are misguided idiots.) Clearly, the Suburban is all about the dogs. The rest of the time, Tim is rattling around in a big, empty barn on wheels, smoking a fat stogie that he lights with spare hundred-dollar bills left over from filling the 31.5-gallon gas tank.
We needed a more rational vehicle so we could retire the Suburban and use it only for full-family road trips. Suddenly, we were just like you, wondering what to buy. It had to fit a big dog kennel, and we wanted it to get more than 30 mpg. That meant a crossover or a wagon. We didn’t want to spend more than $30,000. We were looking at Mazdas, Hondas, Volkswagens, Fords, and Chevys. At some point in the process, Tim became fixated on getting a diesel engine. Excellent! We had instantly narrowed our list to one: the Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI.
I was frozen out of the fun of poring over the list of options to create my dream car. Tim’s “dream” car has no options, and he would not be moved. There would be no nav system, but then, VW’s nav system is — shall we say? — crap. There would be no push-button ignition. Argh. There would be no choice of anything, even color, because Tim wanted the first TDI Jetta wagon that VW could locate in the system with a six-speed manual transmission. As it turned out, there wasn’t one. The diesel/six-speed manual Jetta wagon is a hot configuration, and it took a couple of months for an unloaded version to pop up. It was black with a titan black leatherette interior — the worst color, the color that looks filthy the minute you exit the car wash. We bought it. It arrived with two options: a full set of Monster floor mats (I wanted WeatherTech mats, but these looked tough enough) that came with a cool set of blocks that stick to the heavy-duty cargo liner and can be positioned around the groceries to hold them in place ($235). And a $35 first-aid kit. It seemed churlish to quibble over price, since we’d walked in with a Friends & Family VW discount.
Bob’s new mobile kennel was shipped to Williams AutoWorld in Lansing, Michigan, and we were expertly handled by Tim Richards and his son Tyler, a VW-crazed young man in his dream job. He gave me an extraordinary vehicle tour that included the revelations that heated seats are standard equipment (!) and that the hatch has a built-in depression to keep my hand clean when I’m closing it. (Tyler, really?) He was smart enough to slip all the extra add-on offers like extended warranties into an envelope for our later perusal. That would be much later — like, never. The Jetta has good powertrain and corrosion warranties and three years of free maintenance.
We immediately ordered a metal plate to protect the bumper from being scratched by Bob’s kennel and got a set of Continental ExtremeWinterContact tires. We had them mounted on the cheapest (as in ugliest) wheels Tim could find, so we could remount the pristine VW rims and Bridgestones in the spring.
This is our first VW. And so far, so good. Tim averaged 49.2 mpg on his last 150-mile highway jaunt, and city mileage has averaged just over 37 mpg. He is ecstatic. There will be updates (of course there will be updates!), but for now, you can catch a video of the Jennings clan and our new Jetta at JeanKnowsCars.com.