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10 April 2009

If you haven’t noticed, the Rabbit is out and the Golf is back in. Yes, we know… so what’s the deal with that? Volkswagen of America is under new management. Along with VWoA’s new headquarters came new management and VWoA has gotten a serious makeover top to bottom. This is actually all good and having spent some time with VWoA’s new CEO and President, I can tell you he is determined and excited about VWoA’s future. For long time VW enthusiasts, you’re probably thinking, “That’s what the last three guys before him said too…” and you would be right. However there is something fundamentally different this time in that VWoA made a major physical move of their headquarters to Herndon, Virginia. Any company that pulls up roots and moves undergoes a major turnover of employees and in this case there are quite a few fresh and eager faces in the halls at VWoA HQ these days. More importantly there are a lot of enthusiasts and enthusiastic people in more new positions than ever working on some major new projects and an overall upheaval of VWoA’s way of doing business here.

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The new sixth generation Golf and GTI are the first of a large number of new products coming over the next three years. The Golf has always been Volkswagen’s “world” car and in order to bring the U.S. Golf model back in line with the rest of the world, the Rabbit name has been dropped and the Golf is once again a “Golf” in the North American market. The fifth generation Golf/Rabbit/GTI was already a great car. Vastly improved quality, far fewer warranty claims, better engines, stiffer chassis and most importantly to us, hugely improved performance and fun. It quickly went on to win the European Car of the Year, Car and Driver’s Top Ten, Automobile’s Car of the Year and many more awards. Volkswagen knows they have a good thing, and like all good things you don’t want to muck it up. Luckily, the new sixth generation car is even better. The new model has more than 1,000 individual changes and improvements including a new and improved look that is in our eyes vastly better. Better torsional stiffness, fewer physical parts, more laser welded seams, more tailored blanks, tweaked suspension settings, quieter insulated glass, significantly improved interior material quality and lots more are but a few of the changes. We’ve driven the new GTI (you’ll have to wait till next week for the full detailed story) and came away really impressed with the overall package. For all of you that loved the fourth generation Golf/GTI and never warmed up to the styling of the fifth generation car, your new model has finally arrived. The interior improvements are significant and the ride and handling is even better than the fifth generation that won so many awards. The new Golf VI has already won the World Car of the Year award this year despite having only been on sale in Europe for six months.

Expect the new Golf VI to arrive stateside late this fall (around October) in both a 170hp 2.5l inline-five cylinder model and a 140hp 2.0 TDI diesel model. The base MSRP is expected to go up a little bit (our best guess is low $17,000 range) but we think the new improvements to the sixth generation model are worth the extra cost of admission.

The new sixth generation GTI will go on sale in September and is expected to be priced similar to the outgoing Golf V model (low $23,000 range). The GTI continues on with a 200hp 2.0l turbocharged four-cylinder with a choice of a sixth-speed manual or six-speed DSG transmission. The 2010 model will be available in Red, White, Deep Black, United Grey and Carbon Steel Metallic in both two-door and four-door configurations. We’ll have our full first-drive impressions and lots more detail on all the changes to the new GTI next week.

Code named “new compact sedan” (or NCS) the all-new Jetta VI will be repositioned to be more competitive in the marketplace. While VWoA hasn’t said anything officially yet, rumors suggest the new car will start under $16,000. At the same time VW says the new model will receive many of the same changes that you see on the Golf VI. We expect the new Jetta to have a more modular platform that would permit the base model car to have far less equipment and simplified parts that the general consumer doesn’t expect or want to pay for while still permitting the higher trim level cars to have all the same materials and equipment that the Golf and GTI have (and VW customers expect). Volkswagen’s new modular parts-sharing strategy creates a lot more flexibility while reducing costs through higher individual parts volume spread across more models.

We expect the new Jetta VI to be officially shown later this year and go on sale during calendar year 2010. If you can’t wait that long though, hang in there for another two weeks. We hear rumors that VW may be showing a concept car at the Shanghai, China auto show that is going to make people around here very excited.

The Volkswagen of America press release for the new Golf and GTI follows below…

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Volkswagen of America Press Release:

The all-new Golf and GTI made their U.S. debut at the 2009 New York International Auto Show. Both vehicles feature an all-new exterior design, improved interior refinements and the sixth generation Golf comes to the U.S. market with the option of the award winning 2.0 TDI clean diesel engine.

With a simple, universal, and unmistakable look, the exterior of the Golf and its hot hatch sibling GTI offer a modern version of the classic original. On sale in the U.S. in fall of 2009, they bring to the market a refined and sporty appearance and industry leading powertrains that provides power and style in a versatile and efficient package.

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For 2010, the Golf will feature the optional 2.0 TDI clean diesel engine, which produces 140-horsepower at 4000 rpm and an impressive 236 lbs.-ft. of torque between 1750 and 2500 rpm, bringing a no compromises alternative fuel driving experience to the all new Golf.

A perennial award winner, the GTI keeps the options that make it Volkswagen’s uber-hatchback while providing an updated look that redefines the classic hot hatch. The 2.0-liter FSI turbocharged four-cylinder engine comes standard with 200 horsepower and and 207 lbs.-ft. of torque; with the standard six-speed transmission or the optional six-speed DSG dual clutch transmission it proves to be more than capable at bringing the thrill to the daily commute.

Volkswagen has upped the ante with the interior refinement in the Golf and GTI. The Golf’s surfaces and features challenge the class distinctions of a small car, both to the touch and visually. The appearance and layout of materials leave the impression that one is actually sitting in a car of a much higher segment. The Golf and GTI continue to highlight Volkswagen’s commitment to offer affordable German engineered cars that are fun-to-drive.



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