Saturday, September 29, 2007

My Breaking Point

I am a hypocrite.

After months of complaining to the product planners at Volkswagen that a serious error had occurred, I validated their decision. Let me explain.

I had vowed that, no matter how much I lusted for it, I would not buy an R32 because it had been brought to the US with only one transmission...the wrong one. I am a stick-shift driver, will always be one, and my heart sank as I stood before the car at the Chicago Auto Show and it was announced that all US-spec R32s would come equipped with the paddle-shift DSG, and not a traditional manual.

"I'd buy one right now!" I proclaimed, but only if it had the right powertrain. Why wouldn't you just get a new GTI? Well, if you've been following my posts you know that I can't stand turbo lag. My VR6 just has all the grunt I need in every situation. And the sound? Fantastic.

So that was my cross to bear. To many people this will sound shallow, and in many ways I concede it is. This is a very personal post, though, and it may give you an idea about what makes me tick.

I'm a very happy person. I have almost everything I could ever want in life, and I haven't yet hit 30. I don't have to deal with the hardships that comprise the lower orders of the hierarchy of needs. I have a great job, and wonderful family, fantastic friends, and a beautiful and understanding girlfriend who puts up with my flights of automotive fancy. So in the absence of other things to worry about, this is what has brought me down.

It really started a few weeks ago. My roommate bought a Rabbit earlier this summer. As I sat in the passenger seat one night--a bit drunk actually--I looked around at the interior of his car and admired all the the improvements that have been baked into this fifth generation of C-sized VWs. The way the lock button changes color to tell you its status. The way they've extended the red backlighting even to the sunroof and reading light controls on the headliner. The woven headliner itself. I'm a sucker for good design and aesthetics.

And then an overwhelming sense of sadness came over me. I wanted this car, but in the right form. I wanted an updated version of my car, a VR6 manual. This thought weighed on me for the next two weeks.

A few days ago, I got my new poster frames in the mail. I inserted the two beautiful R GTI posters I'd gotten in Chicago, and they proceeded to stare at me for the rest of the day. They taunted me with their fantastic design. The Mk V Golf/Rabbit/GTI has grown on me steadily since it launched. It was now firmly attached.

Ironically the straw the broke the camel's back was a Mitsubishi Evo. When the latest issue of Car and Driver came, I looked through and found an article about the new Evo GSR. This is the lower of two levels of the hot new Lancer, the other being the MR. The GSR has a 5-speed stick, but the MR has Mitsu's new SST (Sportronic Shift Transmission). It's basically the same idea as VW's DSG. While I applaud Mitsubishi's provision of both transmissions, the fact that the top of the line car is a paddle-shifter made something click in my head.

Am I like those who rejected the fancy new water-cooled engines? Or those who proclaimed that airbags would never be a legitimate auto technology? Was I penning myself in with the automotive nay-sayers who refused to make way for new advances? If Mitsubishi had decided that the new SST was good enough for their most discriminating enthusiasts--hey, it's good enough for F1 drivers--then maybe VW was in the right. Maybe I would get used to shifting without a clutch. If I could get past this hang-up, all that beautiful R32 craftsmanship would be mine!

So I am a hypocrite. Today I bought an R32, and it is fantastic. I'll confess that my 2.8L VR6 sounded great when the windows were closed, but with them open the high frequencies came through and revealed the weak points in its sound. This 3.2L is a pure symphony, especially with the windows cracked. The acceleration is effortless, and it has gobs of power everywhere in the rev range. The chassis is rock-solid. It is a delight in every way. I can't wait to get past the first 5000 miles so I can take it to the track and discover its true abilities.

As for the transmission, it's truly the best automatic out there--if you can really call it that. I'll let you know if buyer's remorse punishes my hypocrisy.


Markus said...

Nice car! My biggest complaint about automatic transmissions is the sluggish response as the fluid couplings spin up and pressurize. You can't "drop the clutch" any faster or slower, it's always the same lag.

The Auto Snob said...

Actually, the DSG has no fluid couplings. Instead of a torque converter, it has dual clutches, so there is always a direct mechanical connection between the engine and the wheels. The second clutch always has the next gear ready to engage in a split second (8 ms, actually). It even has launch control, which can effectively replicate a clutch drop. The DSG is an automated manual, unlike the many manualized automatics on the market, including VW's original Tiptronic system.

Kevin said...

Wow, congrats. What an awesome car. Have fun with it.