The other day I came to the realization that I have personally owned a lot of vehicles. Sitting down and doing the math, I have basically averaged one vehicle for each year I am old. This is actually quite impressive considering that I am not (nor have ever been) independently wealthy nor am a card holding member of the “lucky sperm club” as my godfather would say. I guess you could say that my staggering number was perpetuated by my love for the automobile combined with the great set of negotiating skills learned and inherited from my father.
In reminiscing the 31 vehicles (a list is available upon request) that have entered my life since I was 15, I realized that I had a tendency to go from one extreme to another. For example, I went from driving a luxurious Volvo S80 to a stodgy Buick Rendezvous, and then there was a time when I ditched my hulky Hummer H3 in favor of the super compact Smart Fortwo. Regardless of my history of wavering tastes and the eclectic variety of vehicles that I have owned, it has become apparent to me that (surprisingly) the Volkswagen Jetta has a mysterious hold on me. So much so, that it is the only make and model that I have owned two- now three times over.
My first Jetta came to me by accident really. I was looking to trade in my performanced enhanced 2000 Mustang GT for something a bit more practical and the new 2003 Passat turbo really caught my eye. After two test drives, I was convinced that this was an ideal vehicle for me, but when it came time to take delivery, the dealer goofed and the one that came in was lacking ESP. On the suggestion of my sales associate (who later became- and is still is a dear friend), I took a new Jetta GLS 1.8 out for a test drive. After a very amusing lap around Glenview that left me brimming with a smile, “Meghan” made her way into my heart and into my garage. Unfortunately 8 months later, my need to own an SUV led to us parting ways.
Turn the clock ahead a several years and I found myself looking for something a bit more amusing to drive than my ailing Honda Element. I truly wanted a Volkswagen GTI, but the lack of dealers willing to negotiate a good deal on the much loved hot-hatch, led me yet again to consider a Jetta. Due to a budget being limited by the negative equity accrued by the Element, I was looking for a diamond in the rough deal to satisfy my turbocharged craving. After some hard internet searching, I came across an off lease, black over black, MkV Jetta Wolfsburg with decent miles at a Honda dealer who so happened to have a need for a used Element; serendipity indeed.
Equipped with a quick shifting DSG transmission, 2.0 TSI engine and multi-link rear suspension, “Clara” was as close to a GTI as my budget would allot. Despite the lack of a hatchback and a manual transmission, she was a big dose of fun in a discrete package, but a magnet for speeding tickets and bad luck. Questionable build quality led to several unexpected trips to the service bay and always made me a bit skeptical of what issues might lie ahead. Yes, spooling up the turbo always curled my lip in anticipation as I awaited the payoff of “practical performance” from the feisty TSI engine, but doubt soon entered my mind whenever I heard a randomly awkward sound or felt a out of place shudder while on a smooth road.
Regardless of these build quality/design issues, I still felt Clara was among the most rewarding vehicles I have owned. In fact, even after a high velocity test drive in the brilliantly engineered Ford Focus ST and a urban street test of the newly redesigned (and truly wonderfully constructed) Mazda 3, I still preferred the way my Volkswagen simply “felt” from behind the wheel. Although she recently delivered me to and from Toronto comfortably and without incident, I feared that a turn of 60,000 miles would mean that major repairs would lie ahead. It was time to consider another option and part with Clara while we were still on good terms.
After weeks of research and moving around decimal points in my bank ledger, I decided to take another run at a new GTI. Unfortunately for my finances, the truly remarkable MkVII GTI was just released in the states and a dealer waiting list immediately nixed that notion of finding a great deal, yet again. Still reeling with love for my MkV Wolfsburg, I decided to give the GLI Edition 30 (which was the perfect split between a GTI and Clara) a few moments of my time; which elicited immediate joy and conjured up boy-racer sensations, but in handsomely subdue package. The emotion was certainly there, but then something hit me as I stood in the showroom caressing the GLI’s moderately bolstered seats- I questioned the practicality of this decision.
Maybe it was maturity striking me or perhaps it was a Rob Gordon-esque mental review of all of the vehicles I have owned and/or driven over the years, but I realized that although I was rapidly beginning to covet this piece of “GerMexican” engineering, I couldn’t help but feel that maybe a diesel variant would be a bit sensible. After all, I thoroughly enjoyed driving a diesel around Denmark, so why not give the Jetta TDI a fair shake? Lo and behold, the dealer had only one new TDI available with a manual transmission and yes- this too was black with a black interior. Could personal history be made with a vehicular three-peat? Could the slow-revving, diesel win over my affections and still satisfy my need for exciting driving?
The short answer is yes. After a few test drives up and down Lake Shore Drive, the torquey diesel mated to a smooth clutch and silky shifter won me over in a big way. This TDI proved to be a great compromise between efficiency and spirited driving dynamics. Agile handling, good leasing terms and a great dealer experience is what helped me to bring “Sybil” home, and also proved that yet again, I find it difficult for to say “no” to a black over black Jetta. For the sake of my sanity and VW’s reputation, let’s just hope this Sybil doesn’t have a split personality.
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