VW Golf TDI, or Honda or Hyundai or Yugo....?

So, I’m considering getting one of these puppies. 40+ mpg is interesting to me. Any owners out there? Feedback? Reviews?

Ok, the VW salesgirl (Hot!) told me there’s a shortage of TDI’s. Ok, why doesn’t VW make a few more then? “They don’t want to flood the market.” Oh, so making an extra 10,000 TDI’s would flood the market? WTF?

The TDIs have been somewhat popular - VW in general has particular opinions about offering diesel engines in the US, and seems reluctant to bring them to the US in any great quantity. One problem is that (I think) they have to convert them for US usage, which is somewhat different than European restrictions (especially for California). In Europe practically half of the VW/Audi engines available are TDIs, and typically only the low-powered ones eventually show up on US models. The V10 TDI that will show up with the Touraeg at the end of this year or beginning of 2005 will be the most powerful they’ve ever fielded in the US by far and probably one of the best of any diesel in the US. Hell Audi doesn’t even offer their TDI lineup in the US.

The “shortage” if there really is one I think currently is just the right balance of keeping them in popular demand while not being so low in stock that they’d have to overproduce (like the Prius is currently).

As for performance… they’re pretty good. The 90 hp TDI in the New Beetles zips along fairly well, though understandably doesn’t accelerate out the gate incredibly fast. It’s very audible when you first start the engine, then very quitely goes away - much different than the old VW diesels of the 80s which were just loud like 18-wheeler engines all the time. Only real issue so far that we’ve seen is with the glow plugs, which seem to either wear out or provide false diagnostic signals (giving a malfunction) frequently. The local VW folks still don’t know what the deal is with that. Mid-50s MPG highway and a minimum of about 44 street driving.

And around here diesel is about .20 cheaper than regular gas.

— Alan

Thanks for the info. Since I was in the mood, I went to a local Honda dealer and test drove a Civic Coupe. Nice. Very nice. My research continues.

The Honda Element I have is the first non-VW car our family has had in 20+ years, so it’s quite a different experience for sure. VW engines seem to be more fuel efficient if that’s your thing, though I seem to squeek out 28 on the highway. The Jetta got 10 more easily, though the Jetta was 10 years old (the newer ones get less I imagine, since they are tubros typically).

The other thing about VWs is that, if you’re worried about frequent maintenance and little things breaking, the Beetles and Jettas available in the US are builtin Mexico and hence their reliability aren’t that great. Some of the Golfs too I think. The Passats are built in Europe for the most part and hence are on a higher reliability level as expected (Touraegs and the R32 Golf too I think).

— Alan

She may be lying. It’s a typical VW sales tactic. My buddy haggled for his TDI and was ready to sign for it the next day when I told him to find a fleet manager and do the deal like that. Salesman estimated delivery in 6 weeks. Fleet manager handed him the keys the same day, for cheaper.

Oh and Volkswagens are pure rolling junk. Absolutely unreliable in any shape way or form.

Let me summarize the list of VW/Audi problems from my friends, based on car. (note, not all of these are my Friends, per se. Usually fellow VW owning acquaintances of my VW owning friends).


Friend 1 had his turbo go out. Twice.
Friend 2 had his moonroof set the car on fire. The motor didn’t want to stop working, overheated and started heating up the roof liner until it caught fire. He pulled over in the middle of nowhere, car was totalled.

Jetta (all 1.8T except the last):

Friend 3’s headlights kept burning out bulbs quite often (every oil change or so). The moonroof motor wore itself out. His power windows stopped working. His MAF sensor blew.

Friend 4 had his MAF sensor go and I think ignition coil packs (not sure what they were exactly).

Friend 5 had ignition coil packs (? again) and turbo problems.

Friend 6, TDI, engine started burning oil at the rate of 1 quart per oil change.


Friend 7 had windows go. Right side speaker blew (but may not have been factory fault, knowing him…), and of course the MAF sensor.

Friend 1’s girlfriend’s VR6 had oil delivery problems to the head, the valvetrain was being damaged. Fortunately spotted during routine valve adjustment.


Mom’s boss’s 4motion model blew its automatic transmission and has a variety of smaller electrical annoyances that I can’t recall.

With all that said and done, however, I know for a fact that a TDI will get you at least 40mpg, usually 45, unless you drive like a maniac. I also know that the hybrids will not get you 40mpg unless you drive like grandma.

I have 2 roommates who own newish VWs with the 4 cylinder turbo engine. They get mid-30’s for mileage but they have to buy 92/93 octane because of the turbo.

The other thing about VWs is that, if you’re worried about frequent maintenance and little things breaking, the Beetles and Jettas available in the US are builtin Mexico and hence their reliability aren’t that great. Some of the Golfs too I think. The Passats are built in Europe for the most part and hence are on a higher reliability level as expected (Touraegs and the R32 Golf too I think).

— Alan

Roommate with the Passat (99 or 00 model, I think) just had his engine replaced at about 70K miles or so after it just utterly died. He was under extended warranty though (amazing, extended warranty pays off!). Roommate with the Jetta, no probs so far but she hasn’t had it that long.

What is a fleet manager, and how do we find one?

Not sure - we’ve always dealt with the same folks at our local VW dealership and they’ve always been great. They must be violating company policy by “lying” to us. Maybe I should report them?

I’m not saying we’ve never had problems with VWs, but it’s pretty much like any other car, and generally better than American cars and far above Korean cars. The diesel Rabbit had its tranmission fall out practically and one of the Foxes conks out a lot, but granted most of these have more than 80k miles on them. Some engine leakage/gear linkage issues on the main Jetta, but the same engine is still going after 175k miles and two accidents. The Beetle ('00 model) has been the one that has generated the most issues. The Passat (1.8T auto, '04) has not so far, but doesn’t have much miles on it.

— Alan

Shortages in autos are hard to fix quickly. Production schedules have to be set months in advance to assure a smooth flow on the production line. Supply “problems” are generally aggravated (somewhat on purpose) for new models because the car company would rather underproduce in year 1 to better gauge demand for year 2 and possibly increase price.

Flipping through the latest Consumer Reports Cars book, it seems the Golf and Jettas have some pretty bad reliability up until 2002. The 2003’s appear to do much better in that dept. No info on '04s.

In contrast, the Hyundai Elantra is on the recommended list for reliability in 02 and 03. It seems that perhaps Korean build quality is superior to Mexico’s.

Honda appears to be the reliability champ. Every Accord and Civic from 1996 to 2003 is on the Consumer Reports reliable list! On the Used Cars to Avoid list: VW Golf, Jetta and New Beetle.

LOL, told you to Mexican-built cars aren’t that great :)

Honda Accords are generally great reliability-wise. Haven’t had any issues with my Element (25k) yet.

— Alan

Dunno about the US, but my buddy found one in Canada by calling VW Canada. Basically, the whole trick with fleet managers is to avoid the salesmen. You still go to the dealership to get your car, but that’s it (in my buddy’s case, he had to go out across town to pick his car up, but it was there).

I’m pretty sure fleet managers are the ones who deal with internet sales of cars in the US. I know the whole trend started there.

There’s no doubt if all you’re looking for is a reliable car, go for a Honda or Toyota. Anecdotally, you can find people who will claim they’re crap, but the overall numbes don’t lie. They don’t break.

But I find most Civics or Accords or Camrys the most dull things on four wheels and would never really be happy driving a car that’s so passionless. Since most new cars will be fine, quality-wise, for most people, I say go for something you dig. If I like VWs–and having owned an old Scirocco, they are lots of fun–I’d pretty much ignore those kinds of things and get a GTI or Jetta.

Honda’s good, but I don’t trust their automatic transmissions - not the “SportShift” ones anyway. In fact, Honda’s transmissions are pretty weak in general. Manual ones end up grinding a lot and a bad 3rd gear (long after warranty though) was a common problem in various Civics and Integras. And I say this as a former and loyal Honda owner. I think Lexus takes top marks for reliability, followed by Toyota itself, Honda/Acura, Nissan a ways down, Mazda shortly behind that, then a mix of Koreans, domestics and Euros.

Also, domestic quality has sharply increased in the last decade, particularly GM, though Ford has made strides too. Chrysler is hit-and-miss. Korean cars are excellent bargains though - reliable, cheap, and they even look nice now. Check out their warranties, but keep in mind that at least Hyundai’s is non-transferable.

Actually I’m considering getting two of them for use by my business. Reliability and gas mileage are the main objectives.

Honest opinion? Get two baseline Cavaliers. Cheap to service, reliable enough (it’s not a Civic or Corolla, but not as bad as most people assume), and the improved fuel economy of a Civic or Corolla will never pay off the price difference. Plus, Cavaliers are incredibly cheap to insure.