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That's What i Like: What Attracts Us to Specific Cars?

I just spent 10 days in one of my new favorite cars: the 2017 VW GTE. It’s kind of a good news/bad news situation, though.

Let me explain a bit. The VW GTE is a lot like the GTI–a sporty, four-door hatchback with the unmistakable DNA of VW’s legendary hot hatches. But while the GTI gets along thanks to a gasoline engine only, the GTE has a little extra assistance under the hood. See, while the GTE is powered by a 1.4-liter, direct-injected and turbocharged four-cylinder producing around 150 horsepower, it also has an additional 100-horsepower electric motor. Powered by a 10kW battery array, that motor gives the GTE up to around 25 miles of purely electric propulsion.

Longtime readers will know I’m the former lessee of a Chevy Volt. Honestly, I’d probably be a current lessee–or owner–of a Chevy Volt had my need for a utility vehicle not outweighed my need for more car-like transportation.

But that’s another story.

Suffice it to say that I’m a strong believer in the plug-in hybrid concept. Is it perfect? No. Battery technology still holds these cars back from their ultimate potential. As a bridge to that potential, however, the current crop of plug-in hybrids is pretty darn good.

They’ve never been exciting, though–until the GTE. The VW takes the plug-in hybrid concept and puts it into the body of one of the all-time legendary hot-hatch lineups.

Which brings us back to our good news/bad news situation. The good news is that I’ve found a new object of lust. The bad news is that the GTE is not currently available in the U.S. Actually, this may be a blessing in disguise; otherwise, I’d be down at my local VW dealer filling out credit apps I have no business completing. Sure, the same drivetrain is available in the U.S. in the Audi A3 eTron, but the GTE wears it so perfectly, I probably couldn’t bear to experience it any other way.

All of this is really just a long-winded intro for the real point of this column, though, which is that driving the GTE around Germany for a week and really digging it got me thinking about what attracts me to specific cars in the first place.

I’ve owned a lot of cars over my life, but I’ve fallen in love with very few. While I could point out solid positives about nearly all of them (except maybe the 1988 Mitsubishi Mirage Turbo that used to leave me stranded and whose only redeeming feature was that I was able to sell it for actual money instead of horse teeth or magic beans), the list of cars that have deeply affected me is rather short.

The Volt–and now the GTE, even though I’ll probably never own one–are on that list. Both wowed me by taking the penalty out of being an early adopter. The Volt did it mostly with insane economy and competence, while the GTE traded some of the all-electric range for an electric personality.

Other fond memories include my 1981 BMW 528i, a car that was, by any objective measure, one you could fairly call a “beater.” (Even “rat” or “turdwagon” would not be too much of a stretch.) Still, my E12 had a way of displaying its inherent goodness despite all those rough edges. No lack of care could ever hide its true nature.

Another one near the top of my list is the 1991 Toyota MR2 Turbo that currently occupies my garage. With a Gen4 3S-GTE powerplant from Prime Performance (primemr2.com) replacing its original Gen2 engine, it’s a good thing made even better. Every time I drive that car I have two thoughts: that 25 years after it left the factory it is still more satisfying to drive than most of what’s in showrooms today, and that I don’t drive it nearly enough–and I drive it almost every day. If I need to move it from one part of the driveway to another, I take the route that goes around at least two blocks.

Finally, there’s my one great regret: my 1990 CRX Si. I bought it from my dad after I talked him into buying it and he later realized he needed something bigger. I sold it because… because… I don’t know why I sold it. I wanted a 944, I guess. Although its sale paid for most of the Porsche, I’ll never not look back and second-guess that decision. The CRX was nearly perfect–both rewarding and practical.

I guess I could look back and find common threads among all the cars I’ve loved so much. Maybe they were all a bit ahead of their time, or great because they focused on certain attributes, but I prefer to just look back and smile.

How about you? What were your great automotive loves? Still got ’em? Lost ’em but still carry a torch? Either way, don’t overthink your appreciation for them. Just bask in the glow and, if possible, enjoy the ride.

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Comments

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The0retical
The0retical SuperDork
8/22/17 9:17 a.m.

The only car I've ever owned that I can really say I loved is my current MS3. It looks dumb, drives like it knows what it's doing, and straddles that line where it's firm but not uncomfortable. Yes it has been heavily modified to get that way, but in it's current state it's what I want (There was a bunch of planning that went into it.) I occasionally contemplate getting rid of it when I'm having a bad day, then quickly come to the conclusion that I've driven a number of it's competitors and replacements and I really don't feel the urge to own any of them. I'd have to move to something totally different like a V70 Polestar or a CTS-V, which are entirely different experiences, and I'd still find something I'd change about them.

I guess I'm one of those people where if I don't walk away from the car feeling like I enjoyed driving it to work that day I don't have the desire to own one.

mad_machine
mad_machine MegaDork
8/22/17 9:33 a.m.

I love hot hatches. Nothing in the world like the dual purpose hot hatch. It can carve canyons AND haul the groceries, sometimes at the same time. I miss my 318ti

SVreX
SVreX MegaDork
8/22/17 11:14 a.m.

Can the electric be used in conjunction with the gas engine, or only separately?

It's nice to be able to tool around on electric only, but it would be awesome to be able to use the torque of that electric motor to add 100 ponies at will to the performance side!

dculberson
dculberson PowerDork
8/22/17 12:17 p.m.

In reply to SVreX:

That would be awesome!

Vigo
Vigo UltimaDork
8/22/17 12:35 p.m.

The reason electric and gas peak power don't simply add up is that they occur at different rpms. Electric motors start with all the torque and then lose it as rpms go up. Gas engines do something close to opposite. What i think is often overlooked about the interplay of the two powerbands is that while the total peak number may not be impressive, they often deliver that peak power, or something close to it, across a very wide plateau. My old Honda Insight was like this. It had a low peak output (around 70hp) but what didn't come across from the numbers was that it made that peak power pretty much constantly from 3000 rpm on up. Any time a 6500 rpm motor is giving you 100% from 3000-6500, the lack of an impressive 'peak' is somewhat ameloriated by the fact that what peak there is is present almost everywhere.

Another interesting unintuitive benefit to some hybrid powertrains is the CVT present in most (not the GTE) tend to give you better performance over time than the peak number would suggest. For example, my old GS450h with its peak power of 'only' ~345hp was deceptively fast despite its 4100 lbs because you had 345hp the entire time you were flooring it. Compare that to the more powerful 370hp XJR i was able to spend time with during my GS450h ownership. It had higher peak power, but only for a few hundred rpm before it shifted and dropped away from that peak. The GS450 was much faster in the long run. Even compared to my 300hp 911 which is ~1100 lbs lighter (!!), the GS450 was only slightly slower on a long highway pull. Most cars would go faster by dropping 1100 lbs than adding ~40hp, but the CVT made magic possible by staying on peak power rpm nearly 100% of the time.

There is so much about hybrids that doesn't come across on a spec sheet. I've enjoyed both versions of the GTE coverage in GRM (print and online) and i hope more people get exposure to hybrid experiences like this that deliver more than the sum of their spec sheets would suggest.

NOHOME
NOHOME UltimaDork
8/22/17 1:11 p.m.

Classic style#1 Linear and immediate response to inputs#2 Light weight#3

All three in a single package please

SVreX
SVreX MegaDork
8/22/17 2:14 p.m.
dculberson wrote: In reply to SVreX: That would be awesome!

Well, even if it doesn't come from the factory that way, it sounds like it's got everything onboard to do it, and can perhaps be hacked.

buzzboy
buzzboy Reader
8/22/17 3:27 p.m.
mad_machine wrote: I love hot hatches. Nothing in the world like the dual purpose hot hatch. It can carve canyons AND haul the groceries, sometimes at the same time. I miss my 318ti

I daily an S52 swapped 318ti and it's amazing. 3000lbs with 212whp is perfect for commuting, highway trips and just cruising around. I also swapped in 2.93 gears which make it even more practical and faster(unconfirmed).

Who else has even made an RWD hot hatch?

I don't even like BMWs... I only own one because manual Mercedes are hen's teeth.

Bobzilla
Bobzilla MegaDork
8/22/17 3:42 p.m.

We're still doing hybrids wrong. Let me know when we have a small 2 or 3-cyl CRDI diesel hooked up as a powerplant for the batteries only. What kills the current method of having ICE hooked up to the drive wheels is the constant need to change rpm's. ICE's have a narrow range where they are truly at peak efficiency and thats usually not when it's going up and down the rpm range.

Seriously.... locomotives have been doing it right for decades. Make it a plug in hybrid so you can charge at home, have the range extension of the ICE to power the batteries. We could be pushing triple digit fuel economy and lower emissions at the same time while still having something that can accomplish the main goal of transportation: getting you from point A to point B.

The0retical
The0retical SuperDork
8/22/17 4:16 p.m.

In reply to Bobzilla:

I feel that way too. I'm sure there's some reason why it it hasn't been done yet, I'm just not sure what it is. I keep seeing various items pop up about a new rotary engine (for packaging reasons) that acts just as described. Every single time it may as well be vaporware.

Bobzilla
Bobzilla MegaDork
8/22/17 4:18 p.m.

In reply to The0retical:

The Volt has been the closest. But didn't it sometimes actually power the car more than just recharge the batteries?

Vigo
Vigo UltimaDork
8/22/17 4:49 p.m.
I'm sure there's some reason why it it hasn't been done yet, I'm just not sure what it is.

Well, the main reason is because manufacturers assume (maybe know?) that consumers aren't willing to deal with a much reduced performance envelope once their battery pack runs low. Basically, if your battery was giving you 120hp worth of acceleration at WOT, then your generator has to be able to put out 120hp (plus conversion losses) to maintain the full performance envelope when the battery pack itself runs low. And once you get to that point, it's more efficient to have the generator directly powering the wheels than it is to convert motion to electricity and then electricity back to motion.

Now that battery packs are becoming large enough that it's impractical to, for example, empty 50 miles of range by flooring it for 12 miles straight, the idea of having a relatively low-power but super-efficient range extender is becoming more feasible. I still don't think that will mean that it becomes common.

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
8/22/17 6:58 p.m.
SVreX wrote: Can the electric be used in conjunction with the gas engine, or only separately? It's nice to be able to tool around on electric only, but it would be awesome to be able to use the torque of that electric motor to add 100 ponies at will to the performance side!

"GTE" mode gives you full thrust from all available sources. All modes (electric, hybrid, GTE, charge, ICE only) are user selectable or you can let the computer decide based on your goals (economy, performance, etc.)

SVreX
SVreX MegaDork
8/22/17 7:03 p.m.

In reply to JG Pasterjak:

Oh boy...

I wouldn't be the first one in my family to ship a car over from Germany.

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
8/22/17 7:15 p.m.
SVreX wrote: In reply to JG Pasterjak: Oh boy... I wouldn't be the first one in my family to ship a car over from Germany.

Don't think I didn't think about it.

I was also checking the prices of Audi A3 e-tron Sportbacks, which are the only US availability of the powertrain. Sadly the Audis are priced a bit out of my range. Takes about $45k to get one decently optioned.

But, yeah, it's definitely a hybrid that works the way you want a hybrid to work, which is offering all the modes either manually or automatically. By modern standards it's not "fast," but how often to you actually need "fast" in a non-track car anyway? The cool thing is what it lacks in objective speed it makes up for with the instant torque of the electric motor. As a real-world car it's really fantastic.

PS: About two months after I got back from Germany when I had the GTE, I got an email from my contact at VW saying I had a speeding ticket that they wanted me to pay for (it had been sent to the VW office in Germany). After much google translating of the document they forwarded, it turns out I got nabbed in France by a speed camera.

71 km/hr in a 70 km/hr zone.

$45 later the French can suck my butt.

Vigo
Vigo UltimaDork
8/22/17 9:31 p.m.

Geez. I have eaten expenses many, many times larger than that for my customers. Seems asinine. Maybe VW is just hedging all their bets until the dieselgate losses are well and truly over.

wearymicrobe
wearymicrobe UltraDork
8/22/17 9:38 p.m.
Bobzilla wrote: We're still doing hybrids wrong. Let me know when we have a small 2 or 3-cyl CRDI diesel hooked up as a powerplant for the batteries only. What kills the current method of having ICE hooked up to the drive wheels is the constant need to change rpm's. ICE's have a narrow range where they are truly at peak efficiency and thats usually not when it's going up and down the rpm range.

So a diesel i3?

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
8/22/17 10:00 p.m.
Vigo wrote: Geez. I have eaten expenses many, many times larger than that for my customers. Seems asinine. Maybe VW is just hedging all their bets until the dieselgate losses are well and truly over.

Meh. My offense, my dime. I think I had to deal with it personally anyway since I had to clear my name so they'll let me back into France again, since apparently 1-over puts you into Carlos the Jackal territory.

Toebra
Toebra HalfDork
8/22/17 11:18 p.m.

I love convertibles

I love aircooled horizontally opposed powered cars.

Learned to drive in a Bug Convertible, like a big go cart.

Chris_V
Chris_V UberDork
8/23/17 8:35 a.m.
Bobzilla wrote: In reply to The0retical: The Volt has been the closest. But didn't it sometimes actually power the car more than just recharge the batteries?

Only when the batteries were depleted AND you were using full throttle to climb hills. Other than that, no, the engine just charged the batteries. The batteries were never depleted 100%, either, they only dropped to 20-25% charge, where the gas engine kicked on to maintain that charge level, which still gave enough battery power to use full throttle or cruise down the road while the engine maintained that level. I've even seen the Volt raise the charge OVER the hold level and shut the engine down until it came back in range, which tells me it could have charged the battery back to full while driving, though they chose not to do that.

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