Years ago, a good friend was in the market for a car, and despite trying my best to sell her on a Honda Fit, she was smitten with one particular Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen, which she’d eventually buy and name Gretta. As much as I tried to sway her to the little Honda (It’s great in the city! Fantastic fuel economy! Honda reliability!), I was always greeted with the same answer, spoken in her best German accent: “But Matt… Das Auto!”
For decades, Volkswagen has carried a special little something in its back pocket—a je ne sais quoi built around the idea that anyone with the desire could drive a little piece of European style and sophistication. A bit of German craftsmanship for your driveway. Das Auto.
And then, not quite two years ago, Volkswagen suffered one of the worst public-relations nightmares in automotive history. Known to most as “Dieselgate,” VW’s emissions scandal changed the company’s image from clean and sophisticated to dirty and pretentious. Diesel cars were bought back from customers, sales dropped, and “Das Auto” was terminated.
You won’t hear any words defending Volkswagen’s cheating diesels from me, but what has been lost amid the company’s troubles is that VW still has great products. Although a Jetta TDI might not be a wise investment, anyone looking for an exciting hatchback can still default comfortably to the GTI—what Chris Wardlaw described as “akin to attending the University of Torque.” Growing families can look forward to the all-new Atlas crossover, and anyone living north of the 40th parallel can rely on the Golf Alltrack.
Thanks to good handling and an impressive interior, the Alltrack was awarded the New England Motor Press Association’s Winter Vehicle Award for the Compact All-Wheel-Drive Sedan/Wagon category. In accepting the award for Volkswagen, Product Communications Senior Specialist William Gock remarked that he “loved this car from the minute we took the covers off of it… and it’s nice to know I’m not just drinking the Kool-Aid.”
Internal discussion can lead even the most objective product experts to hyperbole, and this is rarely as apparent as it is in the auto business. Every car company is likely to have a few duds (which the public relations team is still responsible for representing positively), but in cases where the product is actually as good as the marketing team declares, it can be a relief to know you haven’t simply been drinking the company’s Kool-Aid.
Volkswagen still has an uphill battle to earn back the public’s trust and support after its emissions scandal, but cars like the GTI, Atlas, and Golf Alltrack prove that the company responsible for “the people’s car” may still have something for everyone. After all, Gretta is still holding strong.
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