With his index and middle finger resting on the right paddle shifter, Volkswagen Golf TDI owner Jacob Mahin impatiently stares at the red light ahead waiting for it to change color. His concentration is broken as a Buick Riviera quietly pulls into the empty lane beside him. His eyes are drawn to the challenger through the Golf’s dark tinted windows with a maniacal stare.
Though his Golf TDI is far from a sports car, Mahin certainly wouldn’t believe it if you told him otherwise. Despite its underwhelming 140-horsepower rating, Mahin’s TDI has seen more hard launches than the NASA Space Center.
His wife Lauren has seen this look in his eyes far too many times since their marriage in July 2014. It’s reached the point where she knows any hope of a peaceful ride ends as soon as her husband slides behind the wheel. Their 2-year-old daughter Zella’s favorite chant of “Daddy go soupy fast!” certainly isn’t going to calm the situation either. Lauren already knows what’s coming. After all, it’s not easy to tame a stallion.
As the light flashes green, Mahin releases his foot off the brake pedal and the TDI’s spooled turbocharger unleashes 236 pound-feet of fury on the asphalt. His daughter’s ear-to-ear grin widens as she’s thrust against the padding of her Recaro car seat reupholstered in pink VW buses.
The scene is instantly recognizable from the Dreamworks animation film Turbo when the cartoon snails are duking it out in a hotly contested drag race. Though the Riviera eventually begins to pull away, losing doesn’t seem to diminish Mahin’s supreme confidence is his German hatchback in any way.
When the two started shopping for a compact car in March 2013, Lauren was already nine months pregnant with Zella. Their 1999 Saturn SL2 was approaching 200,000 miles and neither felt comfortable driving the car with a newborn baby in the backseat. They both hoped to find something new that was both safe and fuel-efficient.
After test driving a Toyota Prius, Ford Focus, Dodge Dart, and Chevy Cruze, Mahin was not satisfied with the cars’ cramped rear leg room and pedestrian performance.
His father owned a Jetta TDI and encouraged Mahin to look at the Golf. As an avid car enthusiast, he was skeptical at first of buying a diesel-powered car but was sold after the first test drive. It had the most spacious interior of any compact they’d driven so far, and it provided the low-RPM torque and performance he desired.
“Getting 38 miles per gallon in town and 42 miles per gallon on the highway and still managing to be super peppy was a big plus,” Mahin told me. “The other gas cars just had no pep and just weren’t fun to drive.”
In addition to its excellent fuel-efficiency and performance, Mahin was equally impressed by the Golf’s high build quality.
“From small things like opening and closing the doors to even starting the engine, it just felt and sounded like a better, safer and longer lasting car than the other cars we looked at,” he said.
With nothing but positive things to say, the couple decided to lease the Golf and have been very happy with it ever since. But when the disturbing news came out that their TDI’s clean diesel engine is a lie, the Mahins were furious after discovering it’s not the environmental steward they believed they were getting at the time of purchase.
Leaving a small environmental footprint was especially important to Lauren. She’s an avid supporter of going green, as evidenced by her use of recycled glass water bottles and cloth diapers for Zella to keep from polluting landfills.
“I have always felt that it is important to be as environmentally friendly as possible,” she said. “It very much saddens me that our car is not the eco-friendly car that I thought it was.”
Volkswagen has already announced that it will recall 11 million cars worldwide that are equipped with the diesel emissions software cheat. The Mahins’ Golf TDI is one of 482,000 models affected in the U.S.
It’s unlikely Volkswagen will retrofit a urea-based AdBlue system to meet EPA standards as it would be cost-prohibitive and require extensive re-engineering. Unless Volkswagen launches a competitive buyback program, a software fix appears to be the only option. Unfortunately, doing so could hamper the excellent fuel-efficiency and performance that made the Golf attractive to the Mahins and so many others in the first place — our senior editor included.
“That’s not what all of us customers paid for,” Jacob said. “It’s not fair for us to walk out with a car with worse gas mileage and less power. They’ve got to figure out a better solution than that.”
With 18 months left on their lease, the Mahins will have no other choice but to purchase the Golf outright after it expires because they’ve already exceeded their mileage limit. While this was their original plan all along, neither are enthusiastic about being stuck with a car with a damaged resale value and potentially hampered performance. Regardless of the outcome, the scandal has certainly affected the Mahins’ outlook on the brand and the Golf they once loved.