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Test Drive: Cars for Students - Ladue News: Diversions

Test Drive: Cars for Students

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Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2012 2:54 pm | Updated: 3:34 pm, Thu Jul 26, 2012.

In addition to books, pens and a laptop computer, students these days often also need transportation. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started for finding a safe, practical, economical—and maybe even sporty—set of student wheels.

One attractive option is the Audi A4 sedan. Featuring Audi’s fantastic 2.0 liter, turbo-charged, 4-cylinder engine, the A4 is a stylish, technologically advanced sedan that can provide reliable transportation to and from campus with a little driving fun thrown in.

Though the A4 has grown since its last iteration, it’s still a nice-sized car that’s easy to maneuver and park. The payoff to the growth is a back seat that is quite comfortable for adults, who even get their own air vents and ventilation controls. The trunk is very large, though the opening is somewhat small, and the rear seats fold down for increased cargo-carrying capacity. A back-up camera greatly aids reversing, and a blind-spot warning light is a great safety feature.

The heated power leather front seats are well bolstered to hold you in place during spirited driving, and dual automatic climate control and a sunroof ensure year-round comfort. Rain-sensing wipers are a nice feature. The tilt and telescoping steering wheel adjusts manually. Radio and other functions are operated through a dashboard screen with a remote knob between the seats; not as intuitive as a touch screen, but it can be figured out with practice. A digital display between the speedometer and tach shows helpful information such as the outside temperature, the gear you’re in, and the most helpful, how many miles you can drive without running out of gas. The leather-wrapped steering wheel includes audio controls.

The powerful 211 horsepower, 2.0 liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder pumps out power to the front wheels or all four wheels via a CVT or 8-speed tiptronic automatic or a 6-speed manual. Acceleration is good, with very slight turbo lag, and the handling is excellent. Steering is overboosted at low speeds, but tightens up as speed increases; braking is good. The suspension is nice and tight, giving the A4 a sporty feel, while still being comfortable on the highway.

According to Parktown Audi’s Scott Gordon, “The A4 offers good power, all-wheel-drive, styling and safety—all in a nice-sized vehicle.”

A front-wheel-drive A4 starts at about $33,500, and the all-wheel-driver version starts at about $35,500.

Another great student car is the Volkswagen GTI. Based on the venerable Golf, the GTI was really the first ‘tuner’ car that took an economy car and pumped up its suspension and engine to make a great-handling, powerful sports car with the practicality and reliability of a VW hatchback.

Available now as a 2-door or 4-door, the hatchback GTI is basically a box on wheels, which is the most space-efficient configuration. Attractive styling for front and rear make it an appealing box, and the interior is comfortable, roomy and sporty.

The GTI’s sporting nature is revealed in deeply bolstered front seats and a thick, leather-wrapped, flat-bottomed steering wheel. The seats are covered in a red, white and black plaid that wouldn’t be my first choice, but black leather also is available. Ventilation controls are three-rotary-knob simple. Heated seats provide warmth in the winter and an available sunroof can provide year-round sunlight and ventilation in warm weather. The radio is operated by a dash-mounted screen that is pretty easy to operate. Navigation is an available option. Rear seats are roomy enough for two adults around town, and include air vents, but the GTI really shines when they are folded down to supplement the decent cargo room behind the seats with an easy-to-load big hatch. It rivals the space offered by a station wagon—a great asset for students moving all their belongings to and from a dorm, or even students shlepping hockey bags or other sports equipment.

The other big attraction of the GTI is driving it—and driving it is a blast. The heart of the sportiness is a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder turbocharged engine that pumps out 200 horsepower to the front wheels through a slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission. A 6-speed DSG automatic also is available, but would not be near as much fun as the manual. Gas mileage with the manual is a good 21 city, 31 highway. Safety/performance electronics include stability control, traction control, ABS, and a ‘cross-differential system’ that acts like a limited-slip differential to prevent wheel spin by the inside wheel during tight cornering. Acceleration is brisk, with very little turbo lag or torque steer, brakes are good, and steering and handling both typically German-tight and responsive, which all adds up to a sporty, tossable, fun-to-drive ‘hot hatchback.’

Dave Schultz, assistant sales manager at Dean Team VW in Kirkwood, extols the virtues of the GTI. “It’s manufactured in Germany and is a great car for the price. It’s also a lot of fun, and with the four-door option, you can have your fun and haul a family, too.”

The GTI two-door with stick starts at about $24,000.00. With a sunroof and convenience package the sticker is about $26,700.

Robert Paster (robertpaster.com) also is an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.

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