COAL: 2009 VW Voyage Comfortline – Good In Theory; Not So In Reality

Sometimes our life go through some radical changes, but maybe most of the changes we experience are incremental, smooth or even not perceptible at the exact time. Another dimension of a change is how we come to actually like or dislike them, i.e. sometimes real outcomes doesn’t follow prejudgments. The changes of cars we choose to make (or are obliged to) can be analog to that. This is the story of a 2009 VW Voyage Comfortline, a change that was supposed to be a forward evolution on my automotive side of life. Perhaps it was a matter of excessive expectations, but for the first time for me a change of cars turned out to be rather disappointing.

In the second half of the 2000’s my life went to huge transitions in several grounds. First, a new job offer I accepted. Getting that new job meant moving back to my home town of São Paulo after more than 3 years studying / working away. A third change happened two years after I moved back: I went to live with my then girlfriend now wife.

When I moved back to São Paulo I owned a Chevrolet Corsa (see COAL here). Two years later when I moved to live with my girlfriend we decided one car was enough for our needs. It was faster and more rational to go to work by subway so the car would be used mainly at weekends. Also, all the expenses associated to a second car would be a burden to us, including the extra cost to lease an apartment with garage for two cars in the neighborhood we wanted to live. That sole car would be my Corsa.

But eventually these changes reflected in the automotive territory too. After one year we had settled together we decided to go for a new, bigger and more comfortable car. I’d been longing to own a more powerful car after more than a decade driving small hatchbacks with 1.0 liter engines. So it was going to be not just another change of cars but a change of paradigms, not to talk about a big lap of price level.

I had always wanted to buy a station wagon but the ones I really liked were more than 15 years old so didn’t check one of our requirements (see a 1992 Chevrolet Caravan Diplomata above… maybe one day I can grab me one). There were new station wagon choices available too, but above the price range we could afford. We made our mind about the four door sedans based on the smaller hatchbacks available on the market.

2008 Fiat Siena

That kind of car has been getting a considerable market share in Brazil. They combine almost the same fuel economy, (theoretically) low maintenance costs and overall performance of the hatchbacks they’re based on, adding more trunk space for usually a little bit higher price.

2008 Renault Logan

Several brands have been offering at least one choice on this category, comprising different engine sizes and trim levels. The best selling incumbent competitors at the time were built either in Brazil or Argentina: the Fiat Siena, best selling small sedan for many years (based on the Fiat Palio), the Chevrolet Corsa Sedan (based on the Opel Corsa C) and the Ford Fiesta Sedan (based on the Ford Fiesta). At the time these cars had engines varying from 1.0 liter to 1.8 liter.
When we started researching the market there were also two new choices, the Renault Logan (actually a rebaged Dacia Logan) and the VW Voyage based on the then completely new VW Gol. For many reasons I can’t remember our choices were restricted to the last two of them. We even did a test a drive on a Logan with a 1.6 liter 8 valve (the were also a pair of 16 valve options, with 1.0 or 1.6 liter). We did like the comfort and huge interior space but I was not willing to bet on a new car which at the time I did not have enough (good) references about reliability.

1993 VW Voyage Sport

So we decided to take a more detailed look at the VW Voyage. I recognize that the VW brand and the name Voyage mattered for me in a somewhat non rational way, because the old Voyage was the domestic car I had longed for many years: very light, reasonably powerful even with a base 1.6 liter engine (and very good with a 1.8), with the right size for Brazilian cities, and with a squared “not fancy” look I like.

2009 VW Voyage Comfortline 

For those not familiar with the Brazilian VW lineup, there’s 2 completely different Voyage. The original model was built between 1982 and 1994. That was the one exported to USA as VW Fox. The original Voyage had longitudinal powertrain and most of then were sold as 2 door, with only a few sold as 4 door. The 1995 Voyage sold in Brazil was imported from Argentina, but that was it’s last breath until rebirth in 2008 based on the new generation Gol.

2009 VW Voyage Comfortline

The new model released in 2008 is still built and look almost the same as a 2009, having had just a minor facelift. It has transverse engine and is offered only as 4 door (unfortunately 2 door cars are now almost absent from the Brazilian market.
It was available with three trim levels and two engine choices: 1.0 liter and 1.6 liter, both with 8 valve. Power delivering was 76 hp and 104 hp and torque was 10,6  kgmf at 3850 rpm and 15,4 kgmf at 2500 rpm. These 1.6 liter engines are called EA111 in VW parlance. Transmission was 5 speed manual (later VW released with an automatized manual).
The 2009 on Comfortline trim (only offered with the 1.6 liter engine) weighted 1021 kg (2251 pounds), measured 4,23 m (166,5 in) long, with a 2,46 m (97 in) wheelbase, 1,66 m (65 in) wide and 1,46 m (57,5 in) high. Trunk was 480 liters (17 cubic in).

My own 2009 VW Voyage Comfortline (the one in the first picture)

We got one with the 1.6 liter top trim Comfortline. It was reasonably well equipped for a Brazilian car: power windows on all doors, power mirrors, flip key with keyless entry and locking, keyless opening trunk and windows, alarm, fog lights, fully carpeted interior and trunk, 195/55 tyres on 15 inch steel wheels (alloys where optional), A/C (optional, IIRC), and some other minor amenities.

Neither of these comfort features were available in any of my former cars. Another important distinction of the Voyage compared to my then current Chevrolet Corsa was fuel: the Voyage was “flexfuel”, i.e. could burn gas or alcohol in any proportion, the Corsa burned only gas. That would give me a reduction in fuel expenses because in the estate of São Paulo alcohol generally allows for a lower fuel cost per mile than gas.

VW Voyage interior (the same as mine except for the steering wheel)

We decided for the Voyage because it was a VW, meaning (allegedly) better resale value and reliability. It was one of the most powerful 1.6 liter 8 valve engines available on the market (I refused to choose any 16 valve because of less low end torque and fear of worse mechanical durability). The Voyage wasn’t the most spacious neither had the bigger trunk, but for us it was big enough.

The car was fast and stable on the highways and smart on city traffic. But it had it downsides, like the seats which were hard, pretty similar to the ones on VWs of the late 1990’s. Combined with the “sporty” suspension, that made for tiring long drives. That was not all: I had a few problems with electrical failures. The first was the rear doors windows electric engine, which broke less than 1 month after I got the car. It was fixed by the dealer under warranty, which let’s me to other big hassle in owning a new VW.

I serviced the car on a huge dealership called Sorana on the north region of São Paulo. The service quality were less than medium by any means. The guys treated you like they were making a big favor. When warranty expired I started to make all services on a long time trusted independent shop I used to take my former cars.

With around 2 years old one of the front doors power window engine broke. With less than 50 thousand km the Voyage was making more strange noises than my earlier car, giving a sensation it was not very well built. At the time we bought it I thought about driving it for a very long time, like 10 years, but that didn’t happen for various reasons.

I came to deeply regret buying a new car instead of something of better quality like a used Civic for around the same money. I also regret that I chose a loaded more expensive model. A mid range model would have been fine, cost less and have better resale value. When I got to sell mine it was really more difficult than I had anticipated for a VW car, which in Brazil used to depreciate slower than other brand’s cars. At least it was a highly appreciated variable when people bought Beetles, Brasilias, the Mk1 Gols and other old VW’s sold around here.
But maybe it’s not like that  anymore, or maybe it was only in case of my VW at the time. One anecdote summarizes it all: at the fair I attended in order to sell the car, right by the spot I parked was a guy selling a 2008 top line Fiat Siena (small sedan based on the Fiat Palio), so both of our cars were the same year, with around the same asking price and with similar mileage and looking well maintained. Guess who closed a selling deal first? It wasn’t me. What can I say? Live and learn.