Let's get this out of the way now: wagons are cool-especially when they aspire to higher levels of performance, something our friends across the pond seem to have nailed. That said, how cool is it if the wagon in question runs on biodiesel (a renewable energy source) and is as well integrated as our featured grocery-getter: Christine Duran's 2003 Volkswagen Jetta Wagon GLS TDI?
Duran, whose past performance exotica has included Camaros and Corvettes, needed something practical as well as sporty. Her Jetta certainly fills that requirement as she's moved from the Bowtie darkside. It doesn't hurt that husband Chris Fierek is a marketing manager at audio and security supplier Directed Electronics, with extensive connections to aftermarket suppliers like Kerma TDI, Magnaflow, PIAA, Alpine, and Viper.
Originally from Chicago, Duran now calls Southern California home. The car was purchased in the Windy City and arrived five months after submitting her special order. A transfer to Seattle provided her first taste of biodiesel and the advantages it offered. But she admits to missing the kick in the gut that was part and parcel of the Corvette experience.
"After some research, I came across Kerma TDI," says Duran. "They were a one-stop shop for all my tuning needs. I started out at 90 hp and I'm now in the vicinity of 200. The best part is the mileage didn't budge. With fuel costs climbing the way they are, this was a huge bonus."
Under the hood is where Kerma worked its magic. Upgrades include the company's 1852 Hammerhead turbo, Powerplus 764 injectors, R520 nozzles, a TDI downpipe and a replacement intake manifold with superior flow characteristics. A KermaWare Q Loader Flash Programmer was used to dial everything in. Other mods include an AEM dry flow air filter, a Kerma three-bar MAP sensor, a EuroJet front-mount intercooler, and an ABD Racing cold-air intake. Ron Hembd of RLH Industries was the point person in getting things ship-shape.
To ensure her Jetta sounded like no other, Duran turned to Magnaflow for both an exhaust and a high-flow catalyst. The results bumped horsepower up a notch-Duran estimates a gain of about 10 hp-as well as giving the car a remarkable exhaust note, something more akin to a mid-'60s V8 than a typical VW diesel.
"My tastes have changed over the years and I'm all about the Jetta's clean Euro styling," says Duran. "The Caractre kit offered the ideal look for what I wanted, clean and stylish. In an effort to fulfill the ideal Euro style, there was one must-have, the E-Code VW HID conversion. My husband really feels that it pulls the car's entire front fascia together."
Duran's choice of rolling stock is a set of 19-inch PIAA Super Rosa wheels mated to 235/35 Toyo Proxes and upgraded Baer brake rotors. Eibach coilovers front and rear help keep the rubber glued to the pavement. This is essential given that the Jetta now cruises effortlessly at 90 mph while turning just about 3000 rpm. The redline now sits at 5200, giving this silver missile a top speed of 130 mph (verified via GPS), a substantial improvement over the stock Jetta turbodiesel's ability to reach 110 mph.
The car's interior was treated to a makeover as well. This should come as no surprise, given husband Fierek's 15 years' experience in the mobile electronics aftermarket-not only at Directed, but at Blaupunkt as well. "There were three elements that were key when it came to the interior: comfort, style and stealth," says Duran. "We wanted the comfort and the freedom to drive long distances (what good is a diesel if you can't do that?), we also wanted to make a solid impression at the shows. Last, we wanted impeccable audio without losing an inch of real estate."
The OEM leather was tossed, replaced by Roadwire custom leather and Alcantara skins providing the necessary grip. An Alpine IVA-W205 head unit resides in the center stack, along with an integrated KCE-300BT Bluetooth adapter and the standalone NVE-872N Navigation drive which displays on the Alpine's front panel touchscreen. Sirius Satellite radio is provided by an Alpine-specific SIR-ALP10T from Directed Electronics. Two Orion amplifers, an HP-4800 four-channel and an HCCA-D5000 monoblock, power the upgraded Polk SR-Series satellite speakers mounted in each door and the Orion HCCA 10 mounted under the full-size spare tire in the custom-fabricated cargo compartment. Serving up proper power is a Kinetik HC2000 battery with all connections provided by Directed Audio Essentials cabling.
While it wasn't Duran's original intent to make an environmental statement, what's so great about her exercise is that performance doesn't have to be sacrificed in order to be 'green.' Some biodiesel enthusiasts go as far as refining their fuel from leftover cooking oils, but Duran is content to use what's commercially available.
And while biodiesel isn't available everywhere, distribution is expanding, making the process of topping off her Jetta just a bit easier.
2003 VW Jetta GLS TDI
Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
1.9-liter inline four, dohc, 16-valve. Kerma 1852 Hammerhead turbo, Powerplus injectors, R520 nozzles, Magnaflow exhaust, EuroJet front-mount intercooler
*Wheels And Tires
PIAA Super Rosa, 8x19
Toyo Proxes, 235/35
Peak Power: 210 hp @ 3300 rpm
Peak Torque: 320 lb-ft @ 1800 rpm
Top Speed: 130 mph
Caractre body kit
Alpine head unit, Polk Audio PR-Series speakers, Orion amplifiers and subwoofer, Roadwire custom upholstery
Out Of The Frying Pan...
The ability to run on biodiesel offers added value both to the environment and to performance. The cetane (diesel version of octane) levels in the United States are atrocious. Stock oil-burners in Europe are designed and tested on European diesel, which sits at a strong 60 cetane. In the States, the cetane level sits at 40. When Premium is available, it's at 50, or 55 with additives.
Biodiesel is the best alternative in North America, running closer to 60 cetane. In the time Duran changed from regular diesel to biodiesel, she found tools to maintaining that preference. To find local stations offering biodiesel, visit biodiesel.org. Country singer Willie Nelson is an advocate, running it in his tour buses for years along with delivering his own line of biodiesel under the Bio-Willie brand (biowillieusa.com).
There are home brewers across the country making it in their garages and backyards, refining and filtering cooking oil. The interesting part is when an individual makes a batch of biodiesel from a particular restaurant, the exhaust smells like the place it came from. This method gives restaurant owners the option of turning used oil into a renewable fuel and offers a positive return for the environment.
Fuels found at the dealer level are produced from corn and soy oils. There are a few biofuel variations and are based on a blend with regular diesel. For example, B5 is five percent biodiesel and 95 percent regular diesel fuel, all the way up to B100, which is 100 percent biodiesel.
A few of the advantages: renewable; energy efficient; displaces petroleum-derived diesel fuel; can be used in most diesel equipment with no or minor modifications; can reduce global-warming gas emissions; can reduce tailpipe emissions, including air toxins; non-toxic, biodegradable and suitable for sensitive environments; made in the United States from either agricultural or recycled resources; can be easy to use.