Volkswagen Super Bowl TV ad is a flight of fancy

VW’s game-day car commercial needs a serious reality check

Published: February 02, 2014 11:30 AM

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Behind the whimsy of Super Bowl car commercials is a serious cry for a reality check. Take Volkswagen’s flight of fancy with its game day ad called “Wings” showcasing how pristine a family’s Passat looks, especially for a 100,000-miler. And well it should, since a freeze-frame of the car’s exterior tells us that it’s a 2012 or newer model.

When the tragically unhip dad tells his snotty teenaged daughter that having the odometer turn 100,000 miles is “a big deal,” it’s not just a pathetic and meaningless boast. It’s quite possibly a cry for help. The poor guy must have been chained to that steering wheel day and night for the last 18 months to log those miles. No wonder he’s out of touch with his family! (See the VW commercial.)

The ad’s comedic blitz features a visualization of VW engineers “getting their wings” whenever a VW hits that magic 100,000-mile mark. This almost nightmarish sequence has German engineers at an auto plant sprouting angel wings, leading to a series of unfortunate events, like getting swept away in a wind tunnel. Is fear of personal tragedy why there isn’t a greater focus on long-term reliability from VW?

This is funny only if we can find a hidden message, and happily, we can. If you actually own a 2007 or earlier VW, the vintage that is actually likely to have high miles on it, you might want to grab the engineers who made it and launch them toward heaven immediately.

According to our data, the 2003 through 2007 Passat has had a horrendous reliability record with many times the average car’s trouble rate for major transmission problems, oil leaks, and cooling-system failures. Older VW Jettas, meanwhile, have problems with transmissions, paint and trim, air conditioning, and the cooling system among many other things. (Check the data yourself on the model pages, where you’ll find reliability broken down by 17 trouble areas per year.)

In more mixed messaging, the symbolism of classic cartoons, sprouting angel wings is what happens when the character gets crushed, rather than sainted.

One last question is that head-scratcher of a slogan: “More vehicles on the road with over 100,000 miles than any other brand.” What on Earth does that statistic mean?

The small print reveals that the figures are based on registrations across 49 countries, likely including many that sold the original Beetle until a relatively few years ago. How many of those cars are held together by a wing and prayer? The more interesting figure given the showcase for this ad would be registrations, and satisfaction, in the United States. That a car that staggers across the 100,000-mle goal line is something special? We’d much rather one that raced across that line without skipping a beat.

As a reality check, we figure that 100K is the break-in period for pretty much any Honda or Toyota. Pack it in much sooner than 200,000 miles and you have a serious disappointment. But a Beetle, Golf, Jetta, Passat, or Touareg with six figures on the odo? That sounds more like #farfromreality than Fahrvergnugen.

See our complete guide to car reliability.

Gordon Hard

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