At the 2011 New York Auto Show we experienced the 400-watt, nine-speaker Fender premium audio system in the Volkswagen Passat, Jetta GLI and Beetle, the three models in which it will be offered. When VW announced the partnership last December, the company said "Volkswagen and Fender put the concert in the car." That wasn't just a reference to getting good sounds in your ride, it was also a clue to how you'd get that sound. But before we even sat down in the Passat for a listen, our first question was: why Fender?

Continue reading New York 2011: We check out VW's new Fender audio systems...

Photos copyright ©2011 Jonathon Ramsey / AOL

As Kevin Joostema, VW's general manager of product marketing and strategy, tells Autoblog, "Traditionally we had Dynaudio as our premium audio partner, but no one knew what Dynaudio was. So we wanted an audio partner for our products built in North America" – someone with a name that would resonate with buyers. At the same time, Fender's Brian Tedeschi said "We wanted to take 65 years of sound and sound amplification experience into car audio."

Volkswagen Fender head unit

Fender doesn't make car audio equipment, so it partnered with Panasonic to build the hardware. "We told Panasonic 'This is how you create textbook Fender sound,'" said Tedeschi, defining "Fender sound" as "Clarity high and low with zero fatigue, zero distortion, powerful bass response and detailed midrange tones."

Fair... but who wouldn't say that? We found it more intriguing that Fender wanted a live-stage sensation with imaging that presented the music as if the top of the dashboard were the stage - "the raw emotion of a live performance," as Fender puts it. As Panasonic's Natan Budiono, engineer for advance audio development, puts it: "Panasonic has two partners" for which they build components, "Fender is one, ELS, the system in the Acura, is the other. Panasonic has already been successful in the premium audio market with ELS surround, we wanted to expand our offerings."

The teams began work on the trio of sound systems some three-and-a-half years ago. VW gave Fender the specs of the particular models, and Fender built a dedicated audio sound room in Wolfsburg so they could work closely with VW executives.

Volkswagen door speaker

There are eight speakers in the cabin of each car. In the Passat and Jetta there are two 16-centimeter Fender Twins (extended-range woofers with dual-voice coils) on the front doors and two more on the rear doors, plus two tweeters on rear doors. The Beetle has 20-centimeter Fender Twins on the front doors, and another set of those plus two tweeters in the rear. The placement of the Fender Deluxe Tweeters in the front of the cabin is unique to each car: in the Passat, the two tweeters are in the corners of the IP, on the Jetta they're on the A-pillar. On the Beetle, they live in the front corners of the window frames, where the quarter glass would be. The subwoofer, called the Fender Bassman, lives in the trunk of each car: on the Passat and Jetta it sits inside a 17-liter enclosure hung from the top of the trunk, in the Beetle, it's a smaller, curved enclosure tucked on the side.

There is no center-channel speaker on the dash. Tedeschi said, "The center channel is for imaging, and we've tuned so the imaging is dead center with speakers elsewhere."
Budiono, a six-time world champion in International Auto Sound Challenge Association competitions, spent eight straight weeks tuning the three systems to each car, and another two weeks for tweaking. He calls the result "The ultimate two-channel sound."

After a listen in all three cars, we agree that Budiono has excellent reason for confidence – we haven't heard a basic system this good at this price point. A variety of tracks, including a live recording of Sting's Englishman in New York, Sergio Mendes' and Fergie's Look of Love, Hey Soul Sister by Train, Little Wing by Stevie Ray Vaughn and a smattering of blues and rap, the Fender system addresses musical requests with clear, crisp, rich professionalism. Even if you turn the volume up all the way to 30, "the system cannot hurt itself," said Budiono, and notes remain as distinct as they were at volume level 7. True, these were controlled conditions, indoors, in cars that weren't running, playing CDs compiled by Fender... but ultimately, good sound is good sound.

2012 Volkswagen New Beetle hatch open

Goiing from the Passat and Beetle to the Jetta, you could hear imaging differences due to placement of the Fender Deluxe Tweeters. On the Passat, the tweeters are completely unobstructed because they fire directly at the windshield and then into the car, on the Beetle the front tweeters are mostly unobstructed because they're set back in line with the steering wheel. But on the Jetta, the A-pillar tweeter on the driver's side is partially into the hump over the dash cluster, which makes the imaging feel slightly more driver centered. That's not a criticism, merely a detail. For a Volkswagen, and at the price point at which these stereos will be offered, we would expect the great majority of buyers to be thoroughly impressed.

Fender's arrangement with VW is global and exclusive for an undisclosed amount of time. It will be offered first on the Jetta GLI performance model, arriving later this year.

Photos copyright ©2011 Jonathon Ramsey / AOL

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      We told Panasonic 'This is how you create textbook Fender sound,' So a rebadged Panasonic system, no matter, as long as it sounds good.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Never though you can make that car look any better. I thoroughly impressed. I hope that VW gets it reliability down, then I'll start buying them
      • 4 Years Ago
      Fender I don't know about.. Natan, however has chops. Good to see one of the old IASCA guys doing actual audio work.
      Improve Health Info
      • 8 Months Ago

      They came along way since 2011. They now have better sound systems in the newer ones. I'm looking to get new speakers for my car. What are the best speakers for cars that sound really good?

      • 4 Years Ago
      In other words, VW is using Panasonic audio in the "new new" Beetle that has a nameplate saying "Fender" slapped over it. It may sound better than standard audio systems but it has nothing to do with Fender. Which, to me, is fine as I'd pick up Ibanez every time.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The sound system sounds cool, but Dynaudio is such a great high end speaker company, it is wrong for them to quite using them.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Great to see OEM's actually paying attention and caring about how the audio system sounds, especially on every-man vehicles.....WIN!
        Sgt Beavis
        • 4 Years Ago
        Lots of OEMs pay attention to that detail. Ford uses Sony, GM uses Bose, BMW uses Harmon Kardon, etc, etc.. Frankly I think VW actually went cheap. I don't consider Panasonic a premium system maker. Adding the Fender name is nothing more than marketing fluff.
          • 4 Years Ago
          @Sgt Beavis
          This is supposed to be directed to kojo, but it wouldn't let me reply directly to him. Anyways, you surely haven't heard an OEM Panasonic system in a car if you say they're good. Granted, Panasonic's aftermarket blows away Sony's (but who's doesn't? It's sad, really, that Sony makes such cheap car audio products). I have a TSX with an OEM Panasonic system and it's bad to the point of being insulting that they would put such poor speakers in a "Premium" system. There's no depth, weak bass that only responds in the midrange, lows of any kind are non-existent and the tweeters are way too harsh.
      Ferris Macau
      • 4 Years Ago
      speaking of cheap, does vw use the same outside mirrors for all ther cars???
      Bradley Nordstrom
      • 4 Years Ago
      Pretty good looking car compared to the other Volk Wagens. Thanks for sharing was definitely worth it.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I have a hard time imaging any guy driving this car. Don't ask why...
      • 3 Years Ago
      But, due to design flaw, you can't get a beetle with the Fender system because you have to get a sunroof and that is the design flaw.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This is a cynical marketing ploy that may backfire. It's predicated on the notion that consumers recognize the name Fender, whether or not they associate the Fender brand with high fidelity or audiophile gear. Fender guitar amps sound the way they do because of distinctive distortion when overdriven, something you'd never want with audio gear. While the Panasonic gear in the Acuras sound great, the fact is that Dynaudio is a true audiophile company. Their speaker drivers are fabulous.
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