We check out VW's new Fender audio systems

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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