One doesn't drive the Merritt Parkway, a pulsing arterial byway linking the New York suburbs to Connecticut's Housatonic River basin; one courses through it.
Beneath a great canopy of sun-shielding oaks, you vault upward to near-weightlessness and then dive down into sweeping, neutral-camber bends, urged on by gravity and luscious waves of machine torque. In the right car, on the right day, it's like a spirit ride through the Enchanted Forest on a magic mushroom. Some locals call it the commüterring.
The 37-mile four-laner opened to traffic not long after Ford introduced its flathead V8, the engine that brought the addictive, stomach-tickling shove of high torque — or rotational force — to the masses. Applied to the rolling hills of the Merritt Parkway through a modern 1930s chassis, the Ford V8's thrilling, butter-smooth acceleration probably did more to advance the flight to the suburbs in pre-WWII America than backyard hammocks and cheap government loans combined.
Indeed, the Merritt is best enjoyed in single, torque-laden bites, without the gearbox kicking down like a nagging in-law, and a firm-but-compliant chassis in a neutral-weighted car with plenty of grip. A car, for example, like the Volkswagen GTD.
Our rallye green (or thereabouts) tester isn't a U.S. product — VW's been taking an ongoing parade lap with some of its overseas models. Your response to this and other accounts of driving it may play a role in VW's decision to bring over the GTD or leave it for the Europeans. Either way, let's be clear. The GTD is not a GTI with a diesel engine, as some may have hoped.
As driving experiences go, the GTD lacks the revvy, sports-car sparkle of its GTI cousin in close-quarters combat. It has more in common with VW's erstwhile R32. In fact, the GTD's 2.0-liter, common-rail turbodiesel inline-four has a higher torque peak than the R32's VR6 had —- 258 vs. 236 lb-ft. The VR6 had longer legs, though; the TDI breaks camp at 4500 rpm, and the lag between pedal-down and action in the GTD can feel like a yawning chasm when trying to blast out of a low-speed corner.
Still, like the R32 did, the GTD displays a similarly exhilarating kind of midrange shove that makes a run on the Merritt feel like a lower-risk, suburban-dad equivalent to a lap around Spa. (It's actually better than that sounds.)
Swooping into the Merritt's high-speed, wide-angle curves at 70-80 mph, the GTD feels undertaxed and planted, aided by adaptive dampers — optional, and not for U.S. export — set to sport mode. The DSG trans box keeps the gruff-sounding TDI in a narrow but sublime rev range, placing big dollops of thrust right there for the scooping. (There's a six-speed manual available too, but I'd rather let the DSG's algorithms skirt the blink-and-you'll-miss-it redline.) The steering is familiar — light, direct and accurate. The brakes have good, bracing bite like hot coffee on the tongue.
But it's the diesel's torque delivery that's the drug, and I just keep feeding the habit.
(Let's take this moment to reiterate that the Merritt Parkway, while quite the seductress (how many metaphors is that, now?), isn't in Texas, and many an enthusiastic Merritt wheelman has become entangled in the web of Connecticut's Johnny You-Know-Who. Back in the 1980s, David Letterman famously joked about all the speeding tickets he got on the Merritt in his Porsche 928. Also, Googling "speeding ticket on the Merritt Parkway" yields nearly 2,000 results. The good news is that, on most weekdays, the traffic is so heavy, you're more likely to win Powerball than get a ticket.)