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ELEGANT GERMAN MUSCLE

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Mon, Nov 28, 2005

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

A PHAETON FOR THE MASSES By CHRISTOPHER HUDDLESTON

Can you believe that with this new VW, the sixth-generation Passat, we have the second-fastest-accelerating Volkswagen ever introduced in this country? While the muscle-car baiting acceleration is certainly not the defining quality of this Passat, it does inject a strong dose of character into what was previously a conservative European entry in the midsize sedan arena. Powered by a new version of Volkswagen's unique "narrow-angle" VR6, and hitched to a six-speed automatic transmission, the Passat puts 280 horsepower and 265 lbs-ft of torque on the road through the front wheels. This new level of grunt is courtesy of a 3.6-liter, DOHC, 24-valve, now transversely mounted V6 that also sports direct-injection and variable-valve timing. Even with only two wheels trying to put all this power to the ground (4Motion is available), the new 3.6 Passat rockets to 60 mph in just 5.9 seconds and through the quarter mile in only 14.3 seconds and 101 mph. This makes the Passat slightly faster than even the limited-edition Volkswagen (Golf) R32, and second only to the W12-equipped Phaeton 4Motion.

This car has so much power, that even soft launches away from a stop then followed by a firm shove of the accelerator to the floor still sends the front wheels screaming like a teenager in a horror flick. Yes, there supposedly is traction control, but it was so unobtrusive it seemed quite ineffective. Torque-steer, in fact, is surprisingly minimal. However, the standard-equipment all-season tires (a generously-sized P235/45R-17) seem to have real problems managing that power and torque, especially when asking for significant power while threading the Passat through the curves. Perhaps if the Passat I was driving was equipped with 4Motion (at a gag-inducing $1,950 extra), then maybe I would have stayed neck-and-neck with the guy in the pimped-out Chrysler 300C Hemi that I challenged at a spontaneous stoplight grand prix. As it is, he beat me, but not by much. And that was with the Passat struggling to overcome a ton of speed robbing front wheel spin. I can guarantee you this: He certainly didn't expect to such a conservative VW sedan so close to his back bumper. Volkswagen has stretched this new Passat to a size that is a little bit bigger than the last generation Passat. And true to form, the new one does feel marginally more spacious inside in most dimensions. The sheet metal drawn over this bigger platform shares many styling cues with not only the recently introduced Jetta, but also the Passat's more expensive cousin, the Phaeton. Fit-and-finish of exterior body panels is first-class. And while the Granite Green color of our test vehicle verges on the side of being ultra-conservative (and thereby enhancing this car's "Q-ship" persona), the actual paint quality is top notch.

If it all seems vaguely Audi-esque, and the new front-end "V" shaped split-grille treatment mimics Audi's almost too closely, it's not necessarily a bad thing. It all lends a further upscale air to the Passat. Simply put, this car may be more expensive than most mainstream mid-size sedans, but the details in the design add an overall feeling of class that is not easily found in the Passat's more pedestrian mid-size competitors. Step inside the new Passat, and you'll be confronted with an interior that speaks to you with a bit more emotion than what we are used to with conservative German imports - and specifically more than I've experienced with recent Volkswagen products. The previous generation Passat was renowned for its first-class interior materials, quality, and fit. What it didn't happen to be was exciting. The new Passat invites with a much more angular dash design and a center stack that flows gracefully into the center console. The interior is punctuated by stylish touches such as the upper level of the dashboard that appears separate from the rest of the dash, yet swoops around on each side to continue this same theme on to the interior door panels.

Even the aggressively-bolstered (for a family sedan) bucket front seats and rear bench are an exercise in style, Italian-speak, resembling nothing so much as the racy bucket seats you used to find in old Alfa Romeos. And, VW sees fit to slather them in some of the softest buttery leather I've sat on in quite awhile. In fact, the leather is so soft, my test car's beige seats were prone to easy dirt and smudge accumulation. When driving the new Passat, two things (other than the addictive acceleration) stand out. Volkswagen has definitely tuned in more road feel and response to the suspension and steering on this Passat. Those that like to drive aggressively will find this car has a stiffer suspension setup than the previous Passat. The old car was controlled, but it would float slightly when being pushed hard over bumps and rises. The new Passat retains a tight, buttoned-down feel. What is especially nice is the firm ride quality when driving down the freeway straight-as-an-arrow. Yes, the firmer suspension and 45-series tires conspire to add a bit more harshness over bumps, but the tauter structure and extensive management of road and engine noise really make the slightly stiffer ride an easily-liked compromise. And it's never really harsh.

The second thing that stands out is how poorly-executed the shifts are from the six-speed automatic transmission. Foot-to-the-floor acceleration brings shifts that are timely, positive, and quite smooth. However, at anything less aggressive than dragstrip-mode, the transmission constantly seems to be second-guessing the demands your throttle foot is giving it. And even when it succumbs to your whims, it still acts like it's not really sure that the gear you think you've called up is the gear it's going to give you. Stop-and-go, off-throttle/on-throttle traffic navigating is the worst. In these conditions, when going from brake to throttle and back in quick transition, the tranny never seems to quickly upshift or downshift and as a result, sudden changes in throttle/brake action force it to "hang up" in between gears, resulting in a slight but annoying "clunk" as it moves back into gear. While I wouldn't call it a deal-killer, the transmission does tend to disappoint in what is an otherwise unusually accomplished driving experience. For the princely sum of $36,415, my Granite Green test car was equipped with the 3.6L engine, six-speed automatic transmission, leather sport seats, an extremely intuitive DVD-based navigation system, and VW's Package 1, which includes many additional goodies such as memory seats, dual-zone Climatronic HVAC, heated seats, and front and rear sunshades. Also for that price you get Volkswagen's new Dynaudio premium sound system with a slick, glovebox-mounted six-disc CD changer and XM satellite radio. The Dynaudio sound system is noteworthy for its amazingly crisp and clear sound that allows you to pump up the system's bass with an unusual lack of sound distortion at very high volume levels. It's also nice to have a stereo system that doesn't have its myriad functions buried deep in the murky abyss that seems par-for-the-course with most in-dash navigation systems. In fact, the screen and buttons controlling the combination navigation/Dynaudio stereo are extremely easy to manipulate providing very little frustration as you pilot the Passat around town.

There are only a few things with the Passat that invite a raised eyebrow, such as the ignition switch. You take the key fob and insert it into the ignition slot, then push it in further until the starter catches. I tend to wonder how this is an improvement over traditional key and ignition systems, especially those that you don't have to hold in the "on" position until the starter catches. To make matters worse, the key fob is larger and takes up more valuable front-pocket or purse space than the old Volkswagen key fob with the swing-out key. This is a classy new Volkswagen that has many good points: Muscle-car acceleration, a classy and Germanic feel, and top-quality fit, finish, and materials. However, it is pricey for its segment, the front-wheel-drive chassis struggles to put down all that horsepower, and then there's the Passat's indecisive and sloppy six-speed automatic. However, after my time with the Passat, I can tell you it's definitely a rewarding car to drive. Is it an expensive Volkswagen or a strong value proposition to the higher-end German imports? You take your pick. I like the latter, thank you!

For more information about Volkswagen products, please go to www.vw.com. SPECIFICATIONS Price: Base, $29,950; As-tested, $36,415 Engine Type: 3.6 liter, DOHC, 24-valve V6 with direct injection, iron block, aluminum head, variable intake and exhaust valve timing. Horsepower: 280bhp @ 6,200 rpm Torque: 265lbs/ft @ 2,750 rpm Drivetrain Configuration: Front engine, front-wheel-drive, transversely-mounted V6 engine Transmission: Six-speed automatic transmission w/Tiptronic manual shift control. Suspension: Front - McPherson concept with triangular wishbones, coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers, stabilizer bar. Rear - Fully independent 4-link with coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers, stabilizer bar. Electronic Stabilization Program. Sport Suspension (included with Package #1.) Wheels and Tires: Front - P235/45R-17 all-season tires, 7 ½ J X 17-inch alloy wheels Rear - P235/45R-17 all-season tires, 7 ½ J X 17-inch alloy wheels Brakes: Front - Power-assisted vented disc, 12.3-inch diameter Rear - Power-assisted solid disc, 11-inch diameter 4-Wheel Anti-Lock control. 4-Wheel Brake Assist Electronically-activated parking brake. Dimensions: Length - 188.2 inches Width - 71.7 inches Height - 58.0 inches Wheelbase - 106.7 inches Curb Weight - 3,576 lbs Fuel Economy EPA Estimates - 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway 0-60 mph - 5.9 seconds 0-100 mph - 14.2 seconds Standing quarter mile - 14.3 seconds @ 101mph Top Speed - 132 mph (governor limited)

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