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T'AIN'T YOUR WAGON

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 Sun, Sep 3, 2006

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

T'AIN'T YOUR (ORDINARY) WAGON By Roy Nakano

Back when SUVs were gaining popularity in this country, listeners called in to KPFK's The Car Show to ask the late co-host Len Frank what he thought about this new type of vehicle. "Sport utility vehicles are neither" was Frank's response. "The high center of gravity doesn't translate to sporty driving. The fact that the vehicle is so high off the ground also means it doesn't hold as much cargo as it appears. A well-designed station wagon can provide just as much useful space."

Alas, not many heeded the caveat. Sales of sport utility vehicles went through the roof, and the U.S. corporate average fuel economy of vehicles sank. Consumers bought into this new class of vehicle as if it was going out of style. And of course, it didn't. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration even had to come up with a new safety measure in response to the popularity of SUVs: The rollover test. Of all things, it's skyrocketing gas prices that's causing consumers to take a cold, hard view of sport utility vehicles. "Maybe I really don't need a three-ton behemoth to carry around my family of four" seems to be the thought that's going through many a mind these days.

Enter the 2007 Volkswagen Passat Wagon 2.0T. This ain't your ordinary station wagon. Yes, it's room, with a hatchback that doesn't cut off cargo space for the sake of style. And yes, it has a normal center-of-gravity, meaning you won't have to worry about this vehicle making the NHTSA roll-over hit list. What sets this wagon apart is that it fulfills the promise of a vehicle that has both sport and utility. The Passat has been one of the most fun-to-drive of family sedans. With the addition of the new 2.0-liter turbocharged FSI four-cylinder engine, the Passat is even quicker than before. And, get this: With the standard six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, the new Passat wagon gets even better gas mileage than before (EPA rated at 22 in the city/31 on the highway).

For those who've been spoiled by the convenience of power-operated lift-gates on premium minivans, the new Passat wagon has it as standard equipment. What the Passat doesn't have is the mountain-climbing access difficulty that minivans all share. This is the first time I've tried the new Passat with the standard 16-inch wheel and tire combination. Previous press cars came fitted with the optional and very snazzy-looking 17-inchers. The difference in ride quality is significant. While the Passat with the larger wheel and lower-profile tire combination feels more connected to the road, it also lets in more road harshness. That harshness is all but gone with the standard 16-inch fare. The ride is positively Phaeton-like. I still prefer my Passats on the sporty side, but I can see how the standard wheel and tire combination will be considered more family friendly (not to mention cheaper). One aspect of the wagon that took some getting used to is the sense that it's a bigger car than the sedan - particularly when backing up. It's all an illusion, as the wagon is actually two-tenths of an inch shorter than the sedan. The width is identical, while the wagon is 1.7 inches taller (some of it no doubt due to the standard roof rails).

The wagon otherwise enjoys all the attributes of the acclaimed sedan: Class-leading interior, great fit and finish, an almost jewel-like attention to detail, and standard ventilated leatherette seats that look as good as the premium leather packaged car. The Passat wagon is also offered with a 280-horsepower 3.6-liter engine and all-wheel drive. Before you go down that road, however, note that the standard turbo-four is plenty quick. Not only that, it's remarkably smooth and quiet - so much so that I had some difficulty identifying it as a four-cylinder engine. With the new Passat wagon's fun-to-drive factor, high cargo capacity, good gas mileage, high refinement (inside and out), and low price, it's the ideal remedy for the SUV blues.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT Here's a vehicle that offers the sport and utility that SUVs promised, but - more often than not - didn't deliver. For more information about Volkswagen products, go to www.vw.com.

SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2007 Volkswagen Passat Wagon 2.0T

Price: Base, $25,225 (2.0T Value Edition) Tested, $26,175 (2.0T model) With options, $29,430

Engine Type: 2.0-liter, DOHC, 16-valve turbocharged and intercooled four-in-line

Horsepower: 200bhp @ 5,100-6,000 rpm

Torque: 207 lb-ft @ 1,800-5,000 rpm

Drivetrain Configuration: Front engine, front-wheel-drive, transversely-mounted four-cylinder 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 Turning circle: 35.8 feet

Wheels and Tires: P215/55R-16 all-season tires, 7J X 16-inch alloy wheels (standard on 2.0T) P235/45R-17 all-season tires, 7½J X 17-inch alloy wheels (optional)

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 - 188.0 inches Width - 71.7 inches Height - 59.7 inches Wheelbase - 106.7 inches Curb Weight - 3,468 lbs

Fuel Economy EPA Estimates - 22 mpg city/31 mpg highway

0-60 mph - 7.4 seconds (automatic) Top Speed - 130 mph (governor limited)

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