Everybody thinks the life of an automotive reviewer is one sweet bed of roses. The reality is that you can spend week after week driving and trying to review intelligently a lot of lackluster automobiles. I was recently stuck with a succession of domestic mediocrities and a boring Japanese SUV when the Passat arrived in my life. What a difference a truly competent automobile makes.
It’s taken me a while to really warm up to the Volkswagen Passat. But the recent arrival of the GLX model for a test drive opened my eyes to how real the Passat challenge is to both the Camry and the Accord, and even to the high-priced European sports sedans.
The Passat GLX could be called the flagship of the VW offerings in the United States. Our test car was equipped with the V-6 engine and a deluxe interior featuring a full leather treatment with genuine wood accents, heated seats and other extras.
As the performance Passat, the GLX model comes with very attractive 16-inch alloy wheels shod with high-speed tires. Oh yes, a five-speed automatic transmission is also part of the package, and that technology has usually been reserved for the luxury car segment.
A renewed emphasis on quality in the Volkswagen organization delivers a very rewarding automobile in the popularly priced segment. The Passat features advanced engineering, a killer engine, and the safety advantage of front seat-mounted side-impact air bags. The interior feels roomy and the sedan offers 15 cubic feet of trunk space.
How good is the Passat? It is light years ahead of any vehicle VW has sold in the United States and presents excellent prospects for the continued renewal of the brand on these shores and the triumph of VW’s worldwide strategy to move the brand up in the market. If your shopping list in this segment is limited to the Accord and the Camry, do yourself the favor of adding the Passat.
The first thing about the Passat that strikes the driver is the overall build quality. A glance at the body reveals that the panels fit together snugly and use durable and attractive components.
But what really impressed me most was the Passat’s handling, an important consideration for someone like me who lives on the coast side of the San Francisco peninsula and has to traverse mountainous terrain to get anywhere.
The feedback offered by the steering and suspension exceeded my expectations, particularly in a popularly priced automobile. The Passat’s handling may just be the best in class. The ride quality is also good, but on the firm side. Volkswagen certainly can bill the Passat GLX as an entry-level sports sedan.
Wind noise is negligible at cruising speeds, driven at least in part by the Passat’s exceptional aerodynamics. The car’s aerodynamic qualities are clearly evident in the ovoid shape that is superimposed on the automobile. While the rounded exterior design imparts excellent aerodynamic properties, I do find its ovoid shape on the dull side, particularly when compared with new automobiles that are offering a more aggressive, “edgy” look.
Few, however, will be disappointed with the interior, if functionality is a high priority. The interior is well laid out and the controls are easy to use and find. Volkswagen has avoided the pitfall that plagues many European manufacturers , placing a lot of small, hard-to-decipher buttons and switches on the dashboard. The leather-covered seats were very comfortable and supportive.
A sporty mid-sized sedan needs a responsive engine. The VW narrow-angle V-6 has been around for a few years, but still remains one of my favorite power plants. The engine delivers smooth acceleration and is quiet and refined throughout its range of operation.
The high-performance V-6 engine is well-mated to five-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic control, which mimics the operation of a manual transmission allowing the driver’s desire to control gear selection and shift points.
On mountain roads, I switched the gear selector to the manual mode to gain full benefit of the engine’s ample torque. With the Tiptronic feature, driving the Passat seemed nearly as rewarding as one with a manual transmission. And when I got to an expressway, I could shift into the automatic mode and forget the whole thing.
Price as tested: $29,255
Engine:Type: 2.8L V-6; Horsepower: 190 @ 6,000 rpm; Torque: 206 ft. lbs. @ 3,200 rpm
Fuel economy, automatic transmission: City – 18 mpg; Highway – 26 mpg; Curb Weight: 3,292 lbs.