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Eric
06-03-2008, 03:14 PM
Wagons are the sensible shoes of the car world - and the VW Passat has long been one of the most appealing vehicles of this type on the road.

Just two flies in the soup, though.

One, VW is still trying to become a luxury brand instead of the high-value purveyor of "people's cars" it once was - which means it's easy to pay $40k (!!) fora Passat wagon, if you're not careful. The good news is you can still buy a reasonably priced Passat - the base Turbo wagon starts at $25,200.

And it offers a six-speed manual gearbox, too.

The bad news is that all the other versions of the Passat wagon force you to buy an automatic - and the least expensive of them begins at $29,100 for the mid-trim Komfort. Prices rise from there to $31,300 for the luxury-appointed Lux and top out at $39,200 for the sport-themed and V-6 equipped 4Motion model with all-wheel-drive.

So it's kind of like trying to buying a burger at a really pricey steak place. It can be done - but it isn't easy. And you may not be able to get all the side dishes you wanted, either.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Base Turbo Passats (sedans as well as wagons) come with a 2 liter, turbocharged DOHC four good for 200 hp. This punchy little engine can be teamed with either a six-speed manual transmission or (optionally) a six-speed automatic. The same turbocharged fouris also used in the step-up Komfort and Lux models - but comes only with the six-speed automatic. If you want to shift your own gears, you have to stick with the base Turbo model - which means you have to skip some of the options and equipment that are only included (or offered optionally) on the higher cost models. More on that below.

Performance is better than average for the segment - especially with the manual gearbox. A Passat Turbo wagon can reach 60 mph in about 7.6-7.7 seconds. And the presence of the third pedal makes the car feel a lot more sporty than other automatic-only wagons - which means, almost all of them. (Subaru is one of the very few other brands to offer a wagon with a standard manual transmission.)

The other Passat engine is a 3.6 liter V-6 that packs a very solid 280 hp. Choose this engine and you'll see your zero to 60 time drop by almost 1 full second. Unfortunately, you'll also see your fuel mileage plummet to a galling 16 mpg city/24 highway - which is actually worse economy than several V-8 equipped performance cars and full-size sedans. It's also massively less than you get with the standard car's turbo four, which returns a much more appealing 21 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.

On the upside, VW teams the V-6 with its 4Motion AWD system in the wagon. But the flip side of that is if you'd like to get the all-weather grip of AWD, you're forced to buy the expensive V-6 engine - and live with the obnoxious gas bills.

RIDE & HANDLING

VWs are justly known for delivering ride and handling characteristics comparable to much more expensive German brands at a more manageable price. This is still true - at least, if you stick with the $25k or so Turbo. Yes, the VR6 4Motion wagon takes it up a couple of notches - adding a bit more lateral grip courtesy of a more aggressive 18-inch wheel/trie package, firmer suspension calibrations - and the extra 80 hp at your back provided by the muscular V-6 engine.

But with a base price of $39k, it has strayed into deep waters and must be compared with rear-drive-based performance wagons from BMW, Benz as well as high-status wagons from Audi such as the $42,950 A6 Avant, which is only slightly more expensive.

The Passat VR6 more than holds its own in terms of driving dynamics (as well as acceleration) but there's no getting around the Prestige Gap. Volkswagen is a respectable brand - but it isn't a status brand. The truth is it wouldn't matter if the VR6 4Motion could out-corner and out-accelerate an M3.

At the end of the day, it's still a VW.(Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

STYLING & UTILITY

Wagons are super handy things. You can almost do anything with one that you might do with a pick-up (except go off-roading, of course) but sans the not-so-great pick-up handling and usually abysmal gas mileage. The Passat's cargo area offers 62 cubic feet of space; with the second row up you've still got 35.8 cubic feet. This is a good bit more space (with the second row up) than the Volvo V50 wagon, which offers 27.4 cubic feet with its second row seats in the up position (though the Volvo has slightly more total space - 63 cubic feet - with the second row folded flat.) The Volvo V50 also starts out higher, at $26,815 to start - and has a much weaker engine - a 2.4 liter in-line five rated at 168 hp - and doesn't offer a manual transmission for any price.Plus, it's a smaller car overall.

The larger V70 wagon isn't much better, cargo-wise. It maxes out at 71 cubic feet, but with the second row up has only 33.3 cubic feet. Plus, its base price of $32,465 is around eight grand higher than the Passat Turbo's base price.

The Passat wagon also measures up against another competitor, Subaru's Outback wagon. While it - like the Volvo V50 - has more total cargo capacity (65 cubic feet) with the second row in use, that drops to 33.5 cubic feet. So while the V50 and the Outback may be able to carry slightly more stuff - the Passat can carry more stuff with people on board at the same time.

Also, the Passat Turbo easily outguns the Outback's standard 2.5 liter, 170-hp four. (On the downside, the Outback's cheaper - $21,995 to start - and comes standard with AWD, which is unavailable in the lower-priced versions of the Passat.)

Fit, finish and attention to detail are some of Passat's strongest cards. The sad truth (for VW) is that VW cars are indeed comparable to traditional luxury-branded cars from makes such as BMW and Mercedes and Audi. The problem is that people don't perceive VW as a premium brand - and it's not likely they will change their minds in the foreseeable future, either.

Luckily, you don't have to dig yourself into a financial hole to get the good stuff. The standard Turbo model shares the same basic layout you'll find in the higher-priced versions of the Passat and comes with very upscale-looking leatherette upholstery and trim, AC, a decent stereo with CD player, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, power driver's seat and all the basic power equipment (windows, locks, cruise control - even heated outside mirrors and rear seat sunshades (just like you'd find in the high dollar German brand cars). You can also order heated seats and an iPod hook-up for the stereo.

The uncool part is you can't order things like GPS navigation or the premium Dynaudio stereo rig - which are standard or optionally available items in the more costly versions of the Passat but not offered at all with the base car.

QUALITY & SAFETY

No fault to be found on the safety front. VW does not scrooge you if you buy the base Turbo - which gets pretty much everything that its higher priced Komfort, Lux and VR6 kin receive, including anti-whiplash head rests, traction and stability control, ABS, side-impact and full-row curtain air bags. IIHS and government crash testing ranks the Passat among the top of the heap for cars in this class, with 4-5 stars in NHTSA testing and a best possible "good" ranking from IIHS.

VWs have had some issues with quality control in recent years - but these nits seems to have been dealt with. No major squeals of consumer protest - or unusual recall problems - have cropped up lately.

The only caveat here is that VWs, like most modern German cars, can be relatively expensive to service. The days of the simple, easy to fix old school Beetle are long gone.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

Compared with most other wagons out there - at least those priced under $27k - the Passat Turbo is by far one of the most entertaining to drive. Its 200 horsepower engine is much stronger than the base engine in the slightly cheaper Subaru Outback - and the availability of a row-your-own six-seed manual gearbox really stands out in a class dominated by automatic-only wagons like the V50 and V70 Volvo that don't even give a half-hearted try at being fun to drive. The top-of-the-line VR6 is a rocket - but its high price (and mandatory automatic) take a lot of the shine off its formidable 0-60 times and handling tenacity.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Passat is a very appealing car - it's just too bad it's not more appealing, courtesy of VW's determination to move uspcale (even if it kills them). At the very least, VW should consider allowing buyers the choice of a manual transmission in the mid-trim Komfort and luxury-oriented Lux versions of the Passat. Making the 4Motion AWD system available in these models - instead of exclusive to the almost $40k VR6 - would be nice, too. Surely the 200 hp four has enough juice to manage. (Subaru does just fine with 170 hp.) And at least the availability of AWD and a manual transmission - as well as some of the other options, like GPS, that are currently only available on the high-end models - would broaden the car's appeal by democratizing its price.

After all, VW does stand for "People's Car." The company built itself up by offering really great cars at a a really great price. Why not get back to that formula - and sell lots of cars to lots of people - instead of trying to make yourself into something you're not?

END

chiph
06-03-2008, 05:36 PM
Passat VR6

I loved the VR6 I had in the Jetta, back when it was only a 2.8 liter.
It was fairly thirsty, even in the smaller displacement. But it was amazingly smooth.

I'm surprised they didn't go back to the 2.8 and add a supercharger to it. It'd be difficult to turbocharge it, as the head is "flow-thru" with the intake and exhaust on different sides.

Chip H.

Eric
06-03-2008, 06:26 PM
Passat VR6

I loved the VR6 I had in the Jetta, back when it was only a 2.8 liter.
It was fairly thirsty, even in the smaller displacement. But it was amazingly smooth.

I'm surprised they didn't go back to the 2.8 and add a supercharger to it. It'd be difficult to turbocharge it, as the head is "flow-thru" with the intake and exhaust on different sides.

Chip H.



I'm also a big fan; and I like the new VR6 - but the price is way fat.

Disco Man
06-05-2008, 03:18 AM
Just posted this article on the main page with pictures:

http://www.ericpetersautos.com/home/images/stories/automotive/vw/passat/08passat-w-b2.jpg


http://www.ericpetersautos.com/home/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=528&Itemid=10848