Volkswagen Passat 2.0T – German engineering at a value price

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The new Volkswagen Passat is a truly remarkable car. It did not take many miles behind the wheel of the 2006 sedan to come to that conclusion.

The completely redesigned mid-sized Passat has all the earmarks of an entry luxury car with a library-quiet demeanor, rich-looking and well-executed interior and solid performance. There’s nothing to hint that the new sixth-generation Passat will not be everything and more than the award-winning and highly rated version it replaces.

But what may be a stumbling point for Volkswagen’s leading sedan is design. To be sure, the new Passat is a handsome rendition of a modern-looking family car. But there seems too much chrome flash and too many rounded lines in its looks. Although side-by-side there’s little to indicate the Passat and the all-new Toyota Avalon came from the same mold, when visualizing the two upscale products we see them a lot alike.

Perhaps it’s unfair to the German automaker to say the Passat is an example of the Japanese school of styling. But we think the new sedan has lost its rather industrial-like German persona.

We can say the same for the all-new re-styled Jetta, the Passat’s little brother. We believe the Jetta won over many young people over the past decade because of its funky upright look.

The big question it seems is, has Volkswagen alienated its loyal following with this new styling theme? If so, it’s a shame because the 2006 Passat is a wonderful car.

The Passat has grown. It’s 3 inches longer and 3 inches wider than its predecessor. That and the use of a space-saving transverse engine setup has increased the cabin space making passenger room a real asset.

The Passat comes with two engine configurations and we found the base powerplant, a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, to be very energetic and a good match for the upscale feel of the sedan. This is important because when you move to the 3.6-liter narrow-angle VR6, the price quickly escalates.

It’s possible to keep the cost of a well-equipped 4-cylinder model in the $26 to $28,000 range. Move into 6-cylinder territory and the base price rises to $30,565 and can escalate to nearly 40 big ones loaded up.

When the Passat comes in at around $30,000 or less, we think it’s a viable option to such competitors as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry/Avalon, Ford Five Hundred/Mercury Montego, Nissan Maxima and Buick LaCrosse. But when you are asked to plunk down nearly $40,000, the Passat doesn’t stack up as well against luxury competition in that price range.

The 2.0-liter is the same refined and well-engineered 200 horsepower engine used in the Jetta GLS and two Audi sedans, the A3 and A4.

Although the engine is required to move slightly more weight with the Passat, it acquits itself nicely finishing off a 0 to 60 run in 7.4 seconds — according to Volkswagen times — without much hint of turbo lag.

We highly recommend the 4-cylinder mated to either a 6-speed manual or Volkswagen’s 6-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. Its smooth power delivery is very satisfying and the power is there on demand at any speed.

The Passat’s handling matches the engine’s performance. A new electro-mechanical power rack-and-pinion steering system provides power assist as needed — very little at highway speeds — and offers excellent on-center feel. The driver is provided a confident feeling of always being in complete control.

The ride is comfortable, but not soft, and the car feels securely planted.

If you want the full plate, the VR6 generates 280 horsepower and provides breath-taking performance close to the 6-second mark. The manual transmission is not offered with the bigger engine.

In addition to saving cash up front, opting for the turbo four will give you better gas mileage numbers, a big issue these days. The 2.0-liter is rated at a frugal 22 miles per gallon in city driving and 31-mpg on the road.

All is well inside the Passat. The two-tone black and gray interior of our test car was handsome with splashes of chrome trim. The gauges are attractive and well organized. An information center situated between the speedometer and the tachometer dispenses scads of data including time, outside temperature and radio station readout.

The Passat’s cabin is highlighted by some of the best front seats in the business. Back-seat passengers have first-class tickets as well. Leg and hip room are abundant. And rear air vents with fan control, an armrest with cupholders, and airplane-style reading lights are afforded those riding in back.

Standard safety features are generous. All Passats come with four-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, anti-whiplash front head restraints, front-seat side airbags and full-length head-curtain airbags.

The Passat is offered in four trim levels — Value Edition, 2.0T, 3.6 and 3.6 4Motion. Standard features are generous even in the base Value Edition starting at $23,565 including air conditioning, eight-speaker stereo system with MP3 and CD player, leatherette upholstery, power windows and locks, keyless entry and cruise control.

Our 2.0T test car had a starting price of $25,590 and an as-tested price of $28,390 with the DVD navigation system and a couple of additional options.

We think the 2.0T is well priced, but the 3.6 may move beyond the price people are willing to pay for a mid-sized Volkswagen. But even then, the new Passat offers a very scrumptious helping of good stuff that will delight a new owner.

If you like the new design trend at Volkswagen and you can find a price point that fits your pocketbook the 2006 Passat becomes a very attractive choice.