2007 Volkswagen Passat Wagon 2.0T Review
WITH CAREY RUSS
2007 Volkswagen Passat Wagon 2.0T
If you look only at automotive offerings in this country, the wagon would seem to be virtually extinct. Not so in other parts of the world, especially Europe, where less space and more expensive fuel have kept American-style SUVs from any meaningful popularity. Even the "crossover SUVs" that are increasingly popular here have a minimal impact on the eastern side of the Atlantic - and crossovers, looked at honestly, with all of the marketing talk removed, are really only new age wagons.
Volkswagen is one of the few automakers to currently sell wagons in the U.S., and over the years its Jetta and Passat wagons have gained almost cult-like followings. But nobody is being brainwashed - logic can work as well as emotion. A compact or mid-size wagon is every bit as useful as a similarly-sized crossover, and has the advantage of being a car. Meaning that it's lower, for easier passenger and cargo access. And also for better handling. With changes to the VW lineup in the past couple of years, a Jetta wagon is not currently offered, but there is a new Passat wagon for the 2007 model year. I've been driving one for the past week, and it compares very favorably with the crossovers that I've recently driven.
Changes to make a wagon from a Passat sedan are few, mostly just replacing bodywork aft of the windshield. It's actually about a quarter-inch shorter than the sedan, and only around 60 pounds heavier. Like the Passat sedan, the wagon is based on the a stretched version of the platform also used for the Jetta, GTI, Rabbit, and new Eos convertible coupe. So, unlike earlier Passats, the engine is located transversely instead of inline - all the better to increase interior space. A fully-independent suspension, tuned in the European manner, ensures both comfort and an enjoyable driving experience. Power comes from Volkswagen's 200-horsepower 2.0-liter, turbocharged and intercooled, FSI direct fuel-injected four-cylinder, or the compact narrow-angle 3.6-liter V6 with a whopping 280 horsepower. If all-wheel drive is deemed necessary, the V6 can be fitted with VW's "4Motion" system. This, unlike the part-time systems in many crossovers, is a full-time system as oriented to dry-pavement adhesion as it is to all-weather traction. All Passat Wagon models come with a six-speed automatic transmission with "Tiptronic" manual-shift mode.
My test car was a 2.0T, equipped with the "Package #1" option group of sunroof and upgraded audio system featuring an in-dash CD changer and satellite radio. That made for a comfortable and spacious combination of car ride and handling - and fuel economy - with plenty of cargo versatility. And don't think of the 2.0T as "merely" a four-cylinder. It gives V6 performance with the potential for four-cylinder fuel economy, especially in highway driving. The new V6 takes the Passat, in sedan or wagon form, a level or more above.
APPEARANCE: In the standard wagon manner, the Passat wagon shares all bodywork from the windshield to the front bumper with the sedan, and replaces the sedan's rounded notchback passenger cabin with a full-length wagon body. In style, it works very well, perhaps even better than the sedan. Its combination of simple, rounded masses offset by sharp lines on the hood and sides reminds me of the clean neo-Bauhaus look pioneered by corporate cousin Audi in its original TT sports car. Chrome trim around the side windows and as a side rub strip gives an upscale look. As with the sedan, the most controversial styling feature is the chrome goatee around the grille. It's part of the new Volkswagen look, and it is undeniably distinctive.
COMFORT: The Passat wagon is spacious and comfortable, and just as versatile as any comparably-sized crossover. And it's lower, for easier passenger and cargo access. As in the Passat sedan, there is an umbrella holder in driver's door, a pleasant detail, and an electronic parking brake operated by a button on the dash. There is also the power tailgate, which can be opened by a button on the key fob, and closed by another button on the tailgate. Tailgate lift height is programmable, and even at its highest setting it's not a high as an SUV tailgate - good news for shorter people. The interior design is pleasingly simple and tasteful, in a conservative German manner. Leatherette is the standard seating material, but German leatherette seems more like leather than some other manufacturers' leather. It's perforated for ventilation, and offers a very high level of comfort, front or rear. The front passenger seat in my test car was manually-adjustable, but the driver's had a mix of power back and lumbar adjustment, and manual cushion position and height adjustment, a convenient feature considering the position of the manual seatback adjustment knob. American use is catered to, with a large and useful console box, minimalist cupholders, and a power point on the console, storage pockets in all doors, and bottle holders in the front pockets. Besides holding two or three adults in comfort, the rear seat can be folded flat with a 60/40 split, or long items can be run through the central passthrough. And the lift to the load floor is less than in a crossover.
SAFETY: As in the sedan, the Passat Wagon has a full suite of safety features. A strong structure and six standard airbags - driver and front passenger front and side and side curtain - can be supplemented by rear side airbags. Brakes, in all models, are four-wheel antilock discs. The taillights use LEDs, which are brighter and faster-acting than regular lightbulbs.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Lightweight, high-strength materials and a more efficient design give the Passat a unibody structure that is both lighter and more rigid than that of its predecessors. Although similar in design to the Jetta's suspension, the Passat's uses more aluminum to reduce unsprung weight and improve handling response. Its fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension is tuned in the familiar Volkswagen manner - softly enough for comfort on any pavement surface, with correctly-matched damping for very good handling characteristics. Call it "Euro-moderate" and enjoy all roads from the Interstate to the most convoluted and maintenance-deferred country road. Electromechanical power steering saves weight and reduces power losses from a hydraulic pump, and is weighted appropriately to provide good steering response.
PERFORMANCE: Tell me again why I should want the V6? Volkswagen Group's 2.0-liter four-cylinder combines FSI direct fuel injection with intercooled turbocharging to make a wonderful powerplant. Direct fuel injection allows a high 10.3:1 compression ratio, which is the same - or higher - than many naturally-aspirated engines. This benefits everything, allowing greater power production, better fuel economy, and lower emissions. Maximum torque - 207 lb-ft worth - is available as low as 1800 rpm, and it doesn't drop below that until 5000 - at which point the engine is nearly at its 200-horsepower peak, which is from 5100 to 6000 rpm. Match this with a six-speed automatic transmission that features both a delayed-upshift "sport" mode and Tiptronic manual mode, and the result is wonderful. Sport mode is very, very close to manual, and the transmission downshifts appropriately. It's quick, it's fun to drive, and the Passat Wagon (or sedan) with the 2.0T engine also can go reasonably far on a gallon of gas. EPA ratings are 22 mpg city, 31 highway. My experience was more like 18 city (stopped and idling at 0 mpg most of the time) and 26 highway - at speeds considerably above the EPA simulated 55 mph.
CONCLUSIONS: The Volkswagen Passat Wagon is a fine alternative to an SUV, and a fine alternative to the basic, boring family sedan.
SPECIFICATIONS 2007 Volkswagen Passat Wagon 2.0 T Base Price $ 26,175 Price As Tested $ 28,430 Engine Type dual overhead cam, 16-valve turbocharged and intercooled direct fuel-injected inline 4-cylinder Engine Size 2.0 liters / 121 cu. in. Horsepower 200 @ 5100-6000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 207 @ 1800-5000 rpm Transmission 6-speed automatic with manual shift mode Wheelbase / Length 106.7 in. / 188.0 in. Curb Weight 3512 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 17.6 Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline Tires P215/55 HR16 Michelin MXM4 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 22 / 31 / (18/26) 0 to 60 mph est 8.0 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Package #1 - includes: power sunroof, stereo system with in-dash CD changer, XM satellite radio $ 1,625 Destination charge $ 630