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2006 Volkswagen Passat V6 Review

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Driving Down the Road
With Carey Russ

2006 Volkswagen Passat V6

Volkswagen has long been known for its small cars, but up until 1998, few people even know that the VW made midsize sedans. Sales of the Dasher in the 1970s, the Quantum in the `80s, and the Passat in the `90s were virtually unnoticed in that most popular car class.

The fifth-generation Passat changed that, and added character to a class little known for that. A tough act to follow, perhaps, but now Volkswagen has done just that with the introduction of the sixth-generation Passat.

The newest Passat quietly debuted in late summer, and, if there is a certain amount of continuity in its styling, it is a very different car under the skin. Most importantly, it is an even better car than its illustrious predecessor.

The previous Passat was built on a platform shared with corporate cousin Audi's A4 and A6 models, and like them had its engine mounted in line with the chassis. The new Passat shares its platform with the latest Volkswagen Jetta, and so has a transverse engine mounting for improved space efficiency. It's also a bit larger than the old version, especially inside, and now features a fully-independent suspension in all models.

The first 2006 Passats were equipped with the 2.0-liter, 200 horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine also found in the Jetta GLI. That's a good jump up on the old 170-horse 1.8T, and even the 190-horse 2.8 V6. It will soon be joined by a V6 model, but where the old Passat used the Audi V6 because of its north-south engine alignment, the new Passat V6 is the latest iteration of Volkswagen's narrow-angle VR6, now with 3.6 liters displacement and 280 horsepower. That's more than the rare and expensive W8 engine found in some earlier Passats, and more than some similarly-sized upscale luxury-sports sedans. Transmissions are all six-speeds, manual and automatic for the four and automatic only for the V6.

There are two four-cylinder models, the Value Edition and regular 2.0T. The first V6 Passats will be front-wheel drive, with 4MOTION all-wheel drive debuting early in 2006. I first drove both the regular 2.0T and the front-drive V6 models when they were introduced to the press in Boston earlier this year, and have just spent a week at home with a V6. They're all winners. The four has great performance and fuel economy, with the interior space expected in a mid-priced family sedan, and pleasant driving characteristics as a bonus. The V6, especially fully-outfitted as my test car was, is a class above, and a very worthy competitor to any of the big-name compact or mid-sized six-cylinder luxury sedans. It's much less a larger Jetta than a junior Phaeton.

APPEARANCE: Although all body panels have been changed, the new Passat is still recognizably a Volkswagen. The shape is similar to that of the old model, especially in the much-copied roofline, but sleeker and more toned. If there is more than a hint of Jetta in the new Passat's styling, especially in the chromed front end treatment, there is even more Phaeton in its proportions and semi-formal C-pillar. The 2006 Passat looks a class above the typical midsize, mid-priced family sedan.

COMFORT: Details, details: open the driver's door and notice the umbrella in the holder built into the door. Gimmick? Perhaps, but a useful one come rainy season. The 2006 Passat's interior design is classically Teutonic in its geometric simplicity, and not overly styled for style's sake. The ``floating'' instrument panel top, so-called because of the optical illusion created by its undercut design, could be gimmicky in other hands. It looks good here, and presents all necessary information very well. Even in the Value Edition, the ``key'' is a remote transmitter device, as used in luxury cars. Standard trim is a plastic material, with aluminum or wood veneer part of different option groups. The plastic fits the lower-priced models very well, while the wood adds luxury ambiance and the aluminum gives the look of a contemporary European sports sedan. A variety of seats are available, depending on model and option package. All are very comfortable, and well-suited for a long day's drive. The Value Edition's are manually-adjustable; all others are powered. The `06 Passat's extra room is most apparent in the rear seat. With 2.4 inches more legroom, it is a definite improvement. With numerous storage spaces in the cabin, the 60/40 split in the rear seat, and its huge trunk, the new Passat is as good at cargo hauling as it is at carrying passengers.

SAFETY: The new Passat 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. V6 models can be outfitted with bi-xenon headlights with the Adaptive Front Lighting System. This not only steers the main headlights with the front wheels, it also features cornering lights that illuminate otherwise blind spots - a definite plus for getting into my driveway at night.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Lightweight, high-strength materials and a more efficient design give the new Passat a unibody structure that is both lighter and more rigid than that of its predecessor. Although similar in design to the Jetta's suspension, the Passat's uses more aluminum to reduce unsprung weight and improve handling response. It's a fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear design tuned, in standard trim, in the familiar Volkswagen manner - softly enough for comfort on any pavement surface, with correctly-matched damping for very good handling characteristics. The sport suspension, offered on the V6 only, is a bit stiffer, with less body roll, and helps make the Passat V6 a worthy competitor to cars allegedly a class higher in the socioeconomic scale. All models have electromechanically-assisted power steering, which saves weight and reduces power losses from driving a hydraulic steering pump. It's weighted well, and helps contribute to the Passat's pleasant driving experience. Although the Passat V6 feeds 280 horsepower through the front wheels, torque steer is not an issue.

PERFORMANCE: Volkswagen's FSI direct fuel injection is the secret to the success of both new Passat powertrains. It allows higher compression, for improvements in fuel economy, power, and emissions. With 200 horsepower, the 2.0-liter turbocharged and intercooled four is stronger than the previous V6, and can return excellent fuel economy. A colleague averaged over 30 mpg in long-distance highway driving. Serious power aficionados will be interested in the V6. Like earlier VW VR6 engines, it features a narrow vee angle for compactness. But where the old VR6 had a 15-degree angle, this one is 10.6 degrees, and so even more compact. Much shorter than an inline six, and narrower than a V6, it fits neatly across the engine bay. Its 280 horsepower (at 6200 rpm) and 265 lb-ft of torque are matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, which may be manually shifted via the regular shift lever or paddles mounted behind the steering wheel. Although manual shifting brings the best results in performance driving, ``D'' works perfectly well in most everyday situations. Fuel economy, at around 22 mpg overall, is good for a powerful V6 sports sedan.

CONCLUSIONS: At all trim levels, Volkswagen's new Passat offers far more than what is expected of a midsize sedan.

2006 Volkswagen Passat V6

Base Price			$ 29,950
Price As Tested			$ 37,915
Engine Type			10.6-degree FSI dual overhead cam
				 24-valve V6
Engine Size			3.6 liters / 219 cu. in.
Horsepower			280 @ 6200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			265 @ 2750 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		106.7 in. / 188.2 in.
Curb Weight			3,576 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		12.8
Fuel Capacity			18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				235/45 HR17 Michelin Pilot HX
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, ABS, ESP,
				 Brake Assist standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed	n/a / n/a / 22
0 to 60 mph				6.6  sec

Package #2 Sport - includes:
 leather power sports seats, leather-wrapped sport steering wheel
 with shift paddles and shift knob, automatic headlights,
 rain-sensing wipers, heated front seats, washer nozzles,
 outside mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control,
 Homelink, and manual side and rear sunshades,
 bi-xenon headlights with the Adaptive Front Lighting System,
 Dynaudio¨ audio system, park distance control 		$ 5,500

DVD-based satellite navigation system and
  glove box-mounted 6CD changer				$ 1,800

Destination charge					$   615