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New Car/Review

1997 Volkswagen Passat GLX VR6

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:  2.8-liter V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  172hp @5800 rpm/173 lb-ft @4200 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Five speed manual
FUEL ECONOMY:  19 mpg city,  26 mpg highway,  21.4 mpg test
WHEELBASE:  103.3 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:  181.5 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:  67.5 in.
CURB WEIGHT:  3097 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:  18.5 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  14.4 cu. ft.
TIRES:   215/50HR15
INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature,
             digital clock.
EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors,
           cruise control, air conditioner, heated front seats,
           AM-FM stereo radio with cassette, power sunroof,
           anti-lock braking, dual air bags.

When you want to make up time, you don't want to be seen or attract attention. I had to make up time. I was late for a basketball game I had to cover and there was a long trip to the school. I arrived early.

The reason I arrived early was because I was able to travel very close to the speed limit (ahem) in a car that was virtually invisible. This "invisible" car was the Volkswagen Passat GLX with the VR6 engine. Passat is a comfortable mid-sized sedan that performed extremely well and "got me to the church on time."

Passat is one of Volkswagen's larger cars. It is a true four-passenger car with excellent legroom in the rear and a very good trunk. Obviously, there's good legroom up front as well. Rear seat passengers get a raised headliner that offers more headroom as well.

One of Volkswagen's passive safety features is a knee bolster under the dash that protects front seat passengers from submarining under the dash in a crash. This bolster does tend to restrict, or give the feeling that it restricts, legroom. If you're up close to the steering wheel or the right side of the passenger compartment, your knees are going to bump into this, but it's not a major problem. Legroom normally is excellent.

Our test Passat was powered by Volkswagen's 2.8-liter V-6 engine that delivered 172 horsepower. this is a narrow angle Vee, only 15 degrees, whereas most V-6 engines use a Vee of from 60 to 90 degrees. This gives the VW engine a character that is more in line with a straight six--smooth performance--yet in the compact package of a V-6.

The engine drove the front wheels through a five-speed manual gearbox. This gearbox was fun to use. It required a little effort to get into reverse sometimes. Reverse was located up next to first with a detent to keep the driver from making mistakes. Other than that, the ratios were well-chosen and I had a lot of fun sawing up and down through the gears. We took the Passat on winding roads as well as Interstates and shifting was fun.

Handling was also very good on these winding roads. Even though the Passat has a 103-inch wheelbase, it rides more like a shorter wheelbase car in that it delivers a choppy ride. Cornering was essentially flat at sane speeds, and the choppy ride may have been caused by a stiff suspension.

If we wanted power, it was also there. In fact, there was enough power to spin the wheels occasionally if we weren't careful. There is an asterisk next to that piece of information because we also had rain the entire week we had the car.

With the GLX you have a lot of features that may not be available on the base model: power windows, power mirrors, AM/FM stereo with cassette, leather seats and a power sunroof.

While they aren't necessary, there are assist handles over the doors. For senior citizens who have difficulty getting in and out of cars, these assist handles are very helpful.

Volkswagen, of course, is a German car, so you have quirks. For example, I had problems learning the fuel management computer and kept resetting it to zero. This isn't the fault of the car, it's more the fault of a dumb driver. A neat feature was the soft rubber or plastic inset that fits under the ignition switch that keeps the keys from jangling when you're driving.

Passat is a good-sized car and a good performing car. When you think back to the days when VW only offered the Beetle and then came out with the Rabbit, VW has come a long way. Passat is probably one of the better VWs we have ever driven, with regard to comfort and performance.