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New Car Review

1998 VW Passat

by Bill Maloney


SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyer's Guide

When's The Last Time Someone Said, 'So,THAT'S the new Volkswagen'?

VW's print ads for the 1998 Passat emphasise that it is anything but VW-small: the company is running eight-page full cover pull out inserts with the headline, "Don't Think Small".

It's not small. At 184 inches overall, it's Chrysler Sebring-sized. With seating for five in its 95 cubic foot interior, it's right up there with the Audi A4 (and at 24 grand, it's several thou less than its Audi cousin. MSRP is really $20,750, but in our test car we had leather interior, tiptronic 5-speed automatic transmission, a $1,000 sunroof, and a CD changer).

The back seat is generous, the lines are contemporary, the acceleratiion sucks. The car weighs 3,200 lbs and is powered by a four cylinder, 20 valve FI motor putting out 150 h.p. If you're willing to give up performance pizzazz for fuel efficiency 31 mpg highway, 21 city ain't bad. A 30-valve V6 will be on our shores in New Jersey in a few months, and it will sport 190 ponies at the flywheel. VW was never known for constructing rocket ships, however, and in the Passat the company was seeking to show it knows the meaning of the word luxury, just as it's currently doing at major auto shows with its concept 12 cylinder sports car.

We mentioned Audi, and wondered if the Passat was meant to be a sreamlined. knock off--it does have more contemporary styling than the A4, and sort of gives customers a taste of the tuetonic plushness that awaits them in Audi-land.

We took the car to a couple of car shows and a couple of movies. People commented on it: "so that's the new Passat. How do you like it?" Oh, you're with the VW company . . . you HAVE to like it.

Even in ulra conservative Pearl green, the car had a regal stance. There was no "oh, it's just a good mileage VW owner" feeling, but one that had us thinking that we were proud to be driving this thing. It makes a statement that this IS 1998.

What you get for $24,555 is a front wheel drive car with AC, cruise, AM/FM cassette, airbags, power windows/mirrors, tilt wheel, anti-theft device, and ABS. The car has a corrosion warranty of 11 years--good news to buyers in Michigan--and it has a two year/24,000 mile warranty, and a powertrain warranty at 10 years/10,000 miles plus 24 hour roadside assistance.

It's a family car, not a hot rod, not an econobox. You look at other family cars (Altima, Camry, Geo, Saturn, Mazda) and what makes you go to the VW? A reputation for workmanship, styling, and a feeling you could drive this four door for 50 years and only change the oil.