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New Car Review


by Matt/Bob Hagin


SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyer's Guide


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 20,750
Price As Tested                                    $ 23,555
Engine Type               DOHC 5-valve 1.8 Liter I4 w/SMFI*
Engine Size                                 109 cid/1781 cc
Horsepower                                   150 @ 5700 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               155 @ 1750 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  106.4"/68.5"/184.1"
Transmission                           Five-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3258 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  18.5 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                      195/65R15
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.27


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            21/31/27
0-60 MPH                                        7.9 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       16.5 seconds @ 84 mph
Top speed                                           126 mph
     * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

(Matt Hagin says that Volkswagens have changed a lot from the '62 "mud-runner" his brother owned 20 years ago. His dad Bob hopes that the '98 Passat they tried recently won't suffer the same fate.)

BOB - Volkswagen has changed its image in this country since I first saw one in 1950. That car was basic transportation, but the newest Passat is VW's bid to become a major player in the mid-sized car market in this country. The Passat is big enough to seat five in comfort and has over 95 cubic feet of passenger room, plus 15 feet of space in the trunk. The GLS version that we tried had leather upholstery, a CD player, plus power door locks, windows, sunroof and outside mirrors. And cold climate buyers can even get heated front seats and heated windshield wiper nozzles. If this is the company's current version of the "People's Car," the people they're targeting must be pretty well-off and accustomed to a car with lots of luxury.

MATT - You're wrong there, Dad. The new Passat is an affordable mid-sized car that will appeal to the not-overly-well-off, too. Its engine is fairly small at only 1.8 liters, which is the same displacement as the air-cooled flat-four in your stone-age '72 VW camper, but this new VW engine is strictly high-tech. It's turbocharged, located longitudinally and sports twin overhead camshafts that operate five valves per cylinder. It's also front-wheel-drive and puts out 150 horsepower and even more torque, which is more than double the anemic ponies that push your old hippie-mobile.

BOB - I'm going to ignore that snide remark, Matt, and press on with some objective technical comments. The Passat chassis and engine layout is really an update of the VW Dasher that experienced a short-lived existence in the U.S. market in the mid-'70s. The Passat suspension up front is a unique four-link system that is really state-of-the art. It keeps the front steering centerpoint on each front wheel directly above the tire "contact patch" on each side to better control torque steer. Torque steer is the phenomena that affects steering in a front-drive car with a powerful engine. It causes some other brands to pull to the right under hard acceleration. The traction control on our GLS model might have had something to do with that Passat stability, too.

MATT - Although I'd like to try a Passat with the standard five-speed manual transmission, the Tiptronic automatic was fun to play with. I usually left it in the conventional automatic shift position, but occasionally I'd go into the stick-shift mode and "row" through the gears from a stop sign. It's supposed to do 0-to-60 mph in just under eight seconds, but I was too busy to check. I was able to monitor the fuel mileage, however, and when I wasn't hot-rodding it around town, it averaged 27 MPG in combination city street and highway driving. For a car this size, the Passat is surprisingly light at 3200 pounds, which probably helped achieve that fuel mileage record.

BOB - The design of the new Passat is typically nouveau-European in that it's very aerodynamic with a low 0.27 coefficient of drag. This may be a getting good gas economy, but aerodynamics won't help fuel mileage when you go drag racing, Matt. The body shape is an almost continuous curve from the hood to the rear deck. If anything, it has more than a hint of the new/old Volkswagen Beetle in its profile, albeit more elongated and with two additional doors. Incidentally, this 1.8 liter four-banger is rumored to be an optional engine in the new Bug. Down the line this year, the Passat is slated to gain an optional hot V6 engine as well as a turbocharged diesel engine.

MATT - The fact that Volkswagen is moving upscale is evident with the introduction of this new Passat. It's much more of a family long-distance touring car than a sports sedan and if anything, it could benefit from a slight tightening of the suspension system.

BOB - I enjoyed my time behind the wheel, Matt, but somehow I miss the days when the name Volkswagen was synonymous with psychedelic paint jobs, long hair and peace signs. And I can't see a Passat being easily converted into a mud-runner like Tom's first car.