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Volkswagen Passat V-6 The re-invention of the "Super" Beetle

by Larry Weitzman

Let's face it, the new VW Passat has little to do with the VW Beetle. This new Passat actually has a lot more to do with the Audi A4 and A6. It's an all new model with little carryover from the prior Passat.

By new, it not only has an entirely new body, but it uses the 30 valve 2.8L V-6 used in the Audi A4 and A6. The new body has a rounded character also reminiscent of the A4 and A6. There are no ridge lines on its flanks, the front end is a continuous curve as is the roof line, a la Beetle. The rear is thick and cut off with a trunk deck that is only 15 inches long. The tail lights are huge. The look is very modern and somewhat simplistic, but its handsome nature grows on you quickly.

The entire vehicle is only 184.1 inches long on a lengthy 106.4 wheelbase. Even though slightly smaller than its midsize competitors, it is very roomy on the inside. VW has gone cab forward and the clean shape has resulted in a coefficient of dray of 0.27. To put that in perspective, the new Porsche 911 is 0.30.

Its Audi derived engine is a longitudinally mounted 2.8L DOHC V-6 with 30 valves, three intake and two exhaust for each cylinder. Since two smaller intake valves are better than one large intake, three intakes should be better than two. They are. The results are 190 hp at 6,000 and 206 lbs ft of torque at a low 3,200 rpm.

The Passat can also be had in a less expensive version with a 1.8L DOHC, 20 valve (5 per cylinder) longitudinally mounted inline four that puts out 150 hp at 5,700 rpm and 155 lbs ft of torque at a just-off-idle 1,750 rpm.

With torque at a low 3,200 rpm, this super smooth V-6 starts pulling strongly right at 3,000 rpm with a second, very powerful rush occurring as the tach winds past 5,000 and continuing beyond the redline of 6,500 right to the electronic rev limiter. This baby flat out hums.

My test car had a five speed manual. It is one of the slickest shifting manuals I have encountered. It is butter smooth, with precise, short throws. It makes for great fun in the twisties.

The Passat will run 0-60 in 7.4 seconds. I had several runs in the 7.3's. That's quick. Some of the runs would cause the low speed traction control to engage, actually slowing my acceleration runs. Passing performance is also very quick. 50-70 averaged 3.81 seconds with a shift from 2nd to 3rd at 68 mph. Without that shift, 50-68 mph when the rev limiter is encountered in 2nd gear (about 6,700 rpm) averaged only 3.38 seconds. Making the same pass in 3rd gear only will extend that time to a still very quick 4.7 seconds.

Up hill performance is equally as fast. 50-70 mph up a steep grade takes only 5.76 seconds using 2nd and 3rd gears. Third gear only slows that time to an acceptably short 7.75 seconds. This Passat gets down the road in a hurry. And all the while, the engine feels like an electric motor.

This 2.8L V-6 also provides a wide power band. Going up a grade in 5th gear at 60 does not require a downshift to accelerate even with the engine spinning at a low 2,400 rpm. Moderately paced acceleration and passing on the highway can also be accomplished without downshifting. I found myself shifting into 5th at speeds as low as 40 mph, many times bypassing a shift into 4th.

Rated at an EPA 20/29 mpg city/highway, my aggressive driving put my average mileage at 24 mpg with only 20% on the freeway and most of the driving time spent with the tach needle buried near the red zone. At a steady 65 mph, the trip computer indicated a fuel sipping 33 mpg. Normal El Dorado County driving should yield 24-26 mpg with 29-31 on the highway.

The engine is so quiet and smooth that many times I found my self going down the highway in 4th at 60 plus mph. The only way I knew I was in 4th was when I pushed the go pedal and said "wow, this things got some serious power in 5th" only to realize I was in 4th.

German cars have a different feel than cars from Japan and America. The seats are firmer and the ride has a bias towards handling. If you like German cars, this VW will make you happy. Consequently Ponderosa Road's washboard was felt more than other sedans. It wasn't uncomfortable and it was certainly not truck like, but it's neither a Cadillac or a Town Car.

On roads with bigger bumps and dips, the well controlled ride of the Passat did a great job, taking road punishment the way a world class fighter takes a punch. Under these conditions, the suspension turns very supple. The Passat rides on a state of the art fully independent suspension with a four link system up front and trailing arms in the rear.

In the twisties, the Passat struts its incredible balance and cornering prowess. Bumps in corners do not upset this Passat. There is no sidestepping with the rear end. Green Valley Road, Bass Lake Road and the roads of Apple Hill become straightaways. The Passat feels taut and stable.

The steering is power rack and pinion which at first felt a little too light at speed. After a few days, I found it to have not only with appropriate feedback, but extremely accurate response with no dead spots. There is no torque steer, so much so you forget that this Passat is a front driver. When flinging the Passat in the twisties, the steering allowed a more assertive driving style, especially in combination with the refined manual tranny.

It was easy to use the slick transmission, downshifting and braking into a corner and then downshift again while you power out. This Passat seemed to dive into a corner a little deeper and exit a little faster than one would expect from a mild mannered sedan. It is a fun ride and I kept thinking of places to drive.

On the highway, the Passat is very smooth with no tar strip or road joint intrusions. It is also free of road, wind and body noises. The engine turns 2,800 rpm at 70 mph which is a higher than average, but it is so quiet and smooth a couple of times I was cruising in fourth gear at about 3,500 rpm.

The brakes are large four wheel disc with full ABS. They are powerful with a linear, positive pedal feel. Aggressive use caused short, straight and controlled stops. The pedal never got mushy and there was never any fade. They were confidence inspiring.

In the Fall of this year, the Passat will get an all wheel drive system similar to the Audi, hence the reason for the longitudinal mounting of the engine. And for you non shifters out there, the Passat also comes with a 5 speed automatic tranny with Tiptronic. In other words, you can drive it as a full automatic or push the console shifter to the right and push it forward for up shifting and rearward for down shifting. The gear ratios for the auto are quite close to the manual and I would expect performance times to be nearly identical. Using the Tiptronic, cornering should be just as much fun as with the manual, with the added benefit of being a little smoother in your driving technique.

The inside is also Teutonic. At first the front seats seem a little on the stiff side, with a little more cush in the seat than in the seat back. They were upholstered in quality leather which was also on the door panels and steering wheel. After a few days, the seats became much more inviting and the firmness seem to add to the control of the car. After an hour in the seat, it became downright comfortable and it left me with a refreshed feeling. Thumbs up here.

The dash has some trick instrument lighting. Its blue with red indicators. Night driving in this VeeDub is cool. The driver's pod contains a large tach and speedo left and right with a smaller fuel and temp gauge. My test car had a full trip computer (standard equipment) located below the tach.

The vertical part of the center console contains the electronic AC and a great sound system. The cupholder is well designed and hidden. The console contains several storage compartments and a unique center armrest.

The rear seating may be more comfortable than the front. For such a compact car (for a midsize) the room is enormous. Leg room and shoulder room are more than generous. Headroom is adequate. It is very nice for two adults and not too bad for three.

The trunk is a large 15 cubic feet and with the standard 60/40 fold down rear seats, its cargo carrying ability is only limited by its gross vehicle weight rating.

The Passat comes with a load of standard features. The GLS V-6 model comes with a base price of $23,800 and there are only 5 options that would be standard on the GLX. Automatic ($1,075), all weather package which includes heated front seats and heated windshield washer nozzles ($325), luxury package which includes a power moon roof and 15 inch alloys ($1,415), power moon roof ($1,115) and leather trim ($950). My test vehicle had three of the five options, the weather package, luxury package and leather for a total price of $26,490 plus destination of $525.

Some of the standard equipment includes side air bags, full power, genuine wood trim (very nice), keyless entry, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and a 24 month 24,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty with a 10 year 100,000 mile powertrain warranty.

The base model which lists for $21,200 plus destination. It also comes lavishly equipped with full power, keyless entry, carpeted floor mats, tilt and telescoping steering wheel and the very potent 1.8L turbo inline four that puts out 150 very big horses. With a 5 speed manual, expect 0-60 times in the low 8's. It too has only five options as listed above.

Niello Audi/VW has a great selection of new Passats. This new quality offering is available for test drives. One quick trip around the block will tell you that Herbie would have a tough time just holding a Passat's owner manua


Price                                 $21,725-$28,675

2.8L DOHC, V-6, 30 valves190 hp @ 6,000 rpm
206 lbs ft of torque @ 3,200 rpm

1.8L Turbo inline 4,150 hp @ 5,700 rpm
DOHC, 20 valves 155 lbs ft of torque @ 1,750-4,600 rpm

5 speed manual
5 speed electronically controlled
automatic with Tiptronic control

Longitudinal front engine,
front wheel drive

Wheelbase                             106.4  inches
Length                                184.1  inches
Width                                 68.5   inches
Height                                57.5   inches
Track                    59.0/59.1 inches front/rear
Weight                    3,245/3,375 lbs (man/auto)
Turning circle                         37.4    feet
Trunk capacity                        15 cubic feet
Fuel capacity                       16.4    gallons
Drag coefficient                               0.27
Wheels                               6X15    inches
Tires                            195/65X15 (H rated)

0-607. 4 seconds
50-703.81 seconds
50-70 uphill 5.76    seconds
Top SpeedWell into triple digits, but electronically limited
Fuel Economy
EPA 20/29 city/highway,      
my estimate is 24-26 mpg in El Dorado County driving with 29-31 mpg on the highway 
at legal speeds.