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Volkswagen Passat GLX (2001)

SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig


MODEL:  Volkswagen Passat GLX 
ENGINE:  2.8-liter V-6 
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 190 hp @ 6,000 rpm/206 lb-ft @ 3,200  rpm 
TRANSMISSION:  Five-speed automatic with Tiptronic 
WHEELBASE: 106.4 in. 
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 183.8 x 68.5 x 59.0 in. 
STICKER PRICE:  $30,905 

The Passat GLX is at the top of Volkswagen's pecking order. It is the most expensive Volkswagen you can get and the most luxurious. Strangely enough, during the week we were testing the Passat we also had in our driveway the new Mercedes-Benz C240, which is at the bottom of Mercedes' pecking order. Equally interesting enough, the two cars were not that dissimilar.

The Passat might be considered a mid-size sedan. It has seating for five passengers in reasonable comfort. Of course that center passenger in the back does not have perfect seating but can get along with it. The front seats are power adjustable both for and aft, up and down, and back angle. It qualifies as a luxury car in that matter.

For entertainment, there was an AM/FM stereo with an in-dash CD player. For comfort there was a digital HVAC system that also had an exterior temperature readout that helps the driver to know if the roads ahead might be icy. So in these areas the Passat qualifies as a luxury car.

It has wood trim and leather seating, also adding to the luxury" qualifications. Adding to these treats are a trip computer that told us we averaged 18.6 mpg, an adjustable steering wheel, power mirrors, power windows, etc.

The Passat GLX was powered by Volkswagen's narrow V 2.8-liter 30-valve V-6 engine with variable intake and valve timing that delivered 190 horsepower. These horses powered the front wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic, which is the Volkswagen/Porsche system of automatic stick shift. You can either leave the transmission in "D" and let it do all the work, or you can move it to the right into a separate gate and upshift and downshift when you feel it is the right time.

The engine is a "gentlemanly" engine. It isn't high revving (although we did ge tit up over 5,000 rpm when we were stick-shifting). It lumbers along at a decent rate. I don't want ti intimate that the Passat isn't a quick car. It is. It can go any speed you ask it to. It carries a 160mph speedometer although I don't think it will go that fast. We tested it more sedately this time.

We took the Passat on a long back-country stretch of winding road that includes some hills and some sharp turns. I had a great time shifting away and watching the tachometer run up to the higher numbers as I used the full range of the gearbox. On most roads, leaving the gearbox in "D" sufffices, but there are the occasional times when you feel like playing sports car and want to do the shifting yourself. The ability to choose gears is also handy if you find yourself in difficult road surface conditions and you have to be able to shift to get the wheels moving right. Tiptronic is a $1,075 option, and is probably worth the cost if you prefer to shift occasionally.

That's not a problem with the Passat, because it was also equipped with 4Motion, Volkswagen's four-wheel drive system. With 4Motion, the Passat seems almost like an Audi Quattro. True, the Audi has a higher level of luxury, but the performance is the same. Unfortunately (or fortunately) we had a week of near perfect weather when we had the Passat, so we didn't get to test the 4Motion in rainy weather. Nor did we try it on dirt roads or in off-road situations, but we have driven Audis in such weather and they performed admirably. 4Motion is a $1,650 option. In the Northeast, it's valuable because of the wide variation in weather, but I'm not sure how important this would be in other parts of the country that don't experience as much ice and snow as we do.

Passat handled excellently during our high-speed Tiptronic test. Part may have been due to 4Motion; part was due to the four-wheel independent suspension. Up front the suspension incorporates a four-link geometry with coil springs and telescopic shocks. In the rear is a torsion beam axle with trailing arms, coil springs and telescopic shocks.

With leather seats, genuine wood trim and a host of luxury accessories, it would be easy to confuse the Volkswagen Passat for a luxury car. It comes close, but it's still a VW, meaning it offers good value for the money and reasonable performance.