There’s an argument in the automotive world that cars tend to reflect the values of their country of origin. If that’s true, then Germany is a land of austere competence, at least if the Volkswagen Passat 4 Motion is an example. While several of the firm’s Audi products are flamboyant and controversial in styling, the Passat is very utilitarian, although the shape is clean and uncluttered. True to the form follows function philosophy, what’s under the skin is what makes this Volkswagen interesting, and that is technology, especially in the drivetrain. As the name implies, 4 Motion means all-wheel drive, the first in this range since the Synchro in 1992. The new system, however, uses a Torsen differential in the rear, and advanced traction and braking control systems as an integral unit to add stability as well as sheer traction. The Torsen diff uses a series of helical gears to distribute torque without clutches, while Electronic Differential Lock (EDL) uses the vehicle’s ABS system to distribute torque by selectively braking individual wheels which are slipping. The system works at speeds of up to 40 km/hr, and is activated when one wheel rotates at more than 100 RPM faster than the wheel on the opposite side. Should the brake on the slipping side overheat, the system shuts down temporarily to allow brake cooling. The combination of these with ABS makes the Passat very difficult to unbalance, and very neutral at the car’s high cornering limits. The SSGM test vehicle was a wagon equipped with a 2.8 litre longitudinally mounted V-6 delivering 190 peak horsepower through a five speed automatic transmission. Manual shifting is available with a separate gate to the right of the “Drive” position, but automatic shifts adapt to driving style, making this feature largely academic. The engine is throttled by an intelligent drive-by-wire system, allowing for a slightly softer throttle response in stop-and-go driving and a quick draw when needed. Opening the hood reveals a clever design, as the safety catch pops forward of the hood when the release is pressed, eliminating the need to “hunt” for the latch. The underhood area is beautifully finished with a large engine cover which conceals all but battery, dipstick, and reservoirs for brake fluid, windshield washer fluid, and coolant. Serious inspection will require removal of the cover. Another important note for techs is to heed the owner’s manual warning about hoisting the Passat: Don’t set the pads to contact the vertical floor pan reinforcement behind the front wheels, or damage will result. The similar reinforcement at the rear, (at the notch for the service jack) is an approved lifting point. Another important fact concerns the seats. They’re comfortable, supportive, and contain a side impact airbag, so advise customers against aftermarket seat covers, which Volkswagen warns may impair the bag’s correct deployment. In general, the Passat 4 Motion has far more technology than a brief article can cover, but it all works invisibly. In fact, from the driver’s seat the Monsoon stereo and electronic climate controls are the only suggestion of the technology below the skin. The Passat 4 Motion is very good, but like all vehicles, not perfect. One issue is price; the SSGM test vehicle lists at over 40 thousand dollars, a bracket which includes some stiff competition, including Volkswagen’s own Audi A4 brand. Lesser gripes include the absence of a CD player (it’s an available option) and a cupholder which looks great, but is too flimsy for serious commuter coffee action. The previously mentioned climate controls are electronic, work well, but are a little confusing, since selecting temperature and fan speed requires pushing buttons instead of turning a dial. Ironically, the power-operated sunroof on the SSGM test Passat used a rotary dial instead of the usual button; perhaps it’s a case of being different for difference’s sake. In the end, the Passat 4 Motion is a lot of car, and probably isn’t too expensive relative to its competition, but it’s definitely for those who prefer to spend their money on the things you can’t readily see, like an advanced chassis, and a strong engine. Eminently practical.