Are you old enough to remember when “Volkswagen”: was synonymous with “cheap car”? If the mid-year revision to the 2001 Passat is an indication, however, Volkswagen seems anxious to move up a division with vehicles of increasing size, power and technical sophistication. In total, Volkswagen has incorporated some 2300 changes to the model, including subtle alterations to the shape of the vehicle that give the Passat a more refined look. Only the doors and roof of the previous model are carried over.
The attractive dark green wagon tested by SSGM featured Volkswagen’s 4Motion all wheel drive system, a 2.8-litre V-6, and a lengthy list of power and convenience options.
The 30-valve V6 delivers 190 horsepower at 6000 RPM and 206 lbs. ft. of torque at a useable 3200 RPM. The powerplant is a DOHC design with variable intake valve timing, hydraulic lifters, Motronic ME7 multi-point injection, variable intake geometry and dual knock sensors. The block is iron with aluminum heads, and the engine is longitudinally mounted and covered by an attractive cover. Compression is 10.6 to 1 and the engine’s fuel requirement is 91 octane. Emissions are by two 3-way pre-catalytic converters, two main catalysts and four oxygen sensors. The system qualifies the Passat as a Low Emissions Vehicle, and is OBD II compliant. The high-tech engine spins a 5-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission and then into the all-wheel drives’ 4Motion system. The heart of the 4Motion option is a centre Torsen differential that distributes torque between the front and rear wheels in a 50-50 ratio in normal driving, and up to 67 percent front bias in slippery conditions. Traction control and a four disc Bosch anti-lock brake system manage the power, while the suspension is independent all around, with a four-link setup in front, followed by a double wishbone in the rear. Stabilizer bars reside at both ends helping keep the 205/55 R16 Michelin MXV4 Plus radials on the ground.
Driving the new Passat is a comfortable experience. The test vehicle’s tan leather interior and walnut trim verge on the decadent by the standards of typical German machinery, and the range of power assists are too numerous to mention. Both driver and passenger enjoy excellent power seats with multiple adjustment ranges and a three-driver memory for the driver’s seat. A HomeLink three-system remote for garage door openers, security lighting or home alarms is perched above the driver’s overhead visor. The steering wheel contains controls for the cruise control and stereo, which is Volkswagen’s Monsoon unit, driven by a massive amplifier inside the left rear quarter panel. The sound is excellent, aided by a very tight body structure and good sound isolation. The interior is spacious and open with very good visibility and lots of usable space in the cargo area. Numerous safety features include side impact curtain airbags along with seat-mounted side impact and dashboard/steering wheel mounted bags. Seat belts also feature pretensioners and are height adjustable.
Handling is stable and precise, and acceleration is good, with a reported “zero to 60” time of 8.7 seconds, which seems realistic. The 3714-pound wagon returned 17 MPG in city driving, improving to 22 on the open road, figures that are similar to the manufacturer’s ratings of 17/24 city/highway. The overall driving experience is distinctly upscale and European; without the prominent VW badging, the Passat could easily pass as an Audi.
On the other side of the ledger, there are a few minor irritants about the Passat. One is the lack of a convenient power point in the front seat area to recharge a cell phone. Multiple outlets are available in the rear (with two in the cargo compartment), but the driver must use the cigarette lighter. The trip computer is a useful feature, but Imperial measurements would be a nice option for those of us who still think in miles-per-gallon. The only serious issue is price. At $44,480, the Passat is one pricey Volkswagen. Considered another way, however, the “2001.5” Passat GLX Wagon with the 4Motion system is an inexpensive alternative to several models of high-end Japanese of European luxury models. Or as an Audi alternative, which is what the new Passat resembles in comfort and driving dynamics. It’s highly competent, with just a little less cachet. SSGM