The 2006-07 Passat is longer and wider, larger and more mature than previous-generation models. It offers more interior room, particularly for back-seat riders, so a six-foot passenger can now sit behind a six-foot driver. It boasts generous standard content and a beguiling mix of high-tech and haute couture. And while the previous model was among the safest cars in America, the structure of the new Passat is substantially improved.
Its steering is precise, with effort that automatically adjusts to the situation. Its six-speed automatic transmission is smooth and responsive, and its brakes are excellent.
The base engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 200 horsepower that should satisfy most needs, while returning 23/32 city/highway mpg with a six-speed manual transmission.
The optional 3.6-liter narrow-angle V6 growls when pressed and delivers robust torque, allowing the Passat to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.6 seconds.
Traditionally, the Passat line has included a wagon as well as a sedan. This time Volkswagen rolled out the new sedan first, during 2005 as an '06 model. The wagon followed in early calendar-year '06. Packing 35.8 cubic feet of cargo capacity, and returning 18/26 city/highway mpg even with optional all-wheel drive, the Passat wagon presents a more easily managed alternative to a big, tall SUV.
Volkswagen Passat sedan 2.0L manual ($22,960); sedan 2.0L automatic ($24,035); Wagon 2.0L automatic ($25,235); 2.0T sedan manual ($23,960); 2.0T sedan automatic ($25,035); 2.0T Wagon automatic ($26,235); 3.6L sedan ($29,960); 3.6L Wagon ($31,160); 3.6L 4Motion sedan ($31,910); 3.6L 4Motion Wagon ($33,110)
The nose is aggressive, with the medallion-shaped grille, vee-shaped contours on the hood, and a large VW badge. Composite headlamps frame the nose like a pair of eyes, staring intently down the road, and large intakes along the bottom of the nose reaffirm the car's performance intentions.
In profile, the Passat's substantial overhangs signal a heftiness associated with large, luxurious automobiles. The wheels and tires, especially the optional 18-inch wheels, fit well within the wheelwells and underscore the Passat's look of a well-grounded automobile. The sweep of the roof is of the modern, sporty sort, its coupe-like contours delineated by chrome trim surrounding the side glass. Chrome is also used in a trim strip to tie together the front and rear fender arches and the sharply cut tail, which is defined by round, horizontal taillamp clusters that echo the shape of the front lights.
The seating position is commanding, the seats themselves a good combination of comfort and control, with especially good lateral and under-thigh support. Standard 10-way (and available 12-way) adjustability the seats and a fully adjustable steering wheel ensure a good fit for all body types.
The Passat offers good rear-seat legroom. We found a six-foot passenger could sit comfortably by a six-and-half-foot passenger.
The available wood trim and leather upholstery make the car feel like a junior VW Phaeton, minus tens of thousands of dollars on the bottom line.
The dashboard design is broken into upper and lower layers, avoiding the monolithic, crowded look of many contemporary control centers. The upper panel, housing the air outlets and deep cowl shading the gauges, is darker in contrast to the lighter lower panel that handles various accessory functions, including the button for the new electronic parking brake, rotary controls for the headlamps and, to the right of the steering wheel, the engine start/stop slot.
The center console flows rearward from the dash, the navigation screen, climate controls and shift lever nestled within a handsome expanse of wood. Flanking the shifter are buttons for ESP deactivation, an Auto Hold function to keep the car from rolling backward on hills, and optional Park Distance Control. The chrome surround for the shifter looks nice but reflects the sunlight at some angles, causing glare. Two large cupholders fit between the seats just forward of the folding armrest. The furry material around the cupholders looks like it could be a haven for crumbs, not good for people who eat in their car. Storage is available in a number of storage bins, including a sunglasses holder.
The Passat's interior ambience is best defined as understated luxury. Despite the cockpit's many creature comforts and electronic controls, there's a simplicity about the design and functionality that helps drivers fulfill their assigned task without confusion or calamity. Optional sunshades for the side windows and backlight help keep light and heat levels down by day. Ambient lighting helps with interior illumination at night. An umbrella holder in the driver's door, complete with a drainage system so a wet umbrella can be stowed without harm, makes us feel like we're in a Rolls-Royce.
Instead of fitting a key into a column-mounted ignition switch, the entire fob is pushed into a dash-mounted slot. To stop the car and eject the fob, simply push it again. What might seem a gimmick is in reality a boon to safety and reliability: A dangling keychain can prematurely wear an expensive ignition switch or cause leg injury during a crash. However, we found it hung up sometimes when we tried to exit the car in a hurry, and was hard to pull out, which was annoying.
The Passat wagon can carry a surprisingly large amount of cargo, even without folding the back seats down. Pull the cargo cover over your precious cargo hides it from prying eyes. Fold the back seats down simply by flopping the seatbacks forward. This expands the cargo area, though the rear seats do not fold perfectly flat.
The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that comes on the base and 2.0T models is responsive and works well with the six-speed automatic. Volkswagen and Audi seem to have solved some of the drivability issues we've expressed in the past about the compatibility of the 2.0-liter turbo with the automatic transmission. On previous-generation models, the turbo and automatic didn't work together: The turbo would lag and the transmission would upshift right when we stepped on the gas and wanted to go, which was not good when we were moving out of a slow lane into a fast lane with trucks looming in our rearview mirror. All of that seems to be gone now; the automatic on the 2007 models seems to work just fine with 2.0-liter turbo engine.
The 3.6-liter V6 is a smooth engine. Responding with an approving growl to the driver's right foot, the narrow-angle V6 delivers a robust flow of power, taking the relatively heavy Passat to 60 mph from a stop in about 6.6 seconds. The 3.6-liter engine has good torque down low, and once underway it revs freely, happily climbing toward the 6200-rpm power peak without harshness. But it sometimes hesitates at the bottom end. Step on the gas and there's a moment when nothing happens, both from a standing start and when cruising slowly. This can be annoying.
Otherwise, the six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic control feels well suited to the 3.6-liter's powerband. A highly robust unit, it's designed to handle much more power than the V6 can deliver. Gear control is smooth when shifting manually using the Tiptronic.
The optional sport-tuned suspension lowers ride height (by 15 mm) and stiffens the springs and shocks. But even the standard settings feel far more sporty than in the previous generation. Body roll, brake dive and acceleration squat, all undesirable traits of former VW chassis, have been eliminated, and torque steer is all but nonexistent.
The 2.0L Wagon we drove felt like an old man's car. It did not encourage sporty driving. But it was quite comfortable in parking lots and on bumpy neighborhood streets, with a nice, cushy ride.
We found the Passat 3.6L sedan to be very stable at high speeds (135 mph), tracking straight and true. These are benefits of its balanced chassis with multi-link rear suspension and MacPherson strut front suspension. The front suspension does a good job of handling the conflicting duties of the front tires to both pull and steer the car.
The Passat's electromechanical rack-and-pinion steering is very responsive and adjusts the power-assist based on steering wheel angle and vehicle speed. It also corrects for side winds as well as minimizing column vibration. We can attest to its precision while making rapid lane changes at high speed.
Braking is excellent. The four-wheel discs (ventilated in front) provide direct feedback, and the ABS threshold is set high enough to allow a good measure of late braking for the sporty driver. Overall brake feel is superb, and the car stops from high speeds with little drama, aided by Brake Assist (as we found out on the Autobahn, when an old, wheezy, and plastic-bodied jalopy left over from the Communist era pulled into our lane about 75 mph short of our velocity).
We've also driven a Passat 3.6L sedan equipped with the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, though we haven't had a chance to try it out on slippery or snowy roads. Volkswagen has offered all-wheel drive in the Passat since 1984, but the current system was all-new for 2006. The electronically controlled system is designed to work effectively with the ABS, traction control, electronic differential lock, and electronic stability program. On dry pavement, where we experienced it, it was largely invisible. We recommend
The Volkswagen Passat is a sophisticated car with a high-quality cabin. It's roomy and comfortable. The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine makes a much better companion for the automatic transmission that it did on pre-2006 models and we can recommend this combination. The ride is smooth and comfortable and the chassis is well controlled at high speed. The available 4-Motion all-wheel drive is an excellent option for bad weather. And the wagon makes for a highly practical car.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Greg N. Brown filed the original report from Hamburg, Germany; with editor Mitch McCullough reporting on the Passat Wagon 2.0L and Passat 3.6L 4-Motion from Los Angeles.