Exuding class whether standing still or on the highway, the 170 hp 2004 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T becomes a raging tiger when equipped with a 5-speed manual and 4Motion all-wheel-drive. Passat price in US starts at $25,130 for the 4-cylinder turbocharged GLS model tested. Warranty: 4-yrs, 50,000 mi total car, 5 yrs, 60,000 mi powertrain.
It behooves a man of my age, white hair and all, to behave with dignity. On the road I no longer make rude gestures or honk the horn in traffic. I never cut anyone off, at least not knowingly. And you won't find me zig-zagging from lane to lane on the expressway. Since dignity also means fewer drag race starts and keeping a damper on high speed temptations, I'm more likely to be mistaken for a Greyhound bus driver than Juan Montoya in a Grand Prix car. Unfortunately all those good intentions dissolved the moment I drove off in the 2004 Passat 1.8T 4Motion. Thanks to a turbocharger that ignites at 4000 rpm like a rocket-assisted takeoff, plus a quick-shifting 5-speed manual transmission, the racer side of me came charging out of the closet. The Passat may be a family sedan but in this guise it has a personality better suited to a sports car. Of course, there are those who would declare such a combination ideal for the performance driver who needs four doors and a back seat; I know, I've been there. But that was a time when roads were less crowded. I'm not convinced it makes sense today, though if I lived near the Autobahn or California's Highway 1 perhaps I might feel differently.
In the Driver's Seat
2004 VW Passat 1.8T 4Motion InteriorÂ© Philip Powell
Common sense not entirely having left me, I did take time to notice the interior which, like all VW and Audi products, is worth observing. It's classy, well put-together, finished in quality materials and (unlike its temporary owner) restrained. So quiet with the windows closed you'd think you were riding in a high speed European train. North American drivers may wonder about the manual seat adjusters when all else is power-operated, but I liked them. Want to raise or lower the seat? Pull a handle the size of the one on your refrigerator door and up or down you go in an instant. Adjust the seatback? Grab that big knurled knob and twirl away to find the precise angle. When was the last time you felt physically connected to a pushbutton? A little muscle power is good for the soul. Not so sure about those instruments, pretty though they may be at night. The graphics are too small for reading at a glance and if you lower the wheel and raise the seat, those at the top are blocked from sight. Why the Germans are so good at creating seats that keep you snug over vast distances is a mystery, unless its those evenings spent quaffing ale during Octoberfest; after long hours on hard benches in the pubs and parks, comfort becomes a priority.
On the Road
All that power is delivered by a 4-cylinder engine of only 1.8 liters in capacity. It's the turbo that makes the difference, however, powering the Passat up to 170 hp. The payoff for this combination is improved performance without sacrificing fuel economy. But the turbo's advantage kicks in around 4000 rpm, at which point it's as if a Calgary Flames defenceman suddenly checked you in the back with his stick. In the NHL that would land him in the penalty box but in the Passat its the driver who's penalised because it takes those high rpm's to get the best out of the engine. Heresy it may be, but I highly recommend the 5-speed automatic. As a famous auto engineer once pointed out, turbos and automatics are ideally matched because of the way they spool up in harmony. The 2004 VW Passat 1.8 TI, when fitted with the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, corners and handles superbly in all weather conditions, with very little body lean and nice, precise steering. ABS braking, I'm happy to report, is standard equipment. The ride from this sophisticated suspension system is equal to the roadholding.
2004 VW Passat 1.8T 4MotionÂ© Philip Powell
My unexpected loss of dignity would not deter me from owning a 2004 VW Passat 1.8T. I would simply order it with that 5-speed automatic. Thus I'd putter along at my normal rate of speed, knowing that when the occasion demands the turbo and the transmission would perform their duo act, while a nice, winding mountain road would be a cause for rejoicing. Meanwhile my passengers could enjoy the trip, for the Passat is a comfortable, quality-built family auto with a large trunk. Quiet as a pussy cat on the prowl with the windows closed, and even with the sunroof opened to the skies not subject to buffeting provided you lower one of the rear windows an inch or so. The optional 4Motion system adds to the cost, but for anyone who frequently motors in rain or snow it's worth the extra bucks. So-equipped, the Passat 1.8T is very reminiscent of the more expensive Audi A4, matching everything except badge image. One of the best 4-door sedans you can buy. Just be sure to ask for the optional dignity package.