All new, larger, more powerful. Does that sound like every new car intro these days? Yes, and the 2006 Volkswagen Passat is no different. Still, it's hard to fault the interior spaciousness plus a 4-cylinder, 2-liter engine that, with a turbocharger, produces 200 hp. And I, for one, approve of the styling, especially from the front. Prices start at $22,950 for the Value Edition with 6-speed manual, $24,025 for the optional 6-speed auto. Warranty 4-yrs, 50,000 mi./5 yrs, 60,000 mi. powertrain.
First Glance: Right at home in the city of Boston
Before discussing the 2006 Passat I'd like to offer my impressions of Boston, where this test was performed. Never having been, I learned a great deal about this lovely city. (What's that, Aaron? You want me to stick to the subject? Last time I tried that she got up and walked away.) (Ed. note: Maybe it was your aftershave? - Aaron)
Actually the relationship between the Passat and Boston is not as obscure as it might seem. The city is about history, culture, education. The Passat is a marque with a history, a cultured appearance, and one that seems to have been developed by educated wills. It would be right at home in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology parking lot.
I'm an admirer of the previous Passat where, I thought, VW got everything right. Now comes a Passat with a longer wheelbase, three more inches of length and width, a wider track, and 57% more torsional rigidity. (Chassis designers love that figure as it allows flexibility in suspension settings.) The interior design is fresh, power options impressive, driving more pleasureable than this tester, who still insists small is beautiful, anticipated.
German engineering, I'm pleased to report, is alive and well in the new Passat.Continued below...
In the Driver's Seat: Totally at ease
Volkswagen took pains in its presentation to make us journalists aware of the Passat's history, beginning with the Dasher and Quantum of the 70's and 80's. It was not wasted on me as I've driven them all and even owned an early 90's model. So when I settled into the driver's seat of the 2006 Passat, I felt right at home.
Personal history being less important, I submit that you, too, will feel at ease in the new Passat. Although our test vehicle had most of the requisite bells and whistles, ergonomic design created a familiarity that will demand few search-and-rescue skills from an unfamiliar pilot, though the Value Edition insists its driver use a knurled wheel to set the seatback angle, which led to an amusing contretemps with co-driver Trevor Hoffman, who hates them vs. yours truly who loves them. He finally admitted that the wheels do allow precise settings, I confessed that my enthusiasm is based on early Porsches and BMWs.
But those cars didn't have a key fob without keys: insert fob into dash, push on circular pad, engine starts or stops. The navigation screen was one of the best ever encountered, with a voice-recognition system that quickly set us back on track when lost in Boston's confusing and crowded streets.
On the Road: Turbo engine is beyond impressive
To describe the 2006 Passat's 2-liter turbocharged engine as impressive is an understatement. Rated at 200 hp plus 207 lb./ft. of torque at 1800 rpm, it hits 60 mph in 6.9 seconds with the 6-speed manual, 7.4 seconds with the 6-speed Tiptronic. Power delivery was instantaneous in the automatic version we drove; it even had a pleasant sound unlike most 4-cylinder engines.
The fully-independent suspension (McPherson concept up front, multi-link in rear) provided safe, secure cornering but we noted that road rumble was very audible on poor surfaces. A VW engineer who joined us at dinner explained that the inevitable compromise between ride and roadholding was prejudiced towards the latter in order to maintain a German driving tradition. I wouldn't dispute his choice but some noise-sensitive North Americans may.
Visibility is excellent, the steering wheel adjusts for height and reach, instrumentation is easily read excepting some digital figures. Passats always featured responsive steering and the new model, even with an electrically-assisted system, is no exception. That, plus 4-wheel ABS disc brakes with brake assist and standard electronic stabilisation system, combined to make this mid-size sedan a truly fun car to drive.
Journey's End: Passat's at the top of Phil's list
With a high-tech, full-featured car like the Passat, it isn't possible to list all its attributes, which is why we give you general impressions. And what impressed me, aside from the driving dynamics, were attributes like the roomy rear seat; ease of access; deep pass-through trunk; 8 airbags; crash-active headrests; tire-pressure monitoring; center armrest with cooling storage; leatherette seating areas that feel like real leather: all things most meaningful to the average driver.
An extensive option list offers Danish-built Dynaudio sound; 10-way power driver's seats (happy now, Trevor?), parking distance warning front and rear (only with the 3.6 liter V-6 engine), rain-sensing wipers, headlights that turn with the curves, and on and on.
Getting back to those general impressions I would have to say that I truly enjoyed driving the new Passat. It looks good from the outside, continues the VW reputation for superior dashboard design and the nav system is superb. If I were shopping for a sedan of this size the Passat would top my list. And now, getting back to Boston, let me tell you about that high-speed 1929 speedboat I rode in...