A person looking for a mid-sized European sport sedan with front-wheel drive, plenty of room, great performance and solid construction.
Comparable cars in this class:
Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Malibu, Chrysler Sebring, Dodge Stratus, Ford Five Hundred, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, Mercury Milan, Mercury Montego, Mitsubishi Galant, Nissan Altima, Pontiac G6, Pontiac Grand Prix, Saturn Aura, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry
I am not often impressed with the base model of a mid sized sedan, especially one with a 4 cylinder engine, manual transmission and absolutely no extra cost options. Give me a V6 with leather, GPS and a set of cool alloy wheels every time. But Volkswagen threw me a curve with this ,000 Passat Value Edition. I did not expect to like it as much as I do.
When I drove the fully loaded Passat 3.6 with leather and navigation a few months back, I thought that it would compete favorably with the near luxury cars from Lexus, Acura and Infiniti despite the Volkswagen nameplate, but the price tag on that Passat, ,000, was also in the same ballpark as those near luxury sedans, so no bargains there.
But the Volkswagen Passat is also available with a 4 cylinder engine and less content in order to bring the price down to a level that would allow it to compete with cars like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord so that is what we decided to test for this report.
Our test car is called the Passat 2.0T Value Edition and is the price leader in the Passat stable with a base sticker of just under ,000. This is still several thousand more than the base models of the Accord and Camry, but even in this lowest priced Passat, there is significant content to make it worth the extra bucks.
Our Value Edition with its 4 cylinder engine and manual transmission looked, with the exception of the wheels and badging, exactly like the fancier 3.6. The 16 inch wheels where steel with plastic wheel covers that looked like a set of alloy wheels unless you looked close. The interior also looked expensive with black leatherette upholstery that gave the appearance of perforated genuine leather.
Seats are comfortable and supportive. The driver's seat is adjustable for height with a lever on the side that you pump up and down to change cushion height. Cushion angle is not adjustable. Seatback angle is adjusted with a large knob on the side of the seat, but I found it hard to turn even when my weight was completely off the backrest. There was a second knob above it to adjust lumbar support.
The rear seat was comfortable and roomy with a seatback that was split 60/40 to revealed a wide pass-through that allowed the already large trunk to be expanded into the rear seat area. The rear armrest covered a smaller pass-through for long skinny items that don't require flipping the seatback down. The seatbacks can be locked to protect trunk contents when in a valet parking lot.
The dash looks like it belongs in a much more expensive car. The meters light up at night with blue markings and red pointers, which is a signature Volkswagen look. The numbers and markings are on the small side for people who normally use reading glasses.
Value Edition is not just a fancy way to say this is the low end Passat. This car actually contains some upscale features not often found in a car at this price point. For starters, all four power windows have auto down AND auto up. What this means is that you press the power window button past a notch and release it for the window to open or close completely. This is a feature that is usually found in cars in the ,000 and up range.
You will more commonly see this feature to open windows, but not to close them. This is because there is a safety concern where a child may accidentally get caught in the closing window. In order to be allowed to install the auto close feature, each window must have an obstruction detector so that the window will immediately stop and reverse directions if it detects something (like a head or an arm) in its path. This obviously adds cost to the mechanism which is why it is not normally found on cars at this price point.
While we're on the interior, the Passat has a handy receptacle in the edge of the driver's door for an umbrella. It even has a drain hole to let any water out.
Another unusual feature is a push button, electric parking brake to replace the parking brake pedal or handle. You apply the parking brake by pushing the button while your foot is on the brake pedal. To release the parking brake, step on the brake and push the button again.
The main problem with this system, especially with a manual transmission, is when you leave the car with a parking attendant. You need to make sure that they know how to drive it. You may need to give a quick lesson to the attendant, and hope that he will be the same person to bring the car back to you. I speak from experience here. I had to leave the car in a parking lot for a couple of hours and made sure that I asked the attendant if he knew about this car. He assured me that he did. But when I came back for the Passat, a different person went to fetch the car and, luckily I saw that he could not figure out how to release the parking brake. He was trying to get the car to move with the parking brake applied, so I quickly ran over and relieved him of his duty and pulled the car out myself. Volkswagen should include a laminated instruction card that you can hang from the mirror for these occasions.
Starting the Passat also requires some instruction. There is no key to speak of. Instead, you have a remote transmitter that you insert into a slot in the dash. Once in the slot, you are in accessory mode where the radio and other electrical items come alive. To start the engine, you push the transmitter in past spring pressure (make sure the clutch pedal is depressed if you have the manual). If you stall, which happens to the best of us while driving a stick, you need to pop the transmitter out and reinsert it to restart the engine. I doubt that you will see too many of these cars in rental fleets.
The real surprise was the way this car performed. This was no ordinary 4 cylinder engine. It was a 200 horsepower turbocharged and intercooled 4 with direct injection that pulled strongly while still providing a respectable 23 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. Acceleration was impressive with a 0 to 60 mile per hour time of 6.9 seconds. The smoothness and power of this engine made it feel like a V6. There was some turbo lag when accelerating from a stop, but once moving, throttle response was excellent. Engine noise was well controlled, even at full throttle. Road noise was also well subdued and there was virtually no wind noise, even at 80 miles per hour.
The manual transmission was equally impressive with six speeds and a slick, positive, short throw shifter. There is also an Auto Hold feature for the manual. When Auto Hold is engaged, the car will stay in place when you come to a stop and release the brake pedal, even if you are on a hill. This way, you can calmly step on the gas while you release the clutch without fear of rolling back. The optional automatic transmission is also a six speed unit with a manual shift gate so that you can shift it yourself if you so desire.
On the road, this car was loads of fun to drive. Between the sharp steering, responsive engine and smooth 6-speed shifter, this Passat made me forget that I was in a 4 cylinder family sedan as I blasted down my favorite country road. I did not notice any torque steer at all, even in some heavy rain storms where it was easy to loose traction during acceleration. When this happened, the standard traction control immediately took over and regained traction. Stability control is also standard.
Volkswagen did a great job with the Passat body structure. This car feels as solid as a car costing two and three times as much. The doors close with a satisfying wump. Ditto for the hood and trunk. I took the car on a back road in my neighborhood that I use to test body structure. This road is riddled with ruts and potholes making it ideal for testing a vehicle for squeaks, rattles and body shake. The Passat handled the road with flying colors. It was as good as any car I have taken on this road.
Fit and finish on the Passat was excellent. The dash pieces fit together precisely and looked upscale. Dash and door panels use soft-touch materials for a quality feel. Upholstery was well tailored and body seams were precise.
There are a number of safety features that are standard on the Value Edition, including: ABS brakes, traction and stability control, Front-side air bags and front and rear head curtain air bags.
The Value Edition is well equipped from the factory, but lacks features that are available on the standard 2.0T. If you want to add a power seat, or other option packages like a sunroof, leather seats or a navigation system, don't consider the Value Edition.
In fact, there are only three options available for the Value Edition: 17 inch Akiros Alloy wheels, Rear seat side air bags and an automatic transmission. That's it. If you want more, look at the 2.0T model. It starts at ,900, which is just over ,000 more that the Value Edition.
I thoroughly enjoyed my week with this car. It is fun to drive, has plenty of power and is well equipped for its price. The engine is smooth and satisfying, the handling is crisp and the car makes for a comfortable highway cruiser.