Overview

The Passat has been a solid performer for VW over the years, earning distinction as the perennial best-selling European mid-size sedan in America. Now a larger, more powerful, more mature Volkswagen Passat is staged to capture a bigger share of the market that includes the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

The all-new 2006 Volkswagen Passat boasts powerful new engines, generous standard content and a beguiling interior mix of high-tech and haute couture. It looks poised to play a strong role in Volkswagen's surge back to prominence in the world's most important car market.

Volkswagen is rolling out a full line of four-door sedans over the 2006 model year, ranging from the 2.0-liter Value Edition with nice leatherette upholstery to the more-powerful 2.0T to the V6-powered 3.6L. All-wheel drive is available. And wagon versions of the various models will roll out during the model year. All Passats come standard with the latest in safety features and electronics.

Longer and wider than last year's model, the 2006 Passat offers more interior space, particularly for rear-seat passengers. A six-foot passenger can sit comfortably behind a six-foot driver. And while the previous model was among the safest cars in America, the structure of the new Passat is substantially stronger.

The new Passat offers sportier handling than last year's model. The steering is very precise with steering effort that automatically adjusts to the situation. The new 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. The six-speed automatic is smooth and responsive and the brakes are excellent.

Model Lineup

The base Passat ($22,950) is powered by a new 2.0-liter 200-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder and offered with two levels of trim. The Value Edition comes with a choice of six-speed manual transmission or six-speed Tiptronic automatic ($24,025).

The standard upholstery is a very nice leatherette, and the entry-level front seats are eight-way manually adjustable with adjustable head restraints and lumbar support. Increasing interior utility are 60/40 split/folding rear seats. Only a single sunvisor is available. Base running gear is 7x16-inch steel wheels with 215/55R16 all-season radials, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, a newly developed, speed-variable electromechanical steering system, and a sophisticated suspension with a MacPherson-type setup in front and a multi-link design in the rear. Electronics make their way into the base interior via the new electronic parking brake; three auxiliary power outlets; power windows, central locking, and heated outside mirrors; illuminated vanity mirrors; eight-speaker stereo with an in-dash CD player and MP3 capability; tire-pressure monitoring system; anti-theft alarm and theft deterrent system; and single-zone climate control, which features a pollen filter and also supplies ventilation to the rear passengers.

The 2.0T ($23,900) adds interior ambient lighting, illuminated footwells, adjustable driver seat (six-way power, four-way manual), split folding rear seat with armrest, storage and pass-through, dual sunvisors with illuminated mirrors, chrome exterior trim for the window surrounds, body moldings, 16-inch Catalunya alloy wheels with all-season tires. The 2.0T comes with the six-speed manual or six-speed automatic ($24,975). Dual rear side airbags are optional ($350).

Options for the 2.0T: Package #1 ($1,625) includes a power sunroof, stereo with in-dash CD changer, satellite radio plus activation plus three months service. Package #2 Luxury ($2,825) offers everything from #1, plus leather comfort seats, four-spoke multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather shift knob, heated driver and passenger front seats. A Cold Weather Package ($225) offers heated driver and passenger front seats. An upgraded Dynaudio stereo system ($1,000) is available, but only with one of the packages. The DVD satellite navigation system is packaged with a glovebox-mounted six-disc CD changer ($1,800). Wheels can be upgraded to 17-inch Le Mans alloys with 235/45R17 all-season tires ($400).

The Passat 3.6L ($29,950) is powered by a new 280-horsepower V6 matched to a six-speed Tiptronic automatic. Later in the model year will come an all-wheel-drive 3.6L 4Motion ($31,900).

The Passat 3.6L ($29,950) includes everything from the 2.0T plus the 17-inch Le Mans alloy wheels with all-season tires, the stereo system with in-dash CD player and MP3 capability, power sunroof, satellite radio and chromed horizontal fins on the front grille.

Options include heated front driver and passenger seats ($120), rear side airbags ($300), Dynaudio stereo system ($1,000), and DVD satellite navigation system ($1,800).

Luxury Package #1 ($2,750) adds leather comfort seats, wood trim, leather-wrapped four-spoke steering wheel, walnut shift knob, automatic headlights with coming home feature, fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, heated driver and passenger front seats, heated washer nozzles, heated exterior side mirrors with environmental lighting, dual-zone Climatronic, Homelink, switchable auto-dimming interior mirror, 12-way power driver and passenger seats with three-position memory for driver seat and exterior mirrors, manual rear and side sunshades, and a storage net in the trunk.

Sport Package #1 ($3,050) delivers leather sport seats, aluminum trim, leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel with Tiptronic controls, leather shift knob, automatic headlights with coming home feature, fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, heated driver and passenger front seats, heated washer nozzles, heated exter

Walkaround

Completely new, the 2006 Volkswagen Passat is larger overall, providing more interior space and increased dynamic stability. Compared to the outgoing model, the wheelbase has grown by less than half an inch, but the car is almost three inches longer and three inches wider, and the front and rear tracks are almost two inches wider.

Not just larger, the new Passat is considerably stronger than the previous car, registering a 57-percent increase in static torsional rigidity despite a body structure almost 25 pounds lighter. This was achieved in the production process through the increased use of laser welds and development of a new, high-strength heat-molded steel. The previous Passat was among the safest cars in America, ranking behind only the Mercedes-Benz E-Class in lowest death rate, and this new one should be even better at protecting occupants in a crash.

The new Passat has the presence given off by all beautifully crafted cars and is a stunning example of Volkswagen's goal of melding the aesthetic and the technical. This happy result is from a corporate culture that hasn't always understood that styling is as important as a machine's inner workings; that attitude is gone. And this aesthetic will go deeper than chrome trim or jewel-like headlamps. For instance, note the absence of weld marks in the hood, trunk or door openings of the new Passat, the kind of detail that marks the Passat as "the way forward for VW," as one top VW executive put it.

In keeping with current trends, VW stylists sought a dynamic stance and just enough extraneous shapes and creases to make the car interesting from various angles. Its look is an evolution of the Passat's often copied lines, as there was little reason to break completely with tradition. There's a reason that styling studios around the world study Volkswagens, apparently far more closely than the American car buyer.

As with other current VWs, the nose is aggressive. The medallion-shaped grille's ascending angles are continued in the vee-shaped contours of the hood, while a large VW badge dominates the slatted grille face. 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 car's substantial overhangs signal a heftiness associated with large, luxurious automobiles. The wheels and tires, especially the optional 18s, 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.

Interior Features

Passat gets an all-new, roomier cabin for 2006. The new key fob design is the first clue to the interior's extensive renewal project. 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.

The Passat's larger dimensions and space gained from the new transversely mounted engine were used well in the interior, particularly in the additional 2.4 inches of rear-seat legroom, a weak aspect of the previous Passat. Also criticized in the outgoing model was a dearth of storage space and other interior amenities. Volkswagen has responded with more storage bins than we can enumerate, a sunglasses holder, sunshades for the side windows and backlight. Ambient lighting has been enhanced. And there's even an umbrella holder in the driver's door, complete with a drainage system so a wet umbrella can be stowed without harm. No need to buy a Rolls Royce to get that feature.

Equally well thought out is the cockpit's overall design, which continues VW's tradition of quality materials, sensible gauge layout, and an ergonomic correctness about the driver's relationship with the controls. The seating position is commanding, the seats themselves a good combination of comfort and control, especially laterally and in thigh support. Standard 10-way adjustability (12-way available on the 3.6L) and a fully adjustable steering wheel ensure a good fit for all body types. Even our six-and-half foot tall co-driver in Germany could find the right position for his lanky frame. More impressively, I put my six-foot frame behind him and, due to all the extra rear legroom, had no problem sitting comfortably.

The car we drove was about as fully kitted out as a Passat can get, optioned with Package #2 Luxury plus the stand-alone options of 18-inch wheels and tires, and the DVD satellite navigation system with glovebox-mounted six-disc CD changer. The wood trim and leather upholstery made the car feel like a junior VW Phaeton, minus, of course, a sticker with a couple more tens of thousands of dollars on the bottom line.

The new dashboard design is broken into upper and lower layers, avoiding the monolithic, crowded look of many control centers. The upper panel, housing the air outlets and deep cowl shading the gauges, is in dark contrast to the lighter panel that contains various 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 central 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 Park Assist. Two large cupholders fit between the seats just forward of the folding armrest.

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 the driver fulfill his assigned task without confusion or calamity.

Driving Impressions

We were fortunate enough to have a legal means to explore the new Passat's claim as a sports sedan in the best German tradition: on the unrestricted German autobahn. Volkswagen said the 3.6-liter six-cylinder will take the car to 135 mph, and it took little time to discover this is easily done, with a stability that comes only from a sophisticated chassis and suspension.

With an approving growl of support to the driver's right foot, the new narrow-angle V6 delivers a robust flow of power, taking the relatively heavy car to 60 mph from a stop in 6.6 seconds. Despite being almost a full liter larger than the 2.8-liter it replaces, the 3.6-liter engine is about 18 pounds lighter and, despite offering 90 more horsepower and 58 pound-feet of additional torque, it's just as economical to operate. Credit newly instituted FSI technology (where fuel is added directly into the combustion chamber) and a variable intake manifold for much of the increased efficiency. The 3.6L has good torque down low, but it also revs freely, happily climbing toward the 6200-rpm power peak without expressing harsh disapproval of the driver's insistent go-pedal.

The six-speed automatic with Tiptronic feels well suited to the 3.6's powerband. A highly robust unit, it's designed to handle much more power than the 3.6 can deliver. Takeoff is exceptionally smooth, and it upshifts without a glitch when left to its own devices. Gear control is equally fluid when shifts are chosen through the manual side of the Tiptronic box.

Providing a stable platform for the powertrain is a beautifully balanced chassis, optimized by a multi-link rear suspension that delivers a new level of handling control. The front MacPherson strut-type suspension has been refined to the point that the conflicting duties of the front tires, to both pull and steer the car, are fully reconciled, and the car tracks straight and true.

A sport-tuned suspension is also available, offering a lower ride height (by 15 mm), stiffer springs and shocks, but even the standard settings are far more sporty than were found in the previous generation. Body roll, brake dive and acceleration squat, all undesirable traits of former VW suspensions, have been eliminated, and torque steer is all but nonexistent.

One aspect of previous models that was desirable was brought forward in the braking system. The four-wheel discs (ventilated in front) provide crucially 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 (as we found out on the autobahn when an old plastic Communist-era car pulled into our lane going about 75 mph more slowly), aided by standard Brake Assist.

Steering around the moving chicane directed our attention to the improved electromechanical rack-and-pinion steering, which up until then we had totally ignored simply because it was working so well. It adjusts assist based on steering wheel angle and vehicle speed. It also corrects for side winds as well as minimizes column vibration. We can attest to its precision while making rapid lane changes at high speed.

Several standard electronic handling aids are there to aid the driver in distress, but they do little to mute the pleasure of driving the new Passat, which is core to the VW ideal. If it weren't nimble around corners, easy to park, and stable on the straights, it wouldn't be a Volkswagen.

Summary

Each element that defines an automobile's dynamic character was refined or entirely renewed for the 2006 Volkswagen Passat, and all to the car's vast improvement. Add in the more spacious, more finely crafted passenger space and the modest investment, and all this goodness starts looking like a class leader. The question is, can Volkswagen's maligned dealer network become better at supporting this excellent new sedan? And, maybe more to the point, can this new sedan become the first of a more reliable generation of Volkswagens?

New Car Test Drive correspondent Greg N. Brown filed this report from Hamburg, Germany.

Model Line Overview
Base Price (MSRP)
$22,950
Model lineup:
Volkswagen Passat ($22,950); 2.0T ($23,900); 3.6L ($29,950); 4Motion ($31,900)
Engines:
200-hp 2.0-liter dohc turbocharged inline-4; 280-hp 3.6-liter dohc V6
Transmissions:
6-speed manual; 6-speed Tiptronic automatic
Safety equipment (Standard):
driver and passenger front airbags, driver and front passenger seat-mounted airbags, side curtains, three-point safety belts, emergency locking retractors, crash-active front headrests, safety belt power pretensioners for driver and front passenger, ABS, ESP, Brake Assist
Safety equipment (Optional):
rear-passenger thorax airbags
Basic warranty:
4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in:
Germany
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSRP):
Volkswagen Passat 3.6L ($29,950)
Standard equipment:
single-zone climate control, anti-theft alarm, Immobilizer III theft deterrent system, cruise control, electronic parking brake, tire pressure monitoring system, manual tilt/telescoping four-spoke steering wheel, four cupholders, multi-function trip computer with digital compass, remote central locking, ambient interior lighting, dual front and rear reading lights, three auxiliary power outlets, illuminated glovebox, front center armrest with integrated storage box and adjustable cooling feature, rear center pass-through armrest with storage compartment, 10-way partial power driver seat with 4-way power adjustable lumbar support and memory, 60/40 split folding rear seat, premium stereo with in-dash six-disc CD changer, metallic look interior trim, leatherette seat trim, rear passenger ventilation, pollen and odor filter, power window with pinch protection, remote trunk and fuel filler door releases
Options as tested:
Package #2 Luxury ($5,250) includes leather comfort seats, wood trim, leather-wrapped four-spoke steering wheel, walnut shift knob, automatic headlights with coming home feature, fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, heated driver and passenger front seats, heated washer nozzles, heated exterior side mirrors with environmental lighting, dual-zone Climatronic, Homelink, switchable auto-dimming interior mirror, 12-way power driver and passenger seats with 3-position memory for driver seat and exterior mirrors, manual rear and side sunshades, storage net in trunk, bi-xenon headlamps with Adaptive Front Lighting System and washers, Dynaudio premium sound system, park distance control; 18-inch alloys with 235/40-18 all-season tires ($400); DVD navigation with glovebox-mounted six-disc CD changer ($1,800)
Destination charge:
615
Gas Guzzler Tax:
N/A
Price as tested (MSRP)
$36,815
Layout:
front-wheel drive
Engine:
3.6-liter dohc V6
Horsepower (hp @ rpm):
280 @ 6200
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm):
265 @ 2750
Transmission:
6-speed automatic w Tiptronic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:
19/28 mpg.
Wheelbase:
106.7 in.
Length/width/height:
188.2/71.7/58.0 in.
Track, f/r:
61.1/61.1 in.
Turning circle:
35.8 ft.
Seating capacity:
5
Head/hip/leg room, f:
38.4/55.7/41.4 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m:
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r:
37.8/54.6/37.7 in.
Cargo volume:
14.2 cu. ft.
Payload:
N/A
Towing capacity:
3300 lbs.
Suspension F:
independent
Suspension R:
independent
Ground clearance:
5.2 in.
Curb weight:
3829 lbs.
Tires:
235/45R17
Brakes, f/r:
disc/disc with ABS, Brake Assist, EDL in.
Fuel capacity:
18.5 gal.
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