Pros: Unique styling; upscale driving dynamics; two great engines; classy interior; available all-wheel drive

Cons: Not cheap; only two rear seats; limited rear headroom; mediocre fuel economy; small trunk

Mid-size sedans are generally so boring that you'd think style has been outlawed in this segment, but the 2012 Volkswagen CC is an exception. Taking a page out of the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class's book, VW's designers started with an existing sedan-the previous-generation Passat-and turned it into a "four-door coupe" replete with a sleeker profile, low-slung front seats, and two rear bucket seats instead of a three-person bench. Unlike the Benz, however, the 2012 CC isn't exorbitantly expensive. Sure, it's pricier than your average family sedan, but if you compare it to a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry, you might be glad to pay a modest premium for the VW's killer looks.

So here's the catch: the 2012 CC is supposed to be old news now that you can get the 2013 CC, which boasts more angular styling and seating for five. Naturally, some will want the latest and greatest CC instead of the end-of-the-line 2012 model. Hear us out, though, because we think the 2012 CC is still compelling. It has the same engines and chassis as the new CC, and it's going to cost you less, whether you're looking at MSRP or market value. Plus, maybe you prefer the older model's softer looks.

Happily, the CC is about more than just outer beauty. With a standard sport-tuned suspension and a pair of spirited engines, this is a genuinely engaging car to drive, and the cabin is finely trimmed in typical German fashion. If you think that "cool mid-size sedan" is a contradiction in terms, you owe yourself a test drive of the 2012 Volkswagen CC.

Comfort & Utility

The 2012 Volkswagen CC is offered in Sport, R Line, Lux and VR6 4Motion trim levels. The latter has six-cylinder power, while the others feature a turbocharged inline-4.

The Sport comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, a trip computer, a dash-mounted analog clock, heated 12-way power front seats, leatherette upholstery and a touchscreen eight-speaker audio system with iPod/Bluetooth connectivity, an auxiliary input, an SD card reader and a six-CD changer. The R Line is basically a sportier Sport, adding 18-inch alloys, a subtle body kit, foglamps and darkened taillights.

The Lux steps up to different 18-inch alloys, heated windshield washer nozzles, dual-zone automatic climate control, brushed aluminum interior trim and an SD-based navigation system. There's also a Lux Plus model, which tacks on a sunroof, wood-grain interior trim and a hard-drive-based navigation system with a larger 6.5-inch touchscreen and a rear-view camera. The top Lux Limited adds unique 18-inch alloys and adaptive xenon headlamps.

The top-of-the-line VR6 4Motion comes standard with 18-inch alloys, headlamp washers, all-wheel drive, parking sensors, paddle shifters, leather upholstery, driver memory settings, an upgraded trip computer, a power rear sunshade and an excellent 600-watt Dynaudio premium audio system.

Compared with other mid-size sedans, the CC just feels special inside. The front seats are unusually supportive on both highway hauls and back-road blasts, while the twin rear buckets are more snug and comfortable than many sedans' front chairs. Materials quality isn't stellar: there are more hard plastics in the CC's cabin than in some other VW products. Still, the gauges and the newly standard analog clock have an upscale look, and knobs and levers move with precision.

Trunk capacity is on the small side for a mid-size sedan at 13.2 cubic feet.

Technology

Even the base CC Sport features a touchscreen stereo interface with iPod and Bluetooth integration, although we'd like to see a USB port augment or replace the 3.5-mm auxiliary audio input. The standard SD card reader provides some consolation, allowing you to load MP3s onto an SD card and enjoy the touchscreen's excellent interface for navigating through music folders. It's a shame that the 600-watt Dynaudio stereo is only offered on the VR6 4Motion. Its exceptionally crisp sound would be worth the extra cost on any CC model.

As for the available navigation systems, we prefer the hard-drive-based version for its larger 6.5-inch display and about 20 GB of digital music storage, but, like the Dynaudio stereo, it's only available with the VR6. The 2.0T Lux's smaller SD-based navigation system works well enough, but we wouldn't blame Lux buyers for feeling a bit shortchanged.

Performance & Fuel Economy

All CCs except the VR6 4Motion have front-wheel drive and feature a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that puts out 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on the Sport and the R Line, while a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual is optional there and standard on the Lux models. We're familiar with the 2.0T engine from a variety of VW products. Its hearty midrange torque consistently puts smiles on our faces. The availability of VW's excellent dual-clutch automatic is a welcome surprise; the 2.0T typically gets this transmission only in more performance-oriented applications such as the GTI hatchback.

The CC 2.0T ultimately isn't that strong, though, so if you're left wanting more, that's where the all-wheel-drive VR6 4Motion comes in. Boasting a 3.6-liter narrow-angle V6 rated at 280 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque, the CC VR6 is seriously swift, and it sounds good, too. Unfortunately, you can't get the dual-clutch gearbox with the VR6; a six-speed conventional automatic is the only transmission offered.

Fuel economy for four-cylinder models is 21 mpg city/31 mpg highway with the stick shift and 22/31 mpg with the automated manual. The VR6 4Motion drops to 17/25 mpg.

Safety

The 2012 Volkswagen CC comes with standard stability control, four-wheel ABS and six airbags (front, front side, and and full-length side curtain).

The government has not crash tested the CC lately, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has, awarding the CC its highest rating of Good in every category.

Driving Impressions

The CC may be based on a humdrum family sedan, but it has plenty of character. The low-slung, coupelike driving position imparts a sense of control, and that holds true at speed. The CC remains composed under almost all circumstances. The sport-tuned suspension isn't especially aggressive, so there's ample body roll, but that pays off on rough roads, where the CC's firm but supple ride delivers satisfactory comfort. The VR6 4Motion's all-wheel-drive system adds a measure of confidence in fast corners.

Other Cars to Consider

Nissan Maxima - Still marketed as the four-door sports car, the Maxima is more of a sporty large sedan these days, but it's got plenty of power and enough visual flair to woo CC fans.

Kia Optima SX - The Optima has taken the family sedan segment by storm with its aggressive shape. The SX version boasts a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that trounces the CC's 2.0T with 274 horsepower and 34 mpg on the highway.

Toyota Camry SE V6 - A Camry? That's right. The new Camry SE is actually fun to drive, and Toyota's 3.5-liter V6 remains one of the best engines in the business. This car is a real performance bargain.

AutoTrader Recommends

We may be in the minority here, but we love the CC VR6 4Motion. It's expensive, no doubt, but we think it's a great dark-horse alternative to entry-level luxury sedans like the Acura TL and the Infiniti G37.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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