On Volkswagen’s website, the headline for the Passat says “The people want German luxury sedans without the German luxury price tag.” We’re agreeable to that. Sounds great. Sign us up. The Passat has continually received praise from automotive journalists the world over. It delivers power in both turbo and normally aspirated forms, fuel efficiency from the 2.0T engine, German luxury, adept handling and copious interior space. What’s there not to like, right? Well, despite their mensch-oriented slogan on the Passat’s homepage, depending on the options, price.
Trim levels on the 2008 Passat include names like “VR6″, “Komfort”, “Lux” and “Turbo”. The Passat can get prohibitively expensive to the tune of $40,000 when equipped with all options including the VR6 engine and 4Motion. At that price point, buyers might be better served looking at an Audi. And for those who aren’t planning to spend more than $30K for a sedan, their options are limited to the Turbo and Komfort trims. But what about the Passat in its most basic, Turbo trim with nothing extra added on? Does it still offer enough amenities to keep it competitive with stalwart Japanese sedans like the Camry and Accord?
The MSRP for a base Passat is $23,990. After a $700 destination charge and $225 for heated seats – the only option on our test model – the grand total for our Passat came to a hair under $25,000. Seems reasonable enough, and it still comes with an impressive list of standard features like leatherette interior, power driver’s seat, AM/FM stereo with CD player and auxiliary input, cruise, power windows and door locks, rear sun shades, leather shift knob and a handy trip computer which gives information like instantaneous and average fuel economy.
We are certified 2.0T groupie sluts. We love this engine beyond all reason. It might possibly be the best overall combination of power and fuel efficiency of any gasoline powerplant we’ve ever driven. Pumping out 200 horsepower and 207 pound feet of torque in stock form (easily boosted with a little tunability), it zips the Passat 0 to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds while delivering 21 city/29 highway mpg; and those are conservative numbers. On a 200 mile road trip, we averaged nearly 34 mpg. Admittedly, we did a little hypermiling action with the 6-speed manual tranny by shifting into neutral on flats and downhills, but still, we were rolling at a good average clip of 70 mph.
And when you’re not on the freeway, keeping your foot from pulverizing the juice pedal is downright impossible. The 2.0T is so much a hoot that we constantly found ourselves stabbing the throttle to hear the whirrr of the turbo and feel the thrust of forced induction. With all the virtues of the 2.0T, in our opinion, there’s absolutely no reason for anyone to even bother spending the extra scratch on the VR6. Sure it’s got bigger numbers in the power department, but it’s also several hundred pounds heavier, negating the power gains and reducing fuel economy.
We were also pleasantly surprised to find a 6-speed manual in the Passat, a rare treat in a mainstream, mid-size family sedan. Shifting was buttery-smooth and helped unleash even more power and fuel efficiency from the 2.0T.
Up ’till now, if you’ve ever read any other reviews of the Passat, what we’re telling you probably isn’t anything new. But perhaps this is – we didn’t find the Passat to handle all that well. Journalists have praised the Passat as a quick-witted, sharp handling machine, and all we can say is…we don’t get it. Maybe they’ve been driving a different machine, or perhaps we were spoiled after a week of driving the scalpel-like Mazda3 GT, but whatever the reason, the Passat felt heavy in the front and entered corners with massive understeer. Approaching corners, you could feel the heft of the Passat’s 3,400 pound curb weight. It was as if the Passat was trying to say Back off Andretti, I’m bigger than you think. We can only imagine how porky the Passat with the VR6 feels. Coming out of corners, however, was a different story. Get the 2.0T on spool, punch the accelerator, and the Passat roasted rubber with zeal. Like we said, we’re 2.0T skanks.
The VW slogan about German luxury does hold true in this instance. The Passat is built like any other solid German sedan. Interior plastics are of high quality, and we didn’t even realize the seats were leatherette until we looked at the Mulroney. The interior feels tight and trim like a German luxury car should be. But VW has always done pretty well in the quality interior department. Where they haven’t done so well, however, is in the reliability department. Call me crazy, but I’d rather drive a Honda or Toyota with a more blandly styled interior that actually runs than have a stylish interior which spends most its time cradling the backside of the local VW mechanic. Now VW says they’ve addressed many of the electrical nightmares which have plagued previous models, but in the infinitely wise words of the Zen master, “We’ll see.”