What's New for 1998
An all-new Passat arrives wearing updated sheet metal over a stretched Audi A4 platform. Engine choices include a spunky turbocharged four or a silky V6.
The Passat never sold well in the United States. Weak original engine choices, ineffective early marketing efforts and a muddled brand identity that defeated sales across the board have all contributed to this car's seemingly invisible presence in the market. Of course, the plain-vanilla styling of the original car didn't let the Passat stand out for much recognition other than the lack of a grille on the nose.
Volkswagen has managed to increase brand awareness, quality and sales during the past few years. As a result, the first-generation Passat received a good bit of attention from consumers during its final months of availability. But it was getting stale quickly, so Volkswagen has released a brand new one this year for Americans to ponder.
A runaway success in Europe, the new Passat deserves acclaim. Based on a stretched Audi A4 platform and using plenty of Audi parts in its construction, the new Passat looks, feels, smells and drives like a more substantial car than its price tag would lead you to expect.
Three models are available, available in sedan bodywork. The base GLS, which costs little more than a well-equipped Chevy Lumina, is powered by a zippy 1.8-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine. We drove a couple not long ago, and the car zoomed to 60 mph quickly when mated to a five-speed manual transmission. Some turbo lag was evident at low rpm, but otherwise, the engine was perfectly capable of hauling around 3,100 pounds of Passat. Equipped with a Tiptronic automanual transmission, however, the Passat GLS lacked verve around town.
The GLS trim level is also available with a 2.8-liter V6 making 190 horsepower. To get the V6, buyers will pay a stiff $2,500 tariff. Opt for a full-boat GLX and you're buying the top-of-the-line Passat with all the trimmings, at about the same cost as a well-equipped Toyota Camry XLE V6. Options on the GLX are limited to a five-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic shifting technology and metallic paint. Hard to go wrong here.
Contemporary styling will wear well into the new century. In fact, we find the Passat's design more pleasing than the similarly sized but more expensive and somewhat avant-garde Audi A6. Our test Passats drove nicely, were solidly constructed and had great sound systems. The suspension rolled too much in turns, but otherwise, the car was perfectly suited to both canyon running and grocery shopping with the kids.
Volkswagen wants to double Passat sales in the United States with this new model. After a week with the GLS five-speed, we doubt they'll have trouble. In fact, a GLS wagon with a sunroof, the all-weather package and an attractive set of aftermarket alloy wheels would be our pick of the litter. So equipped, it would cost about the same as a Ford Taurus SE wagon, but with better looks and that coveted German handling.
They want drivers? This new Passat will bring hordes of them in.