When we set out to photograph the 2006 Volkswagen Passat 2.0T we had several hip urban locations in mind. Our first choice was the Disney Concert Hall, a strikingly modern structure worthy of serving as a backdrop to the newly redesigned sedan, but we were chased away by a film crew already setting up shop at the Downtown L.A. landmark. Welcome to Tinsel Town.
At first, the sea of grips, gaffers and publicists seemed oblivious to our silver Passat, but as we pulled away one of the scary union workers chased us down to ask, "Does that car really have an umbrella in the door?"
He's right. It is the car with the umbrella in the door, which is one of the features Volkswagen has been hyping in the Passat's TV ads. In fact, VW has loaded the redesigned 2006 Passat with all kinds of cool features. Literally. Besides the built-in umbrella, this midsize sedan has two cooled storage compartments, one in the glovebox and one in the front center armrest. You know, just in case you need to chill your Toby Keith.
Although some of these features may seem gratuitous, they're standard on all three of the Passat's trim levels (Value Edition, the 2.0T and the 3.6), and they make the 2006 VW Passat unique in the typically mundane midsize sedan market.
We tested a 2.0T as it's expected to encompass the bulk of Passat sales. Our test car had a six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic, which operates as a conventional automatic or a clutchless manual. It was also equipped with the second of two option packages which included a sunroof, XM radio, leather heated seats, a leather shift knob and leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel. Additional options included a navigation system, a six-disc CD changer in the glovebox, a Dynaudio premium sound system and rear side airbags, which inflated our tester's window sticker to $31,565.
A Yen for Style
Stylishly refined is how we describe the new Passat. It's almost Phaeton-like in its reserved glamour. Three inches have been added to its overall length and width making it leaner and stronger.
A shiny chrome grille and scooped headlamps give a serious stare while the sweeping lines of its newly elongated profile look more like its competitors, the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. Finish off with a Japanese-inspired back end and the result is a sedan that's pleasing to the eye but doesn't look completely German anymore.
From the front, the car looks aggressive, from the back it looks more like a roomy family sedan. Sounds contradictory, but it's actually quite balanced. Class-leading Accord and Camry country is not a bad place to be.
The Inside Story
As we hunted for a photo location, we didn't mind touring the city's more interesting 'hoods because we were getting quality time inside the Passat. With its five-level heated seats and 10-speaker audio system we weren't complaining, but rain had been forecasted for that evening and we needed to make haste. While we appreciated the umbrella in the door, we didn't want to actually use it.
Previous-generation Passat owners will find its interior familiar but more upscale. The blue and red gauges of the previous model are still there but slight adjustments to the dash and center stack layout have sleeked up the interior.
Our tester's optional leather seats were like something you'd find in an Italian furniture store: modern-looking although somewhat uncomfortable. They don't offer much thigh support nor do they grip around the shoulders. Drive it hard and you don't feel like the seat holds you tight enough.
Roomy and Functional
Three inches of additional width give passengers more hip- and elbow room plus rear legroom has been increased by 2.4 inches, catching the Passat up to the roomier Accord and Camry.
That extra space is chock-full of interesting little features to make the Passat special. Numerous storage compartments, including two small popout drawers and two flip-top compartments, disappear elegantly into the dash and center console. Besides four regular-size cupholders, the front door pockets are designed to accommodate supersized drinks. Then there's that umbrella hidden in the driver door.
Its fully lined trunk has 14.2 cubic feet of well-laid-out space which is actually smaller than its 15.0-cubic-foot predecessor. Still, Volkswagen says the multilink rear suspension enabled its designers to create a wider luggage compartment. As a result the trunk seems huge.
Storage also benefits from easy-to-operate 60/40-split-folding rear seats with pass-through. Trunk access is low and convenient and we love the cute little insider way of opening the trunk. (Press the VW logo.) It's these personal touches that make the new Passat fun.
The new Passat's base engine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder with a direct-injection fuel delivery system. It makes 200 horsepower at 5,100 rpm and 207 pound-feet of torque from 1,800 to 5,000 rpm. That's 30 more horses than last year, 40 more than the four-cylinder Accord and 46 more than a four-cylinder Camry. It's also more than enough for a daily commute.
With the six-speed transmission in standard "Drive" mode, the car gets around town capably, upshifts are smooth and downshifts are easy enough to come by. But if you want to have a little fun, popping it into "Sport" mode unleashes some of the car's athletic potential. Suddenly the shift points are more aggressive and the tranny makes much better use of the engine's deep power reserves. If shifting yourself sounds good, the transmission manual gate allows you to choose and hold any gear you want when you want, but it doesn't match revs on the downshifts like Volkswagen's DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) transmission which is paired with the turbocharged 2.0-liter in the Jetta GLI.
VW claims the Passat 2.0T, which is only available with front-wheel drive, will get from zero to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds with the manual transmission and 7.4 seconds with the automatic. In Sport mode our test car reached 60 mph in 7.7 seconds and passed the quarter-mile mark in 15.7 seconds. We don't expect many Passat drivers will have trouble merging into traffic on the freeway.
Braking (and Handling) News
This Passat features electromechanical power steering, independent strut front suspension, multilink independent rear suspension and a host of acronyms worthy of a medical convention: ESP (electronic stabilization program), ASR (anti-slip regulation), EDL (electronic differential lock) and ABS (antilock braking system).
When traffic slows to a sudden crawl, we think you'll find the brakes up to the challenge. At the track the brakes stopped the car from 60 mph in 124.3 feet. We graded the four-wheel disc brakes "very good" with a steady and consistent feel to the pedaling.
VW has added a disc-wiping function which imperceptibly engages the brakes so that the pads squeegee the discs at five-minute intervals while the windshield wipers are on. This ingenious bit of technology keeps the discs dry and shortens braking distances.
In real-world driving, the steering is responsive and light but not too light, and the suspension, while a little soft, provides a pleasant ride and handles bends in the road without too much lean. When pushed hard, however, like in our slalom test, body roll becomes pronounced and the tires scream like David Lee Roth in his Van Halen heyday. Still, the Passat maneuvered through the cones at 62 mph, which is very quick for its class.
If we bought the Passat, the standard 16-inch all-season tires would be the first thing we'd upgrade. Optional 17- and 18-inch wheels are available.
A stiffer suspension and more aggressive tires would help the Passat's performance numbers, but the 2006 Volkswagen Passat isn't a sport sedan. It's a sedan for grown-up drivers who want to have a little fun. Whether hauling around the kids, commuting or outrunning storm clouds, the new Passat provides a functional, fun and fashionable alternative in the sometimes lackluster midsize market.
Sales of the last-generation Passat were around 75,000 a year and VW expects that trend to continue. Although the new Passat gets pricey when loaded with popular options, it could rain on the parades of Accord and Camry. And those best-sellers don't come with umbrellas.
System Score: 9.0
Components: Our Passat came equipped with VW's new Dynaudio (www.dynaudio.de) sound system. It features 10 speakers with four of those being used for bass. These four woofers are mounted to the door frames and feature a proprietary technology for the cone material. This light but stiff material is called Magnesium Silicate Polymer or MSP. Two 52mm midrange drivers are also used. Four 28mm tweeters are placed in the front and rear of the car for balanced sound reproduction. The total power output is 600 watts and that's achieved through four amplifiers per channel totaling eight. The head unit also doubles as the navigation interface and has nice big buttons that are easy to use.
Performance: The slogan for Dynaudio is "Authentic Fidelity" and we think that's about right. The sound reproduction is excellent but not perfect. While the 10 speakers reproduce sound in a very dynamic and lifelike manner, it takes a little getting used to. Most car stereos do not sound lifelike and most of us have adjusted our minds to accept that when we listen to a car stereo, it won't sound like a real person singing or speaking. This new Passat audio system tries to reproduce sound in a very realistic way and in many ways succeeds. The problem is that, initially, it sounds very different. Our first impression is that it sounds too "bright."
However, spoken word CDs and talk radio stations sound excellent — an aspect of in-car audio that's frequently overlooked. But some pop or rock music can sound biased toward the highs. After listening for 30 minutes or so, we began to hear the exceptional sound quality this system is capable of. We still think the highs are a little too pronounced but they are sharp and clear and never squeak. Midrange and bass reproduction are excellent with near perfect separation being this system's strong point. Even without a huge cargo space hogging subwoofer in the trunk, the bass still has plenty of punch.
We also like how the head unit functions. Adjusting tone is easy and can be accessed through a button with a little music note on it. Once in that screen, bass, treble, etc., can easily be adjusted by selecting a corresponding button or by using a rotating knob. It's all very simple and straightforward. The Passat's head unit is easily one of the best.
Best Feature: Excellent separation.
Worst feature: The highs are almost too high.
Conclusion: A truly unique approach to in-car audio. The sound quality is very good but not what you'd expect. Considering the price point of the Passat, the new Dynaudio system is light-years ahead of what you'll find in a Honda, Toyota or Nissan. — Brian Moody
Inside Line Executive Editor Richard Homan says:
If ever there was a car whose autobahn training was evident from a single drive, the VW Passat 2.0T is it. The car doesn't even start to pay attention until you get up to 62 mph (100 km/h). And at those speeds, it feels steady and solid as a well, whatever the German word for "rock" is. The variable-assist steering isn't too quick (you don't want to make any quick moves at bahn speeds), and the suspension gives a firm assessment of the pavement.
Wow. Nice interior, too. Too bad the tires aren't too good. On boost in 1st and 2nd it's embarrassingly easy to light 'em up, and it gets old hearing them whining (and feeling them surrender) in tight — and even moderate — corners. First order of business if you buy this car: new shoes. After trying to ignore the six-speed Tiptronic automatic's fear of commitment — in Normal mode, it perpetually hunted indecisively for the right gear — I finally found peace by leaving the transmission in Sport, even slogging around town.
Fortunately, there's a lot of forgiveness to be found in the car's direct-injection 100-hp-per-liter turbo-four, its roomier interior, and its sharp exterior styling. Is that an Acura rear end and a modern European face for $27,000? Cool. The V6 Camrys and Accords may get a decent workout after all from a car trained to run hard at high speeds.
Edmunds.com Editor in Chief Karl Brauer says:
The same 2.0T power plant that makes the Audi A3 feel like a sports car comes off as a bit strained in the Passat. It's not that the car feels slow. Actually, between the rev-happy nature of the 2.0T and the responsive gear swaps of the six-speed automatic, this midsize sedan accelerates with plenty of verve. But with the verve is a sense that this engine is being horsewhipped, rather than simply encouraged, every time you prod the accelerator.
That's not to say the Passat isn't still an appealing people mover, particularly given its solid German engineering (the car defines door "thunk") and capable handling. The steering has that trademark Volkswagen weightiness, and the suspension manages to be soft without being wallowy. I'm not sure about the exterior styling. From certain angles I see the previous-generation Civic, which is a look I can't believe Volkswagen was going for. And I wish the seatbacks felt a little more inviting — they're too hard and flat for my tastes. But between the driving experience and interior quality, this is still one of my favorite family sedans. I'll take mine with the meatier 3.6-liter engine — in a nice Shadow Blue hue.
"As a 21-year-old I was stuck between sport and luxury and since this was my first brand new car it was a very hard choice. I drove so many cars, and I was down to three cars, the Acura TL, Subaru WRX STi, and Nissan Altima SE-R, but none of these compared to when I decided to just go see the Passat. As soon as I saw the interior I was sold. When I drove the car, I was mesmerized, I love the sound of the turbo. It drives like a dream, they have this car almost perfect. My friends swear it looks just like an Audi and my friend who owns an Audi A6 says it's identical in drive feel. This is the best choice that I could have made." — passatdrvr2, October 5, 2005
"The 2006 Volkswagen Passat is very nice. I am very impressed with the new design of the Passat. I haven't seen any on the road yet, but I am sure that within six months people will come around to find that this car is a great bang for the buck. I put some 18-inch chrome wheels on it, nice Michelin tires, and it looks like a Bimmer! This car is going to be easy to sell down the road. I paid MSRP, but it is OK, I purchased before it was released." — Swenson, October 4, 2005
"I recently purchased a 2006 VW Passat, deep black with pkg #2 and Dynaudio and 15 miles on odometer. At the time all other carmakers are trying to cut cost, VW came up with a winner. This is the car designed for drivers, not saving several pennies from each component. After 600 miles, still love it with no grievance. Shifting into the 'S' gear, the car launched like a rocket. The normal 'D' was programmed to save gas. Overall I got 24-25 mpg on my daily driving (no freeway). The Dynaudio stereo is awesome and I love the MP3 capability and the satellite radio. I wanted to get a United Grey or Shadow Blue, but the black with chrome grille just looks so rich." — zhd535, October 1, 2005
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