Full 2008 Volkswagen Passat Review
What's New for 2008
Volkswagen shuffles equipment around, creating Turbo, Komfort (Ja, that's with a "K"), Lux and VR6 trim levels for the 2008 Volkswagen Passat line. Rear side sunshades are now standard on all Passats, as is a power driver seat. Formerly known as the 3.6L, the Passat VR6 gains adaptive bi-xenon headlights as standard equipment. In addition, the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system is now standard on VR6 wagons.
Our editors' love affair with the Volkswagen Passat dates back a decade. Following a seminal redesign in 1998, this midsize sedan and wagon duo became the ones to beat in the family car class -- if not in annual sales, then in out-and-out desirability. It wasn't just that the Passat looked different from mainstream Japanese- and domestic-brand competitors, or that its cabin was trimmed to luxury-car standards. It was the way this VW drove. Its crisp steering and solid road manners gave it a level of character rarely seen in this practicality-driven vehicle class. If the Passat had a weakness, it was its slightly too snug interior, and Volkswagen addressed this in a 2006 makeover during which the car grew 3 inches wider. Although today's VW Passat lacks the tidy geometric proportions of the late '90s car, it has as much real-world passenger room as most rivals and retains a unique personality.
Prices have edged up steadily with the midsize VW's rise in popularity, though, and many shoppers will be surprised to find that a V6-equipped 2008 Volkswagen Passat starts out around $36,000. Fortunately, the base four-cylinder engine, a turbocharged 2.0-liter good for 200 horsepower, provides perfectly acceptable performance and much better gas mileage. Although Volkswagen has reformulated the trim levels for 2008 (adding cute identifiers like "Komfort" and "Lux"), the base model (now called "Turbo") remains the best value and offers all the equipment most families will need. In addition, enthusiast types should note that only the base-trim VW Passat is eligible for a manual gearbox. The 4Motion all-wheel-drive system remains an option for buyers needing winter-weather capability, but given the near-$40K price of admission, you'd be wise to investigate the alternatives, including the VW group's own Audi A4 Quattro, along with any number of crossover SUVs, before committing.
As much as we like the current Volkswagen Passat, from its meticulously crafted cabin to its engaging dynamics, this car is the high-end option in a vehicle class patronized by consumers who worry about mortgage payments and preschool tuition. For those running on tighter budgets, the Honda Accord (redesigned for 2008), Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry will undoubtedly seem like better values. You can equip all of them with powerful and relatively fuel-efficient V6 engines for about what you'd spend on a comparably equipped four-cylinder Passat sedan. The competition isn't as heated among wagons, but the Dodge Magnum, Subaru Outback and redesigned Volvo XC70 are all worth checking out as lower-cost alternatives. All that said, we have no doubt that many consumers will determine that the 2008 Volkswagen Passat, thanks to its elegant and smart design, continues to be a very desirable choice for a family sedan or wagon.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Volkswagen Passat is a midsize car available as a sedan or wagon. Both body styles come in Turbo, Komfort, Lux and VR6 trim levels. Passat VR6 sedans can be purchased in front-wheel-drive or 4Motion all-wheel-drive configuration; 4Motion is standard on the VR6 wagon.
The base Turbo model starts you out with 16-inch alloy wheels, leatherette upholstery, a power driver seat, a telescoping steering wheel, air-conditioning, a CD stereo with an auxiliary audio jack, cruise control, full power accessories, heated outside mirrors, a trip computer and rear-seat sunshades. Step up to the Passat Komfort and you'll get 17-inch wheels, a sunroof, an in-dash CD changer, satellite radio, upgraded interior lighting and double-blade front sun visors. The Lux adds automatic headlights, leather upholstery, a power front-passenger seat, driver-seat memory, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, and front and rear parking sensors. The high-line Passat VR6 adds 18-inch wheels, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, sport seats and an upgraded Dynaudio sound system.
Base Turbo models are very limited in terms of options, but you can get heated front seats and iPod integration. A navigation system and an underbody kit are available on other Passats. The Dynaudio system is optional on Komfort and Lux versions, while adaptive cruise control is an exclusive extra on the VR6.
Powertrains and Performance
All Turbo, Komfort and Lux models come with a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine rated for 200 hp and 207 pound-feet of torque. Base Turbo models can be equipped with a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. The automatic is standard on the Komfort and Lux. All 2008 Volkswagen Passat VR6 models are fitted with a 3.6-liter V6 good for 280 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque that's also coupled to a six-speed automatic. Even the 2.0-liter turbo with the automatic is a quick combination: We clocked a Passat sedan at 7.7 seconds to 60 mph. Front-wheel-drive VR6 models better that time by about a second.
Fuel economy ranges from very good with the turbo four-cylinder (21 mpg city/29 mpg highway with a manual, 19/29 with an automatic) to dismal on the Passat VR6 4Motion (16 city/24 highway). Rated at 17/26, the front-drive VR6 model ranks about average for a V6-equipped sedan.
All Passats come very well equipped with safety features. Antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, anti-whiplash front head restraints, front-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags are all standard. Optional for all trims are rear-seat side airbags. In National Highway Transportation Safety Administration crash tests, the 2008 Volkswagen Passat earned four (out of five) stars for its protection of front occupants in head-on collisions. Side-impact tests resulted in five stars for front passengers and four for those in the rear. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety scores the Passat as "Good" (the best rating possible) in its frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Every Passat presents a comfortable and upscale cabin. Fit and finish is superb and there's a feeling of precision to all the controls. Starting the car is a bit unusual but easier than the normal stick-the-key-in-and-twist drill. One simply inserts the "key" into an easily seen/accessed slot on the dash and pushes it to start the car. Trunk capacity stands at 14.2 cubic feet, which is about average for this class. The wagon has 35.8 cubic feet of cargo room with the second-row seats up.
An impressively rigid structure provides sportier handling than previous Passat generations. Although the chassis is still tuned more for comfort than attacking apexes, body roll is kept in check and the steering is responsive yet light, without feeling overboosted. Factor in the powerful engines and the Passat makes for one of the most entertaining rides in the midsize segment. The only significant negative we've found in road tests is excessive road noise on models with the larger wheels and tires.