Used 1997 Volkswagen Passat Review

what's new

GLS model vanishes from radar as Volkswagen prepares for launch of all-new Passat in mid-1997.

vehicle overview

The Passat has 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, its plain-vanilla styling didn't let the Passat stand out for much recognition other than the lack of a grille on the nose.

Volkswagen managed to increase brand awareness and sales lately, and the Passat has received a good bit of attention during the past few years. The 2.8-liter V6 that has literally transformed Volkswagen's lineup from staid German sedans to road cars brimming with vitality was transplanted into the Passat four years ago. A couple years later, a revised exterior design gave this Volkswagen more character, and included a grille for the first time. Passats came fully loaded in one trim level for 1995; the only options were an automatic transmission, a sunroof and a CD player. Antilock brakes and traction control were standard equipment. With a singular GLX trim level, fresh styling, and renewed performance ability, Volkswagen focused the Passat's mission, and became the focus of people who appreciate quick, well-equipped German cars. Priced in the low 20's, and equipped with a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty, the Passat GLX was a real bargain.

Marketers fiddled with the Passat recipe again last year, and we feared that the focus placed on the excellent GLX would become blurred with the arrival of newcomers. The bare-bones entry-level Passat GLS debuted with the meager 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine from the Golf. At $18,000, the GLS was no match for the Ford Contour SE, which offers the same tight European driving manners and a whole lot more speed for the same price. Even Volkswagen's own Jetta GLS made better sense.

Later in 1996, a TDI (Turbo Direct Injection) diesel model arrived. Volkswagen said it was one quick, clean and quiet diesel. Still, the hit-and-miss availability of diesel fuel and relatively low prices for gasoline in the United States made us wonder why VW thinks North America needs a diesel Passat.

Evidently, the GLS idea didn't fly. It's gone for 1997. The TDI is still scarce, thanks to quality problems, and may not survive much longer in the U.S. market. This means buyers really have just one readily available choice when buying a Passat.

Fine and dandy, Jack. The GLX is still the one and only Passat to consider, in our opinion. It continues to offer an excellent blend of value, performance and exclusivity, in either sedan or wagon format. So what do you think a fully-loaded German sport sedan (or wagon) might cost? The base price of a new Passat GLX is roughly equivalent to the price of a well-equipped Taurus GL. Surprise, surprise. We think you ought to try the Passat GLX whether or not performance is important to you. It's a good car at a fair price, with the ability to put a grin on your face every time you drive it.

edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.