Volkswagen Passat 3.6

by The Car Family, Internationally Syndicated

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This is the most Audish of the Volkswagen’s and clearly such a paradigm shift in marketing that one continually questions whether Volkswagen has abandoned its economy car roost in order to play in the more lucrative atmosphere of near luxury sedans. Thus it is difficult to logically compare the 3.6 with the past Passat because the new models are entirely different. The 2006 model has been redesigned and is 3 inches longer and 3 inches wider than before with and added 2.4 inches of legroom and enough features to place it squarely against the Lexus ES rather than the Toyota Camry. Unlike those Japanese cars you can also order the Passat with a standard 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and save at least $15,000 (US) over the price of a loaded all wheel drive 3.6 version that lists about $40,000. Mind you with that version you get a vehicle heavily loaded with options.

 The best bargain is the Value Edition, which we highly recommend at under $23,000 (US) over the notably more expensive 3.6 and 3.6 4Motion models that add substantial to the bottom line. Either way the result is that the Passat is no longer a bigger Jetta, but a certifiable sporty luxury vehicle with up to 280 horsepower that and can get you to 60 mph in under seven seconds surrounded by leather and aluminum.

Mom’s view: Except for the transmission that constantly hunted for gears on grades and the 3.6’s inability to start off smoothly this is truly a classy ride. The chassis is stiff, the brakes excellent and there is an abundance of features that make it highly usable in all types of weather. But what I liked best were the exceptional bi-xenon headlights that turned as the car did. When you start the car at night the lights automatically sweep outward and than center they giving you a view of what is around the front of the car as well as to the side.

Safety wise the Passat has active front head restraints, adjustable headrests for all five occupants, and foot pedals that move out of the way upon serious impact. As a nurse I see devastating leg injuries caused by pedals on a regular basis and highly recommend you consider them on any vehicle you consider. In addition, there are four-wheel antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbag with rear-seat side airbags optional.

The interior is just this side of elegant and clearly reflects the Audi influence. There are large storage bins in the door panels, center console and glove compartment. The cupholders work well and there is even a place for a small umbrella in the driver’s door. The seats are very comfortable and the heating element works rapidly. I felt right at home in the 3.6 except for the stereo has overly complicated controls. The global positioning system itself is average and I really didn’t find it simple to input data. Of course, the sound system was absolutely great and helped as the Passat was noisier than one would expect. It also has a strange mix of features. For example when the temperature gets near freezing a snowflake is illuminated in the center of the instrument panel that warns you of possible black ice conditions. On the other hand there isn’t a power steering wheel tilt and telescope function.

On the negative side the steering column-mounted ignition switch has been replaced with a dashboard slot where you insert a key fob to start the vehicle. The good news is that the metal key no longer can snag your purse. Unfortunately, someone at Volkswagen decided to place an attachment hook right where you push in on the fob. This is ridiculous and irritating if you have long nails.

Once I learned to accept the fact that the VW was going to lurch a little every time I gently tried to accelerate from a stop the car was well mannered and eager to please. It wasn’t quick, but if you were demanding of the transmission it accepted your input fairly rapidly. Personally, I would take a look at the less expensive and less lavishly furnished 2.0 Passat. I think the point here is that if you can curb your enthusiasm for some of the options you can still get a well equipped all wheel drive Passat for the same price as a Subaru Legacy and you’ll have a lot more stylish vehicle.

College going male’s view: Beauty is in the eye of the leaseholder and so I’ll keep my comments to the interior. First, order the optional Dynaudio sound system in combination with satellite radio and navigation system. Whatever you are going to know what a super sound system can do for travelers. Secondly, spend a few evenings trying to master the navigation system before using it on the road. There are plenty of electric gizmos to keep you happy with the Passat offering a dual-zone automatic climate control, in-dash six-disk CD changer, an excellent night lighting system, very useful driver’s computer readouts, optional Bluetooth, park distance control, heated seats and mirrors, Homelink, and 12 way power adjustable seats. I doubt people are going to leave their Mercedes and Lexus products for this Volkswagen, but if they do I think they are going to be impressed. I certainly found it interesting and even liked the growl of the engine. Very un-VWish.

Dad’s view: You have two engine choices with the Passat and both are intriguing. The base engine that is in the Value Edition model is a
2.0-liter turbocharged inline four rated at 200 hp and 207 pound-feet of torque. It does an adequate job and works well with the six-speed Tiptronic automatic. However, if you want the latest try the 3.6 model and its 3.6-liter V6 that creates 280 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque while giving fuel mileage of 21 mpg in mixed driving. VW offers the V6 with the automatic transmission only. We were testing the all wheel drive 4Motion, but the rest of the Passats have front wheel drive. Unless you work the transmission acceleration is best described as leisurely. This may well be because the Passat weighs nearly 3900 pounds. The lighter Value Edition is quicker off the line and reacts quicker, but the power of the V6 is more satisfying to highway drivers. There is a sports package that you need to test before ordering. It makes the car more responsive, but also nosier. Even without this option the Passat is a good handling sedan, but certainly not in the BMW vein. Regardless you better shed any preconceptions of a Passat based on previous models.

The major weakness I found was in the six-speed Tiptronic automatic that felt untamed at times. It didn’t mind loafing along, but when confronted with passing or an uphill grade it just seemed to procrastinate too long. The Passat has a fairly tight (for an all wheel drive vehicle) 36 foot turning radius, a good-sized 18.5-gallon tank that makes possible 400-mile runs between premium refuelings, and room for five adults. Volkswagen even has a braking system that wipes the brake discs when they get wet to improve stopping power. The chassis, which VW says is 56-percent stiffer than previous Passats works well with the new fully independent suspension and the steering adjusts based on vehicle speed and steering wheel angle. The resulting ride is well suited to most road conditions, but without the sports suspension option stay away from trying to run with lighter sports sedans.

Young working woman’s view: I liked the way the Passat looked and feel that it is both distinctive and attractive, something that not many cars exhibit. Upon entry almost everything was easy to understand and driving was a pleasure once underway. If I was more of a risk taker I would consider buying one, but I am stuck in Saab love and like a more driver oriented vehicle. As usual there were some thing I didn’t car for including gas and brake pedals that are too close together, especially when you are wearing boots. There also is a great need for an electric tilt / telescoping steering wheel. The trunk holds about 14 cubic feet of room, which isn’t as large as previous models. VW has made it easy to load most items, although the opening is smaller than many cars in this category. The trunk lid pops open nicely when you use the remote and the liftover is fairly low. There is a lot to like with the new Passat, but until they bring the diesel version into compliance in all 50 states in a wagon version I’m holding onto my Saab. By the way a gas powered wagon is due out soon.

Family conference: What a difference a year makes. The 3.6 Passat is unlike any VW in recent memory and clearly is more practical that the much more expensive Phaeton. If you are into family vehicles that can handle the rain and snow and still provide luxury take a drive. And, make sure you hear the optional sound system and see those great xenon headlights. For a complete list of vehicle websites to and click on business.