It no longer trumpets traditional Volkswagen values on the outside, but the ’06 Passat looks sharp and delivers enough performance punch to make import-sedan buyers feel all tingly inside.
The Passat has been the steady-Eddy underdog in Volkswagen’s family sedan and wagon arsenal since its North American debut back in 1990. Since then, the car has received its share of accolades for superb build quality and razor-sharp handling, but has somehow remained in the shadows while other models such as the Jetta, Golf, New Beetle and Touareg sport-ute have been awarded the star treatment. The new-look Passat for ’06 is all about changing attitudes and winning new friends in the hotly contested family hauler category. Available as a four-door sedan (a wagon version is set to arrive by the end of the year) in front- or available 4Motion all-wheel drive, the Passat joins the rest of VW’s fleet that’s comprised of all-new models or those that have received major makeovers within the last couple of years. An obviously full plate of model launches, revisions and updates hasn’t prevented the German-based automaker from giving the new Passat its full and undivided attention. The look is much crisper and avoids the sin of anonymity inherent in previous versions. There’s plenty of chrome trim on the front nose and elsewhere to brighten things up and the rear deck, with its built-in spoiler and fancier tail lamps, adds even more character. The Passat’s seating area is also a more vibrant place to reside, with a two-tone dashboard, faux-leather seat coverings (genuine leather is optional) and available walnut and brushed aluminum trim pieces. Standard on all models however is a glove box that can be chilled as well as a convenient self-draining umbrella storage containment built into the driver’s-side door. In creating the new Passat, VW managed to significantly stiffen the car’s already stout platform and make it larger. There’s three more inches of overall length and width while the distance between the front and rear wheels has grown by more than an inch. Passat buyers are offered a base 200-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder or an optional 280-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. A six-speed manual transmission is standard with the base powerplant while a six-speed automatic is optional. Order the V6 and you also get the six-speed. As for safety, Volkswagen has definitely moved the Passat into premium-car territory with a total of eight standard airbags (including front side-impact and front and rear side-curtain protection), anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control. Of course, opting for the all-wheel-drive system, available on V6-equipped sedans and wagons, brings an extra measure of safety along with the advantage of all-weather travel without the white knuckles. The starting-point Passat Value Edition includes climate control, remote keyless entry, cruise control, CD-equipped stereo and the usual power-operated amenities. The standard 2.0T comes with upgrades such as alloy wheels, a 10-way power driver’s seat and added interior lighting. Opting for the 3.6L adds a power sunroof, 17-inch wheels, premium audio system with six-disc changer and a fancier grille. Content for the 3.6L can be further enhanced with options such as dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, heated windshield washer nozzles and sunshades for the side and rear windows. Selecting everything from the options sheet takes the Passat to within earshot of the Phaeton, VW’s more powerful and more opulent full-size carriage, but for considerably less coin. That should make the Passat an attractive alternative for sedan shoppers and a chance to finally take center stage among VW’s cast of characters.