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Worthy Competitor To Many — But There's Only One VR6
2006 Volkswagen Passat 3.6
Road Test And Photography By

2006 Volkswagen Passat 3.6 Road Test
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Highs: Awesome VR6, elegant style
inside and out, excellent exterior lighting

Lows: Slow-to-react Tiptronic, no
manual tranny, flat front seats, packaging

In its sixth generation, Volkswagen's Passat is unique in that it competes with a wide array of mid-size sedans — from everyday family haulers like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, to the high-class sporting luxury of the BMW 330i and Mercedes-Benz C350.

With the Phaeton bidding farewell, VolksWatch road-tested VW's newest top dog and incoming flagship, the Passat 3.6, which puts out a serious challenge to its aforementioned mighty German brethren.

Price-wise, V6 models of the Accord, Camry and Passat are similar, all around the $30,000 mark. The BMW and Mercedes ring in quite a bit higher, at $37,295 and $38,925, respectively, however, these prices include many features that are optional on the Passat. Once loaded up, the Passat is at the same price point.

For passenger space, the Passat is mid-pack with 96.3 cubic feet. The BMW and Mercedes are smaller, the latter considerably at 85.5. The Accord and Camry are larger with the brand-spanking-new 2007 Camry taking the cake with 101.4.

Cargo space is pretty much even among all five cars. The Passat's trunk boasts 14.2 cubic feet, the Accord 14, the Camry 14.5 — and the two other Germans both smaller around the 12 mark.

(A noteworthy aside: The Jetta, a compact car, has a trunk 13-percent bigger than the Passat, a mid-size car, 16 cubic feet versus 14.2.)

2006 Volkswagen Passat 3.6 Road Test
The Passat 3.6 is big on style — elegantly sculpted lines, high-tech headlights
and striking LED taillights that are becoming of the world's very best luxury cars.

2006 Volkswagen Passat 3.6 Road Test
But where the Passat 3.6 really shines is under the hood. This is where the latest iteration of Volkswagen's silky smooth VR6 can be found. We sum up this motor with one word: awesome!

Since we last experienced it, in previous-generation VWs, the VR6 has been to the gym and now shows off a brawny and class-leading 280 horsepower. And it has matured, its voice remarkably more husky — stomp on the gas to rouse the sonorous roar.

Only the Mercedes and Camry, both with 268 horses, come close.

The VR6's origins trace back to the late 1980s when Volkswagen set out to put a transverse-mounted six-cylinder engine into the bays of its front-drive compact vehicles. The R in VR6 stands for the German word reihen, which translates to inline (or in a row). The VR6 takes advantage of both V and inline engineering with none of the disadvantages of either. The first VR6 had its cylinder banks at 15 degrees while the new VR6 has them at only 10.6 degrees, capped by a single aluminum head. This compares to conventional V6s of 60 and 90 degrees. The result is a smooth-revving six-cylinder robust in horsepower and torque that doesn't take up a lot of space under the hood.

The Passat's muscle does not come at the expense of fuel economy, either. VolksWatch achieved 21 miles per gallon in the city and 29 on the highway (70 mph cruising with some stop-and-go).

The VR6 makes the Passat an accomplished highway cruiser. Passing and freeway merging are effortless. The interior is extremely quiet and serene, not to mention well-crafted. The steering is predictable. The controls and adjustable seats are intuitive. All this keeps driver fatigue in check.
2006 Volkswagen Passat 3.6 Road Test
The Passat needs a true push-button
ignition — instead of its push-fob one.

2006 Volkswagen Passat 3.6 Road Test
Bi-xenon AFS headlight

Our single ergonomic gripe is the flat front seats, which provide absolutely no support for lively dashes through switchbacks. The driver slides annoyingly from side to side into the door and center console.

If we are to nitpick for a second criticism, the Passat needs a true push-button ignition like some of its competitors. The Passat is halfway there — it has no key, but a fob that inserts into the dash.

Tossing the Passat into the twisties, it becomes immediately apparent the car is built more for the wide-open road straight ahead. At 3,576 pounds and with longer overhangs, it's no GTI. And with a front-engine, front-drive layout, it's no BMW 330i, whose balanced chassis and rear-wheel drive feel far more athletic and poised when the road gets kinky.

The sport suspension goes a little way in taming body motions but not a lot. In fact, we don't notice much of a difference between the Passat's regular suspension and sport suspension. Not like the mild Jetta (Jekyll) and wild Jetta GLI (Hyde). Both Passat set-ups are firmly Teutonic, giving the car a solid vault-like quality that isn't jarring or intrusive.

And with the mention of corners must come the mention of the Passat's optional bi-xenon AFS headlights. AFS stands for adaptive front lights system. The headlights illuminate corners by turning with the steering wheel. In tight corners under 31 MPH (and when the foglights are not in use), a second halogen side light turns on.

Overkill? Perhaps. But we find these high-tech headlights spectacular — so advanced and effective that they render the foglights redundant and banish the turn signals to separate spots in the lower bumper. Visibility at night means safety at night.

2006 Volkswagen Passat 3.6 Road Test


Vehicle Type Mid-size,
Price Range* $30,580 to $38,280 (US),
$42,725 to $50,970 (CDN)

Engine V6, 3.6-liter, 24-valve
Horsepower 280 at 6,200 RPM
Torque 265 pound-feet
at 2,750 RPM
Curb Weight 3,576 pounds
Weight Per Horsepower 12.8 pounds
Transmission Six-speed automatic
with manumatic shifting
0-to-60 MPH 6.0 seconds
EPA Mileage 19 MPG (city),
28 MPG (highway)
21 MPG (city),
29 MPG (highway)
*Prices are for the model trim tested and include VW's destination fee.
The Passat looks more handsome in the metal than it does in photographs. Elegantly sculpted lines replace the previous generation's soft slab sides and give the car more character. The headlights and striking LED taillights, which feature clear circles in a red frame, are becoming of the world's very best luxury cars. A gas-station attendant asked, "Is this an Audi?"

While the large chrome front end has grown on us, we can't help wonder how the Passat would look with a more conventional appearance. Perhaps too plain and boring. At least this way the sedan stands out — for better or worse.

The high style continues on the interior with a unique multi-tier dashboard that is interesting without going overboard and compromising function. The lines flow from the front into the doors, offering a cohesive one-piece look.

Volkswagen markets the Passat as having "120 not-so-standard features" — and this is where the car's biggest downfall comes into play. Some of these features are fantastic fodder for wowing the neighbors, but in real life are rather superfluous.

In particular, we would trade three features — the self-draining umbrella holder, hill-hold assist and electronic parking brake — for steering-wheel controls for the stereo and other secondary items. We recently met someone with a well-traveled 1991 Honda Accord and were surprised that even this 15-year-old appliance has steering-wheel controls. With the Passat, they are bundled in an option package costing thousands of dollars.

Other Passat packaging problems persist. For those who enjoy a more sporting experience, a six-speed manual is available only on the 2.0T four-cylinder Passat, but no sport suspension. The sport suspension is available only on the 3.6 V6 Passat, but no six-speed manual.

The Passat 3.6 is unfortunately teamed with a six-speed Tiptronic manumatic. In automatic mode, the transmission often pauses and is slow to respond to accelerator inputs. In manual mode, it behaves quicker but is still lacking. To us, this problem is exacerbated knowing Volkswagen's ingenious DSG is out there. Regrettably the VR6 is just too powerful for the current DSG. Hopefully and in short time, VW's engineers can beef up the DSG for use with the formidable VR6.

So, while the Passat is not the most perfect mid-size sedan, it shows great potential. If Volkswagen offered a manual or better automatic transmission with the VR6, we'd overlook our other little niggles. Until that day, our choice is a BMW 330i — even if it lacks some of VW's "120 not-so-standard features."

Also see:
Passat Photos

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