Sleek Four-Door Coupe Noses Upmarket



When European deliveries of the then new Volkswagen Passat CC started back in late 2007, even in its home market, the know-it-alls received it with skepticism. There didn't seem to be any burning need for a sexed-up four-door based on a Passat chassis. Was there an audience large enough for a Mercedes-Benz CLS-inspired sedan for the coupe-loving common family?

Apparently the smug automotive intelligentsia was wrong about the CC. In four years, the image-enhancing four-door with the swoopy body has quietly sold 320,000 units worldwide. Last we checked, that's a lot for something supposedly meant to fill a niche.

For the 2013 model year, the CC is receiving a mid-life updo in the form of several small but important touches. The unfortunate news is that many of the premium upgrades happening in this freshened CC for the European market will not come out to play in North America. But enough of them will, making a First Drive the proper thing to do. Besides, it's the least we could do when VW has finally changed the name of the car worldwide from the European "Passat CC" to the simpler "CC" moniker favored Stateside.

2013 Volkswagen CC side view2013 Volkswagen CC front view2013 Volkswagen CC rear view

Whereas the 2.0-liter inline TSI four-cylinder in Europe yields up to 208 horsepower (SAE rated), the United States version in the CC still rates 200 hp. As to the desirable 3.6-liter V6 engine, Europeans get 295 hp, while the U.S. remains 280 hp strong. The new exterior paint seen here, Black Oak Brown Metallic, is really a handsome shade, but sadly it won't be crossing the ocean either. Likewise, these very slick optional 18x8-inch Lakeville alloys on our VR6 4Motion will stay in Europe, the U.S. car holding onto the standard Interlagos design. And no 19x8-inch optional Lugano alloys available either. Poop.

While this is beginning to sound like VW's Grinch stole Christmas, all of the major aesthetic changes in the exterior and interior look will indeed come over on the boat from the Emden factory in northern Germany. These include an all-new front fascia, more pronounced skirts between axles, all-new bi-xenon headlights and LED taillights, a hood sans power bulge, and greater chrome accents outside and inside. Still, 'tis a shame we don't get the added beef in the engines, several Phaeton-like optional safety technologies, very upmarket optional adjustable front seats with heat and massage functions, or the wider range of exterior and interior color schemes.

2013 Volkswagen CC lower grille2013 Volkswagen CC headlight2013 Volkswagen CC wheel2013 Volkswagen CC taillight

Two range changes specific to the North America CC are the temporary substitution of a Sport Plus trim for the current R-Line trim and the creation of a front-wheel-drive Lux model available with the 3.6-liter V6. The racier R-Line look will make more of a splash this time around as a special edition later on. The explanation for the availability of the VR6 engine in a standard chassis with spinning front tires is that there is a temporary capacity challenge for VR6 4Motion production due to higher-than-expected demand worldwide. This new model offering should do a nice job of filling the wide price gap between the top 2.0T Lux Limited trim and 3.6 4Motion Executive trim.

For now, the freshened CC is the only Volkswagen model with the vertical chrome slats in the grille, but this will change as other models in the lineup reach their refreshening dates. The new satin-finish chromed plastic accents on the inside lend the CC a certain elegance, though the plastic is fairly common to the touch.

2013 Volkswagen CC interior2013 Volkswagen CC front seats2013 Volkswagen CC gauges2013 Volkswagen CC center console

Volkswagen bosses at our event in the south of France were intent on urging upon us the Phaeton-like luxury effect on this mid-life CC. Whereas the European trim cars come closer to supporting this highbrow notion, North American CCs convince us of this boast primarily in the much more exclusive-feeling front fascia, the more premium-looking LED taillight units (with clever "CC" style graphics), and contained decibel levels while driving made possible with the acoustic five-layer glass in the windshield and front-side windows, as well as with the low 0.28 coefficient of drag. All the while, the comfortable four-seat confines of the CC sets it nicely apart from the mid-size four-door fray.

Our drive in the VR6 4Motion, with its newly enhanced stability control integrating VW's XDS electronic differential braking for improved cornering prowess, was decidedly vigorous on the region's sun-warmed roads. The additional punch of the European 3.6-liter V6 can be clearly felt, but our memories of the CC with this engine at 280 hp and 265 pound-feet of torque (actually greater than the 258 lb-ft in the European trim) are hardly less vivid. This V6's greatest ally is the standard six-speed dual-clutch DSG with Sport mode and steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. The paddles' response time for upshifts and downshifts in "S" mode are spot on. In fact, we'd wager to say that Mercedes-Benz and many BMW models could stand to take a lesson or two in software tweaking from this Borg Warner wet clutch setup.

2013 Volkswagen CC engine

The front-biased 4Motion all-wheel-drive system using its Haldex center differential is another great piece of work that lets this PQ46 chassis sing. Together with the XDS-enhanced ESP programming, the top-of-the-line CC is really sensational when pushed – beyond our expectations, in fact. The standard Continental ContiSportContact 3 all-season tires – 235/40 R18 (95W) front and rear – didn't show much sign of mushiness as the heat built up through the roads' seemingly never-ending rally-worthy tight curves, and the standard brake set actually faded minimally through all this activity over about 80 miles of twisting two-lane.

But, given the timid upgrades to the North American CCs, can this particular trim starting at around $40,500 when it arrives in March outdo the mighty beak of the slightly larger Acura TL SH-AWD at about the same price when comparably equipped? Or the nicely equipped 2013 Cadillac ATS with its 3.6 V6? We really enjoyed our drive over the French-speaking mountains, but we suspect the 2013 CC VR6 4Motion may find increasing sales a bit tougher as the competition increases.



We'll soon see. This coupe-style sedan is apparently not only here to stay, but also to conquer. Staging last December's global reveal of this latest CC at the Los Angeles Auto Show would seem to indicate that VW is intent on making the CC an even bigger player in the USA. And the buying public has warmed up to it remarkably well while we weren't looking. That'll show us.