2001 Volkswagen Passat Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Fresh styling, more power.
Volkswagen's Passat has been completely redesigned for 2002. Though the Passat gains bolder contours and new lights front and rear, this new model goes well beyond a styling revision. Volkswagen claims the only parts not changed are the roof and the doors. The chassis is 10 percent stiffer and the base engine has gained horsepower and torque, at low rpm where it's needed for quicker acceleration from intersections and robust response around town. Advances inside include new styling and new side curtain airbags.
Conflicting U.S. and European laws forced Volkswagen to launch its new Passat as a 2001 model, despite the old Passat having been sold since the fall of 2000 as a 2001 model also. To deal with this, Volkswagen's marketing people have dubbed the new Passat a '2001.5' model, a convention we'll follow to avoid confusion. Rush to your dealer and you may see the Passat being sold as a 2001.5; we view this as a 2002 model, however. We expect few changes between 2001.5 and 2002, except for the availability of an exciting new engine.
The new Passat is available as a four-door sedan and a four-door station wagon. It comes with a choice of turbocharged four-cylinder engine or V6. Two trim-levels are available, GLS and GLX. It can be ordered with or without VW's all-wheel drive system, called 4Motion. Naturally, you can't order a la carte, and the menu allows only certain substitutions. And there's a significant range in prices.
The entry level Passat is the GLS sedan powered by the VW-Audi 1.8T turbocharged four-cylinder. Listing at only $21,750, it's a well-equipped bargain. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, cruise control, rear window and side mirror defrosters and even a multi-function trip computer. The wagon version has a base price of $22,550 and has a 39 cubic foot cargo capacity.
GLS is also offered with 190-horsepower V6 with either a standard 5-speed manual or optional 5-speed automatic with Tiptronic manual shift control. The automatic is required to get VW's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, currently offered only with the V6. So equipped, the GLS lists for $27,075. GLX equipment listed below is available as options on GLS.
GLX trim is top of the line, with standard features including leather front and rear, wood trim, electronic climate control, Monsoon audio, heated power driver and passenger seats, a power glass sunroof, and 16-inch alloy wheels. GLX is offered only with the V6. Equipped with 4Motion all-wheel drive, the base price for the GLX is $31,575. The equivalent wagon retails for $32,375. The only options available for the GLX are the automatic transmission, no-charge metallic paint, and a dealer-installed six-disc CD changer and in-dash CD-player.
Passat's styling is distinctive, its arch-shaped roof and six-light side glass standing out among look-alike sedans, but alterations to the front and rear make an avant garde design bolder still. There are new chrome accents on the grille, which is more sharply raked and smoothly integrated into the bumper. New halogen headlamps under clear polycarbonate lenses and standard halogen projector beam foglamps integrated into the front bumper complete the front end makeover. Crisper styling at the rear is highlighted by new rear lamps that have round lenses for the tail and brake lights.
Anyone familiar with Volkswagens will readily identify the Passat's interior as a member of the family. The dash and seats are cleanly designed and handsome, harmonizing well with the exterior design. The arched hood over the instruments echoes the roofline, and the soft curve of the dash matches the exterior sheet metal. The speedometer and tachometer flanking two smaller gauges have faces with the look of precision instruments, and at night illuminate with a cool blue light that will be the envy of your peers. Standard even on our base GLS model is a dot matrix readout multifunction trip computer that calculates trip time, trip length, average trip speed and fuel consumption, current fuel consumption, miles to empty and external temperature. There's even a light for low washer fluid.
Getting in is easy, with a silicone-damped assist handle over each door. Central locking is standard, and a valet key keeps the guys at the car park out of your trunk. The interior center dome light, with time delay, is complemented by two reading lights front and rear. Doors lock at 8 mph (but can be reprogrammed by the dealer) and unlock for occupant rescue in case of airbag deployment. In addition to the standard front airbags, the Passat comes standard with side seat-mounted airbags and side curtain airbags designed to help protect front and rear seat passengers in case of a side collision.
The seats are firm but comfortable for a long drive. The front seats have a hand-crank recline that has the advantage of being infinitely variable but takes longer and is more awkward to adjust. VW uses special soft-touch paint for painted surfaces. A new-design console between the front seats has size-adjustable cupholders and a large storage compartment.
Two adult males will have adequate room in the back seat, but three will be a squeeze and shouldn't be contemplated for more than just a short ride. Three-point seat belts are provided for the outboard passengers only. Cupholders for the rear seats are located in a fold-down armrest that also has more storage.
The sedan's trunk is truly cavernous, with a flat floor extending the full distance to the seatbacks, which is quite a way. The result is an impressive 15 cubic feet of cargo capacity, and with none of it lost to the trunk lid supports as the Passat has articulated trunk lid supports.
Although we have driven a variety of Passats, we focused this year on the Passat GLS with the manual transmission to see how much VW you can get for under $22,000. The V6 only provides twenty more horsepower and, besides, the 1.8T was the engine that was changed this year. By VW's testing, the V6 accelerates the Passat more quickly, but a 1.8T-powered Passat with the manual transmission is quicker than the V6 with the automatic.
Volkswagen shares the 1.8T with corporate cousin Audi. This relatively small (1781cc) four-cylinder engine uses a double-overhead-cam 5-valve per cylinder design combined with an intercooled turbocharger to produce a prodigious 170 horsepower. Even more impressive is the broad torque spread, 166 pound-feet from 1950 rpm all the way up to 5000 rpm. The only downside is a thirst for unleaded premium (91 octane) fuel. The larger (2771 cc), naturally aspirated 2.8-liter V6 also has five valves per cylinder but offers only 20 more horsepower than the four. Torque, important for those using the Passat's passenger or cargo capacity, is, however, a healthy 206 pound-feet.
Raw numbers aside, we like the eager feel of the 1.8T. It has a solid punch down low, thanks to careful tuning of its turbocharger, but really sings at the upper rev range. This engine truly enjoys its work, and working it is especially enjoyable as well. The five-speed manual gearbox contributes an operation delight of its own, with a feel of quality material shaped by careful hands. The shifter slides effortlessly from gear to gear.
We drove the Passat GLS 1.8T on winding roads in the Georgia red clay hills north of Atlanta and were impressed by the Passat's ability to accelerate away from slow corners with little drama from the chassis. The Passat had none of the squirreliness suffered by many front drivers, due in large part to its sophisticated front suspension.
Cornering is balanced front to rear, with little understeer. The four-link front suspension uses coil springs and an anti-roll bar, while the rear suspension uses VW's trusted and true torsion beam axle with trailing arms, coil springs and an anti-roll bar. The suspension absorbs bumps and potholes like a dry sponge attacks spilled milk. The Passat is solid, with no shakes transmitted through the steering column or the chassis. Want confidence? It comes bundled even in the base Passat.
There is a cost to the Passat's competence, however. There's road noise, especially over tar-and-chip type pavement. And there's wind noise, although that could be from accidentally traveling 80 mph. It's a good thing that cruise control is standard as it can help drivers avoid tickets in this superb sedan. The Passat's competence on the superslab no doubt springs from its upbringing in Germany, the home of the Autobahn. The Passat cruises, almost lazily, at any legal speed in the U.S.
Four-wheel disc brakes are standard along with an anti-lock braking system (ABS). Traction control, which Volkswagen calls ASR, or Anti-Slip Regulation, is standard to reduce wheelspin and improve stability under acceleration. Also standard is EDL, an Electronic Differential Lock, which helps apportion torque between the front wheels, again for improved stability, less wheelspin, and quicker acceleration performance.
Steel wheels (6x15-inch) are standard on the GLS. Optional alloy wheels are an inch wider than the standard rims. GLX comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels. Steering is by power-assisted rack and pinion; the turning circle is a not especially tight 37.4 ft curb to curb.
The Passat is the best selling car made in Germany in America. The Passat GLS 1.8T is also the cheapest German-built car sold here (at least until the Jetta wagon arrives; less expensive VWs sold in the U.S. are made in Mexico). Maybe the two have something to do with each other, although the Passat's 'rocket for every pocket' may be a factor as well.
Regardless of price, our pick would be the GLS 1.8T. It beats the V6 by several more miles per gallon, whether manual or automatic, city or highway and, in our opinion, feels better doing so. You can always order the special options you want…unless it's all-wheel drive. If you need or want that extra traction in a sporty German sedan, consider the Audi A4. They'll sell you the 1.8T all-wheel drive…and with a manual transmission, too.
On the other hand, if you're hankering to spend even more, wait 'til next fall when Volkswagen adds the 'W8' engine option to the Passat lineup. This narrow-angle V8 is certain to twist the Passat's tail…but be prepared to spend more at the pump and considerably more on your monthly payment. Or you could save the money and get your 1.8T now and start enjoying the virtues of the Passat immediately.
Sedans: GLS 1.8T ($21,750); GLS V6 ($24,250); GLS V6 4Motion ($27,075); GLX V6 ($28,750); GLX V6 4Motion ($31,575)
Wagons: GLS ($22,550); GLS V6 ($25,050); GLS V6 4Motion ($27,875); GLX V6 ($29,550); GLX V6 4Motion ($32,375).
Options As Tested
GLS 1.8T sedan ($21,750).
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