Yet there are still many signs of the attention to detail expected from VW, as noted by contributor Ronald Ahrens after a drive from Ann Arbor to Grand Junction, Colorado. "I'm impressed by the quality of the carpet lining the huge trunk, and I also like how the lid swings up on its own," he enthused. "I really appreciated the weighted action of the doors; they won't swing back closed in the wind or on a hill."
Unfortunately, Ahrens's take on the Passat's driving experience mirrored that of virtually everyone else: "This is not a driver's car. The abiding dynamic characteristic is torque steer."
"The Passat drives nicely," elaborated Noordeloos, "and it's smooth, quiet, and much faster than you would expect. But it's not sporty. Its damping is similar to base Audis; it makes for a comfortable ride, but the car doesn't like quick bumps, and it wallows and complains when pushed."
Everyone admired the 2.0-liter direct-injection turbocharged four--"once rolling, it's as strong as any V-6 in this class," said technical editor Don Sherman--and the six-speed manual was highly regarded by most, thanks to its "light, precise shifts and short throw," as described by creative director Richard Eccleston. The Auto Hold feature, VW's version of a hill-holder, also was widely praised. The powertrain, alas, was not perfect. "A significant annoyance," said Sherman, "is the throttle damper. Lift abruptly off the gas, and the throttle stays open for a second or three. You want to slow down, but the car doesn't." Many other testers echoed his complaints.
We weren't bowled over by the fuel economy, either. We averaged 26 mpg, and it was rare to crest 30 mpg on a tank, even in freeway driving. Web producer Stuart Fowle achieved 27 mpg on a 4800-mile trek to Las Vegas by way of Houston, well short of the 32-mpg EPA highway figure.
The ignition interface and the push-button electronic parking brake also received mixed reviews. To start the Passat, the driver must insert the key--a handsome little black-and-chrome wedge--into a slot in the dash and then push on it just so. It might sound easy, but it was often like trying to shove a pill down a dog's throat.
As for the parking brake? "Bad, bad, bad," opined copy editor Adrienne Newell, whose sisters both drive fifth-generation Passat wagons. "It's inconvenient, slow, and silly." Others disagreed. The advantage, of course, is that it frees up space in the center console for a couple of big cupholders. Clearly, VW knows what's important to American drivers.
But what's also important to Passat buyers is the feeling that they're members of an elite club. To own the last Passat was to announce that you were a little smarter, a little edgier, and a little more interesting than the guys in the Camrys and the Accords. This new Passat--a very good and, in our case, a very reliable family sedan--has lost some of that hard-to-define intrinsic value. Ahrens spoke for most of us when he said, "Ambivalence is the best I can report about the Passat." Indeed. "This car still bores me," admitted production editor Jennifer Misaros ten months into our test, "and it's hard to understand why."
President Jean Jennings delivered her less equivocal verdict: "I share others' lack of emotion and passion. The old Passat felt like `new luxury.' It was special, beautifully trimmed, and overly loaded. This one would be lauded if it were a Ford family sedan, but it's a sad drop from the Passat's glory days."