2006 Volkswagen Passat
This 2006 review is representative of model years 2006 to 2010.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
What makes a car interior look good—even well crafted?
Bob Lutz, a top executive for General Motors Corp. with a reputation for knowing good automotive style when he sees it, once pointed out to me a car interior that he liked.
It wasn't in a GM vehicle or even a luxury car. It was in a Volkswagen.
Lutz noted the plastics didn't look cheap, ceiling material was nicely textured and interior trim pieces fit together precisely—all adding up to a crafted, upscale appearance.
I remembered this recently as I tested the 2006 VW Passat sedan, because this new, sixth-generation Passat shows Germany's VW still creates quality-looking car interiors that focus on function, not fussiness.
The five-passenger, midsize Passat provides a distinctive ride, too, that's oriented to Europeans' sporty, road-hugging tastes.
Prices are well into the $20,000s
The 2006 Passat's starting manufacturer's suggested retail price of some $23,000 is above the starting prices of many other, non-luxury, midsize sedans. The Passat's base model for 2006 is a sedan with a manual transmission and a turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder engine.
Meantime, a 2006 Chevrolet Impala sedan starts at just over $20,000 and comes with a V6 and automatic transmission, while a four-cylinder-powered, base Honda Accord midsize sedan with manual transmission starts at less than $19,000.
Not a stripped car
Still, budget-conscious consumers with families may wonder why they'd want to spend so much on a midsize sedan or station wagon. They could, after all, spend less in buying a Chevrolet Impala, Honda Accord or Toyota Camry.
One thing to remember, though: The Passat's pricing reflects standard equipment that might be optional on competing sedans.
For example, anti-lock brakes are standard on all Passats, but they're optional on the base, 2006 Impala. Floor mats are standard in the Passat, but they're not necessarily included without charge on some other cars. The Passat's steering wheel telescopes as well as tilts to help drivers get comfortably situated, and the base car has a nice-looking leatherette upholstery, not cloth.
In addition, the Passat comes with a manufacturer's comprehensive new-car warranty that runs for four years/50,000 miles, whichever comes first. This compares with a three-year/36,000-mile manufacturer warranty for a Camry.
The Passat also doesn't skimp on safety features. Even head-curtain airbags and front-seat side airbags are standard, and the Passat earned the top score of five stars in European crash testing.
Crash test results
This means the new-generation Passat ranks lower in this metric than several family car competitors, including Honda's Accord and the Hyundai Sonata.
In addition, in U.S. side-crash testing, the new-generation Passat earned four out of five stars for rear-seat occupant protection. This is the same as the 2005 Passat. Front-seat protection in a side crash was upgraded to five stars by NHTSA.
The new width helps improve passenger shoulder room. But even with the new model, the Passat's 54.6 inches of rear-seat shoulder room is shy of the 56.7 inches in the 2007 Camry, and three adults in the back of the Passat sit close to each other.
Tall people can find more headroom in the front and rear seats of the Hyundai Sonata sedan than the 38.4 inches and 37.8 inches, respectively, in the Passat.
At least people in the Passat's rear seat have competitive legroom of 37.7, not to mention three adjustable head restraints and supportive seats. Note that the middle person must contend with a large hump in the floor.
The Passat lags some competitors in trunk space, though the car's trunk is very nicely finished. Cargo volume is 14.2 cubic feet vs. the Sonata's 16.3.
As for the Passat's new styling, there's something about the four, round taillights at the back of the Passat that remind me of last year's Chevy Impala's rear end, not a European sedan.
At the front, the Passat's wide girth of shiny silver grillwork seems a bit heavy-handed and Audi-like.
Balanced handling and power
All I know is the Passat doesn't feel like a family sedan—certainly not a common, utilitarian one.
The turbo four cylinder generates 200 horsepower, which is nearly as much as some V6s. For example, the 3.5-liter V6 in the Impala has peak horsepower of 211.
But the most palpable power of the Passat's turbo four is the torque, which hits its maximum of 207 lb-ft at a low 1800 rpm. In fact, this peak torque is available through the rpm range from 1800 to 5000.
So, in a test Passat with 6-speed automatic transmission, the zippy power came on in a strong, steady fashion when I wanted to get around slower cars or merge safely into traffic. The car felt fun and sprightly at times.
The test car had the optional automatic transmission (retail priced at more than $1,000) that includes a shift-it-yourself Tiptronic mechanism so I could move from gear to gear, sans clutch pedal, on my own. But I often found I didn't have to fuss with shifting down into a low gear to get a fresh surge of power.
I did hear some turbo whine now and then, but the government's fuel economy rating of 23 miles a gallon in city driving and more than 30 mpg on the highway for such a strong engine in a more than 3,300-pound sedan is noteworthy. In fact, the turbocharged four-cylinder-powered 2006 Passat with manual transmission ranks about 15th in the federal government's family car category for fuel economy.
Too bad, though, that pricey premium fuel is recommended for full performance.
Steering was precise and quick to respond. Combined with a firm suspension and a wider stance than its predecessor, the Passat wound pleasantly through mountain twisties with impeccable stability.
It was a pretty easy traveler on long straightaways, too, but riders usually felt some of the road in the form of mild vibrations. The ride is not overly damped, and it's certainly not cushioned.
Brakes worked strongly with almost a grabby feel at times.
And, besides the turbocharged four cylinder, the Passat also can be powered by a 280-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 that's capable of 265 lb-ft of torque at 2750 rpm.
But the fuel economy rating declines noticeably to just 19 mpg in city driving in a Passat with V6.
Note that the Passat is sold with a turbo-diesel engine in Europe. But there's no diesel-powered Passat offered for U.S. consumers. VW also is not offering a Passat with a W8 engine any longer.
For example, in the 2005 J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study of owners, VW was fourth from the bottom in the number of reported problems in only the first three months of ownership.
This is the poorest showing of all European marques and was only a slight improvement over the previous year's ranking of second from the bottom. In 2003, VW also was below the industry average in this Initial Quality Study.
Meantime, in a look at longer-term issues, VWs from the 2002 model year ranked fourth from the bottom and worst among European brands, according to Power's 2005 Vehicle Dependability Study. The study measures problems owners report with their vehicles over the first three years of ownership.