Slide into the snug, over-bolstered leather seat. Push the chunky key fob into a slot labeled “start/stop.” Tune an ear to combustion as smooth as a baby’s backside. Grab hold of the three-spoke leather-wrapped helm. Engage first gear. Mash the throttle and drop the clutch. Brace for wheel hop, snick through the gears to triple digit speeds, then slam on the brakes. Escape through the heavy driver’s door and slam it shut. Glance back at the Volkswagen Passat 2.0T.
Not bad. And then a realization dawns: the Passat is one seriously dorky looking car. Although it isn’t the sine qua non of dork (a.k.a. the Saturn Ion), the VW’s sporting wedge shape and windswept lines are completely undermined by its odd proportions and clunky overhangs. A prominent swage line fails to conceal a bulky butt, while the V-shaped chrome plastic grill’s braces-with-headgear aesthetic needs immediate unpimping.
Fortunately, for 2007, Wolfsburg offers the 2.0T (two liter turbo) with a six-speed manual and sport package. Buyers ticking these boxes ditch the Passat’s bo-bo wheel covers for 18” Samarkand alloys that could make a Tracer Trio look cool. The sedan’s 15mm lowered ride height and low-profile Pirelli’s deliver a vast improvement to the car’s basic stance and overall demeanor.
Although it’s not so much modern as style free, the Passat’s relatively plain looking interior goes a long way to restoring the brand’s reputation for high quality, high touch, OCD-informed interiors. Notice the umbrella holder inside the door panel that allows water to drain out above the rocker instead of inside the car. A button on the left corner of the dash operates the parking brake, making room for cup holders– yes, finally– in the center console. Four front visors block the sun in all directions.
A large semi-circle encompasses the Passat’s dash, flowing neatly into the doors. The dash’s charcoal-colored top tier contrasts with a control panel trimmed in brushed aluminum. While the Passat’s patented blue and red electroluminescent dials hark back to the days when Rabbits played Golf, at least the gauges are elegantly presented, set deep within individual cylinders. Best of all, the Passat’s sport seats would feel at home in an Italian grand tourer, with a ribbed stitch pattern reminiscent of a 365 GTB/4.
The Passat’s transversely mounted four cylinder engine delivers thrust with a muffled baritone exhaust note. Some pistonheads will mourn the loss of the old model’s high-pitched turbo whistle, but few will mind the lag-free power delivery. The Passat’s oomph builds steadily from 1800 before losing its breath at around five grand. Two hundred horsepower a bit more twist propel some 3500 pounds of laser-welded steel from rest to 60 in a sedan-respectable seven seconds.
There’s no need to slap an auto-stick to do the deed; the Passat’s manual clutch action is light. The Passat’s shifter sits tall in hand, but slides through the gate without the rubbery sloppiness endemic to VW boxes. The clutch’s clean uptake and engagement allows for quick, aggressive shifting. If not, the Passat 2.0T ekes out well over 30 brand-faithful miles per gallon.
To add a little panache to the new Passat, Vee Dub’s boffins dialed in 60 percent more chassis rigidity than ye olde B5 Passat. With a four-link independent rear suspension, the Passat feels comfortably composed over the roughest roads. At speed, the Passat is a serene cruiser. So yes, you really do get that German big car feel that the hecho en Mexico Vee Dubs lacked.
And just in case you thought this was a love letter instead of a Dear John, the handling
sucks lacks dynamic satisfaction. Despite the sport pack’s stiffer springs, the car rolls in the corners like Cheech and Chong at a Hollywood wrap party. In hard cornering, the Passat’s comfort bias will have considerate drivers calling out “hard aport” and “hard astarboard.” Push the Passat into true sports sedan territory and the front [driven] wheels give up the ghost faster than Scooby Doo’s human cohorts.
Driving the Passat 2.0T is like dating an unattractive woman with a great personality who’s not great in bed but is always ready to give it the old college try. You have a good time together, you know, generally, but would you take her home to the folks? What if there are better looking alternatives available? Like the old Beetle, the Passat is a kind of automotive litmus test. Just how sensible are you? Pssst. How about a four year warranty?
And then the argument falls apart (literally). While the ’07 Passat is a new model, the “old” car earned an unenviable reputation for lousy reliability. Coolant leaks, rough idle, window stress cracks, six major recalls in seven years— and that list doesn’t include anecdotal evidence from plenty of pissed off Passaters. If VW has ironed-out the kinks both at the factory and at the dealer level, the Passat makes perfect sense. If not, not.