By on September 2, 2013

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Let’s start with the good news: It’s still possible to purchase a German-made Volkswagen sedan with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a manual transmission. Your humble author did just that back in February of 1998, taking delivery of a 1998 Passat 1.8t and thoroughly enjoying the sleek sedan while it was in my possession. The current Passat is aimed at a different market, and quite successfully so; it’s the “CC” four-door koo-pay that is meant to carry the torch for all the old B5 Passat fans.

Which makes sense, because this is fundamentally an old Passat. An eight-year-old Passat. And that, as you might expect, is a bit of a problem.


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The “B6″ Passat that underpins the CC debuted in 2005. In Volkswagen-land, that’s not really a problem; the company is just now discontinuing Brazilian production of the original 1950s-era Transporter van. Compared to that venerable vehicle, the B6 Passat is a spring chicken. Still. Just to give you some context, here’s a 2005 Kia Optima:

2005-2006_Kia_Optima_LX

and here’s a 2013 Kia Optima:

2013optima

You get the idea? In fairness, however, the current CC has a different front and rear fascia from the original CC, which debuted in 2008 as a variant of that 2005 Passat. Still, when you consider what’s happened in the market since then… it isn’t just the Optima. The Sonata, the Fusion, the Malibu — quite a bit of chump-to-champ transformation happening while Volkswagen sits still.

Enough of that. Let’s go drive. The loop on which I tested these cars was a 33-mile assemblage of twisting roads running up and down the side of a mountain-ish hill in Napa, CA. The CC impresses at first glance: the proportions are familiar but they’re still correct and the interior is tasteful yet substantially identical to that of the B6 Passat. It’s not luxurious but it’s not cheap-feeling either. The R-Line’s price of $33,000 and change isn’t undermined too badly here, particularly if you like German minimalism. Just try to stay out of the competition if you want to remain happy with the features on offer.

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Yes, that’s a two-tone interior. The seats are familiar to anyone who’s been in the B6 but they’re outstanding in both fit and comfort. Everything’s pretty easy to reach and operate. I hadn’t driven a non-North-American Passat since I had them as service loaners in the last decade but I immediately figured out how everything worked. The head unit was unable to negotiate with my 160GB iPod Classic, however. Luckily the 1/8″ plug works fine.

Visibility isn’t as bad as it is in some of the other coupes-that-aren’t, but the “NMS” (New Midsize Sedan) Chattanooga Passat has it whipped six ways to sundown in that respect. Rear seat room was insufficient for your six-foot-two, thirty-two-inch-inseam editor and the trunk is unlikely to fit a serious guitar amplifier or a mountain bike with just the front wheel off. While the CC casts a larger shadow on the ground than the current Jetta, it feels less spacious inside. Compared to the aforementioned NMS, it isn’t even close.

With two hundred horsepower to pull 3400 pounds and a relatively precise-feeling (by VW and front-wheel-drive standards) six-speed manual transmission, the CC should be acceptably quick, and it is. While it struggled a bit to accelerate on Napa’s steepest grades, the CC is clearly stronger than the four-cylinder Japanese entries in this market. It would take a True Believer, however, to pretend that the V-6 Camry and Accord won’t leave it for dead. While VW has a third-generation 2.0T in the pipeline, this ain’t it, and even an artificially flat turbo torque curve isn’t enough to imbue the CC with any real sense of hurry.

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Not that you’d want it to be any faster than it is, because the brakes are flat-out terrible. Soft, deep, and slow to bite, the CC’s stoppers are not even close to being up to par for fast road work. I was the first person to drive this car and I was on the first wave of the press event, so it’s hard to blame abuse or wear for the problem. It materially affected the amount of speed I was able to hold on the long descents because I was never sure how close I was to having the pedal touch the floor followed by having the nose of the CC touch a tree at Michael Hastings engine escape velocity.

Just as well, because if the brakes weren’t fast enough for the engine, the suspension probably wasn’t well-damped enough for the brakes. Of the six cars I drove around this loop, only the CC regularly exhibited what I think of as a “floating extension”, which is when the rebound damping goes on vacation and the body hovers near the long end of the suspension’s stroke while the unloaded tires fiddle around for a very small slice of road grip. Some of the “whoops” on the downhill sections of Howell Mountain Road were sufficient to first pull the shocks all the way out then slam them into the bumpstops. While it was possible to exploit this behavior to get a surprising amount of “loose” motion from the back end around curves, it’s not reassuring and it conspicuously fails to deliver on the promises made by the R-Line’s aggressive exterior.

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I had thought that the CC might end up being the surprise winner of this comparison. As noted in the beginning of the review, it’s German-built (the Emden plant that built my ’98 also cranked this one out) and it has a third pedal that the competition has mostly stopped offering. Only the TSX and Buick Regal will let you have a stick-shift in this competitive set. The TSX punishes you for choosing the stick by limiting you to three color choices and base trim. The Buick punishes you for choosing the stick by being a Buick Regal. Guffaw. With that said, don’t think you’re going to see which way the retarded-sabertooth-grille Buick Regal GS went on a fast road from the driver’s seat of a CC — and the driver of the Regal won’t have paid any more for his considerably faster and more competent sedan. It’s tough to be a VW fan nowadays with Buick putting the boots to us like this. Not since the days of the Grand National have Buick sport sedans been faster than Volkswagens. Except for, um, all the years they sold the supercharged 3800 Regal. Okay, I take it back. Buick’s had the legs on the German brand more often than it hasn’t, and that’s just from the Seventies forward.

I’d still take the CC over, say, a Maxima, mostly because I can shift it myself and it looks cool. But against the non-VW competition it falls short. This being an Intramural League, however, we’re really only considering its merits against other Volkswagens. So here goes: Compared to other Volkswagens, the CC looks and feels old, it neither stops nor handles, and it costs more than other VWs that are more desirable and enjoyable. This old, bold soldier is ready for retirement — but what could possibly replace it? There’s nothing in the hopper at Wolfsburg. So if you want that list of qualities referred to above, this one is your winner and you might want to act while you still can. For everybody else: dead last.

Disclosure: Volkswagen flew me on Southwest Airlines to San Francisco and back for this test. Although I rented my own ground transportation and paid for all my own meals, those amenities were available to me courtesy of VW had I wanted or needed them. All expenses associated with operating the test vehicles were covered by Volkswagen, and I was put up for two nights in a very romantic little cottage.

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56 Comments on “2013 Volkswagen Intramural League, Fifth Place: CC R-Line 2.0T...”


  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    For the benefit of Napa locals (who know the backroads on both bicycle, motorcycle, and car), what were the roads you took on your loop?

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Quite the looker! I love the broze/brown color, rich, yet conservative.

    Acura gets a mention but that is all. Pfff!

    Might as well put the manual transmission Buick Verano Turbo in the mix. Verano Turbo has similar handling, slightly better according to C&D, and similar braking. But with ~50 hp/trq more output and the quietest tuning in the class.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      Well, a Verano won’t set well with the latte sipping crowd. Not at all. I imagine a similarly equipped Verano would be much cheaper. But hey! A Veedub will leave you with weird electrical problems and a dealer that will try to fist you at every opportunity. Like a fool, owned two.

  • avatar
    Nostrathomas

    Ive always loved the way the CC looks. Even though it’s been around for a while, it has a beautiful presence about it whenever I see one.

    • 0 avatar
      RS

      I also like the styling. Seems elegant and sophisticated without being too over done – and over done seems to be the styling trend of the day.

    • 0 avatar
      sexyhammer

      I’ll throw my opinion in here as a voice of dissent; The previous-generation CC was so unexpectedly beautiful (for a modern cookie-cutter design sedan from VW) that it actually gave my pause when it was launched. The roofline, the head and taillight treatments and the overall proportions were so good that they managed to shift the focus away from the ubiquitous horrible details that have killed auto design as of late.

      This one takes a winning formula and manages to screw it up at every turn. The headlights, taillights and grille treatment went from undeniably sleek to positively dorky. I guess it followed suit after the Jetta’s redesign to incorporate VeeDub’s new industrial look. The eggcrate grilles and chunky lines look cheap, more like a Ford/GM offering circa 2005.

      Couple that with the driving review and I’d see this as a suitable choice for a latecomer to the VW bandwagon who thinks himself too refined to blend with the Jetta/Golf crowd, yet unable to grasp the irony of his purchase and what it says about him. Perfect for blending into the crowd of late 20 to early 30-somethings in the parking garage.

  • avatar
    b787

    European market B7 Passat is actually just a facelifted B6 Passat, so I guess VW doesn’t consider it as old.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    I’m disappointed in your conclusions but I still have this car on my shopping list. Makes me think the price of upgrading to a Audi A4 might be worth it.

    • 0 avatar
      vbofw

      Considered CC vs. A4 18 months ago. While it seems close at first glance, the loaded 2.0T CC was $32 after haggling. If you option-up the A4 I was looking at $40-41. My Audi dealers just don’t deal, never any dealer incentives, and you need to pay $500 for the privilege of using the same metallic paint. Plus the CC came with 36k of free service, the Audi only one courtesy checkup at 5k. Like the A4, great car, but its 30%+ mor expensive, which was my tiebreaker. It had Quattro, but the CC is really solid in snow.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    “Which makes sense, because this is fundamentally an old Passat. An eight-year-old Passat. And that, as you might expect, is a bit of a problem.”

    Normally I wouldn’t say this but I would think that the Passat using an old platform would be a good thing, this is the same author who greatly enjoys a Town Car which was well known for its aged platform. That or the evil Jack Barth is back.

    I don’t mind old platforms myself though, I honestly think that cars are swapped around and re-built too frequently these days. If we’re going to build anymore icons we need to make something and stick with it for 10 years, tweaking it the whole way.

    That or get a good filmmanga to feature a car, instant icons there.

  • avatar
    1998redwagon

    c’mon the intramural league and we get only one car!
    i want all my dessert now, not one per day.

    seriously, i am looking forward to all 5 of these ‘reviews’ and i like the idea of fanboys being stacked up against fanboys. to that extent i hope the reviews include reference to the different entrants into the competition.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX (formerly gslippy)

    The CC’s beautiful looks are responsible for nearly all of its sales, I’m sure. Many failed marriages begin this way.

    The suspension unloading deal during braking is troubling. Seems like stiffer shocks would help a lot.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Agree about stiffer springs/shocks. Sounds like there’s not a lot wrong here that stiffer dampers and better brake pads wouldn’t fix (other than 2.0 turbo carbon buildup, of course).

      I won’t complain about the CC being a generation old, since the Chattanooga Passat is little more than a previous-generation Passat that’s been stretched and cheaped out.

      I do think the CC deserves to sell on the basis of its looks alone. Personally, I think it’s still the best-looking sedan you can buy, although the refresh didn’t help any.

  • avatar
    blackbolt

    Old platforms are good if they are good. This one seems no such.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    After a very brief bit of internetting it seems like Motor Trend publishes braking figures 60-0 in feet. I am not familiar with how reliable their data is but this is what I found.
    Nissan Maxima 125 feet.
    Honda Accord 124 feet.
    Kia Optima 123 feet.
    New Passat 119 feet.
    Passat CC 116 feet.

    • 0 avatar
      Beerboy12

      I don’t mean to criticize this excellent review / assessment. My assumption is that the Passat’s braking ability is deceptive because it seems to be the class leader. Ford Fusion is 120 feet and Malibu data was not given.

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        What a car can do in a single stop is in no way indicative of how it will perform over multiple hot brake applications. Since pretty much every car built now can engage ABS at 60mph, that single test is an indicator of tire stick and curb weight, mostly.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          While I agree with you, I also suspect that even an above average typical Passat owner would not drive the car nearly as hard as you did. It is ultimately the biggest and heaviest and least sporting of the five VWs you mentioned, is it not? I’m not really that interested in how a car like this does on a mountain road – how is it on the Interstate at 85mph?

          • 0 avatar
            Signal11

            I’d say relevancy has more to do with your daily drive. If you’re putting down a lot of highway miles, then the single stop braking figures might have more relevancy.

            OTOH, if you’re driving up and down hills on your commute, then brake feel after repeated application might be something that’s extremely important to you.

        • 0 avatar
          Beerboy12

          I don’t know how MT derived those figures but a good brake test would typically be say 10 stops one after the other. That would highlight brake fade.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    I’d assume the only reason to buy one of these is that you’re too much of a True Believer to even consider that Chattanooga Impala, let alone anything else.

  • avatar

    Since I hardly use the trunk, I’ll rather keep $5k in my pocket & get 6 MT 4 doors GTI.

  • avatar
    gasser

    I have been considering buying an ex-rental 13 CC. I had not heard of the here mentioned brake and suspension criticism.
    Others have mentioned automatics have a hesitation at start up and the 2.0 T having a thirst for expensive synthetic oil.
    Any chance the brake issue was peculiar to this vehicle only?

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I think it takes premium fuel, too…

    • 0 avatar
      Jacob

      All or most German cars require some kind of Euro-formula synthetic oil. Don’t listen to others who say it’s expensive. It’s cheap if you buy it yourself. One good example is Mobil 1 0W40. You can get a 5 quart jug for $25 at Walmart. It’s a world class oil, and being a Euro spec oil, it’s actually noticeably better than other Mobil 1 grades (5W20, 5W30, etc). Another good well known Euro oil is the Castrol Syntec 0W30 (affectionately known by users as “German Castrol” because it’s supposedly the only Castrol oil made in Germany). When on sale at parts stores, you can get five quarts for around $30. Hardly a high price for an oil that will work well for at least 10,000 miles. They meet BMW’s specs, so in theory, they should be good for much longer than that.

    • 0 avatar
      lon888

      The mushy brakes are on other VW’s also. I have a 2012 GTI and it took a tyrolsport brake stiffening kit, aeroquip brake hoses and different brake pads to to reduce the “mushiness”. Why in the world the Germans thought it would it be a good idea to run brakes on rubber bushings beats the hell out of me.

    • 0 avatar
      dmw

      I think the brake issue may be particular to a guy who races cars. The brakes are a bit on the soft side, but I can tell you they are firmer than in a Mk6 Jetta, not that this is a benchmark, but it’s i the range of normal car brakes. I don’t feel a lack of confidence in the brakes, but I can count on one hand the times in year of having my CC that I pushed the brake down as hard as possible. That said, I would prefer a harder pedal.

      The 2.0T had a notorious slow tip-in with the DSG, which I believe has been addressed in a factory reflash.

      I would agree that the car is under damped. The suspension is a bit hard. But you will notice some bounciness and it doesn’t take a set that great in a corner. I think they wanted the car to feel hard and sporty, which it does in normal driving. It doesn’t keel over in a sharp turn. But it’s not a sorted out performance sedan. In Europe, the CC has adjustable suspension, which may be what is missing–a “sport” setting to up the damping.

  • avatar
    Scott_314

    VW is the only car company with what I call “2-decade loyalty”:

    You buy one because you like that it’s German, but not BMW or Mercedes.

    You’re so upset with it that you swear off them forever.

    Two decades later, the memories are faint enough that you buy another for the exact same reasons.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      Thanks for reminding me Scott. It was 1997 when I was last stranded on the side of the road by a Golf that had spent 6 months of out of 24 in the shop and I swore that I would never ever again buy another VW product. It had been so long that the 2015 GTI was almost looking tempting.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    The CC’s driving dynamics seem bad enough to obliterate the plus that VW offers this car with a manual transmission.

    I’m guessing a Mexican-built Jetta GLI would be much more fun. Even the Vortexers don’t have an issue with the build quality of Mexican VWs any more.

    http://forums.vwvortex.com/showthread.php?5946999-How-s-the-build-quality-on-your-Mexican-built-Jettas

    “I would say the robots that build in Spanish do just as good as the robots the build in German.”

  • avatar
    carguy

    Nice review Jack. It is sad that VW has let the CC languish as it has the most stylish and dignified sheet metal in its price bracket.

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    Throw an Audi grille on it and it would look just like, well, an Audi. That’s always been the problem with the CC. VW tried too hard to make it look like an Audi.

  • avatar
    Nigel

    I bought a ’99 Passat new. It was a fantastic car. It was turbo and 5 speed stick. Other than a replaced wheel bearing the car gave me 70,000 flawless miles over 4 years. (yes, I was lucky). Traded it on a ’03 Saab 9 3 which was an electrical mess. After two years I planned on getting another Passat, but the ’06 were not impressive at all. I ended up with the New Jetta, which had a fantastic interior and the worst electrical system ever. Every time I think of the Green Passat I kick myself for not keeping it for another two or three years.

    I have yet to bond with a car like that one. I had an Aura, which I liked but it was not the same. The current Passat is ok, but it doesn’t exude class the way my ’99 did.

    • 0 avatar
      vbofw

      Love, LOVE the late 90′s Passats in that dark green. Had a MKIV Jetta in that color – was a college student so couldn’t afford more than that – $17k if I remember correctly. I like to think the cool blue dashboard lights got me laid more than a couple times. Memmmm-ories.

  • avatar
    jbltg

    All this, and legendary VW reliability and service thrown in.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    Having looked at and driven several CCs recently, I can’t think of a single reason why I would buy one or more generally why it still exists, particularly with little to no marketing support. Same for the Eos. Too many cars in too few segments, just sort of cannibalizing each other’s sales.

  • avatar
    brux2dc

    I have the exact car in this review both model and int/ext colors.

    I love this car! I shopped around for months finally deciding between the CC R-Line and the 14 Mazda 6 Touring.

    Got the CC vs the 6. Why? Because it didn’t feel cheap in the interior. I like the German minimalism, and the car handles wonderfully.

    I can see where people can nit pick about this and that on the car, but my number one criteria when looking for my new car was that it had to have a manual transmission. Number 2 was the availability of a factory navigation. Find me the number of cars with that combo and you’ll see why I went with the CC (oh and I don’t have $40+k to spend either).

    In a seriously dwindling list of cars with manual trans with better than base trims, this one stood out amongst the best to me. Oh, and it didn’t hurt that I got it $5000 off MSRP!

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I don’t think the new 6 feels cheap. It seems rather like a BMW to me on the inside, especially because of the dashboard, the thigh extensions, and the white leather/leatherette. The thing is, I don’t think that you can get the 6 Grand Touring with a manual transmission, which is probably what turned you to the CC. The CC doesn’t feel cheap either and it is one of the best-looking cars for sale, period. Still, you do give up some interior space and safety to the 6 and those frameless windows might give you issues in the future.

      • 0 avatar
        brux2dc

        Yes! Exactly about the 6 Grand Touring’s lack of MT! I would have bought that car instead of the CC, but Mazda USA decided against importing the MT Grand Touring. Mazda Canada has the Grand Touring in MT though… I wrote a long email to Mazda about why I didn’t buy their car vs the CC. Primary factor was the lack of MT in the Grand Touring.

        I earned my stripes fixing VWs with my previous Jetta. I’m not skerd! I’ve got a VAG-COM in my back pocket, along with triple square sockets, a multi-meter, and a spool of 22g repair wire ;-)

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    One thing that Volkswagen could do is get rid of the cheap RNS-315 navigation system shown here (which is used in the Jetta!) and give you the nicer RNS-510 unit to boot…

  • avatar
    Jacob

    It’s nice that VW offers its premium sedan with a stick. This shows that with all of its flaws, VW still cares about people who enjoy being a driver.

    VW CC looks like a car designed for long comfortable trips and commutes rather than something to throw around corners, so it’s not shocking that GTI or Jetta will be a more fun car to drive on a hilly two lane road. While a typical VW CC owner won’t care, I do suspect if the car has a good sized rotors and calipers, the fading brake issue could be fixed by installing a more aggressive brake pad. My favorites are StopTech Street Performance and Wagner Thermoquet Ceramic. The first is a track pad that also works well on the street. The later gives you 85-90% of the former’s power, but with less dust.

  • avatar
    krayzie

    Walter De Silva is like the new Chris Bangle Lite.

  • avatar
    th009

    I have to say that the CC design has aged somewhat more gracefully than the pre-Peter Schreyer designs at Kia!

  • avatar
    dmw

    As a CC owner, much of this rings true, even the ad hominem attacks on VW fanboys. Full disclosure, I’ve bought 3 VWs. (Though none was Phaeton, so I only have junior fanboy status, am I right?). However, let me say that I can’t agree with the talk about the old platform and the interior. My wife has an 09 B6 Passat, and from the materials to the feel of the switch gear, there is no comparison between the two. They are similar in general shape but that’s it. The road-feel of the cars is totally different. The CC feels much more solid and tighter. Plus, I get compliments on the CC, not the Passat. I’m vain, so that’s OK with me.

    Regarding the value, I paid for my vanity as you must in a CC. But I think the R-Line is actually the worse value among the CCs. You are paying for the body kit, otherwise, it’s a Sport. No sunroof, no leather, cheap NAV. Also, the dash materials are not as nice as the Lux and up versions, and it’s notceable. The best value is/was the VR6 Lux, which is what I have. It’s quite a premium over the Sport/R-Line, but when you measure it up against a base C-Class or 328i at a similar price, it’s no contest. It goes like stink, sounds like a a Can-Am car, and is looks like a million bucks inside. It has a strong feature content, though you will lack somethings you get in an Accord EX-L for a few thousand less. When I get tired of the understeer, of which there is enough, I’ll spend a few bucks on Conti DWSs and an a an antiroll bar.

    • 0 avatar
      nsrla

      Agree with dmw there. I’ve had a ’13 VR6 Lux since November and overall I have been very happy with it. I was able to get the black/red interior, which is much better than the all-black Ford Fusion Titanium that I also test drove. Honestly, nothing else in its class, except maybe a low-end BMW has anything as nice, and that Bimmer isn’t going to have real leather.

      For the Los Angeles rush hour grind, the car CC gets the job done with a little extra style. I wish it had a little more in the way of cabin tech for the price, but the RNS 510 is easier to use than my MyFord Touch (my wife has a Focus Titanium) and the controls as a whole are much more intuitive than the Ford’s.

      Given my typical drive, I’m not pushing the handling limits, and the Focus (and likely the Fusion) are more precise and controlled on roads like Mulholland Drive, but the CC is fine as a freeway cruiser. The issues with the brakes are true. The pedal is kind of ‘mushy’ in non-panic stops, though when I do need stopping power, I’ve never had a problem.

      Reliability has been fine after an early issue with the passenger-side mirror mechanism. This is my 3rd VW (’07 GTI and ’10 Golf). The GTI was solid other than eating a lot of oil. The Golf had more niggling problems. Best advice is to lease, enjoy while under the warranty and then get out.

  • avatar
    spartan_mike

    “The price premium for premium fuel in the US is so small that it really should be irrelevant for most people, I think …”

    I’m not sure what’s typical, but here in Chicago it’s about 60 cents per gallon, which is enough to be relevant to me. When we were traveling recently in Ohio, it was only 20 cents – in areas where the differential is that much I’d tend to agree with you.

  • avatar
    blppt

    FYI—although the 2.0T is rated at 200hp, just about every dyno i’ve seen of stock GTIs and CCs put the *wheel* hp at 205-215, which means that 200hp figure is severely underrated. A more accurate advertisement would be 225-230hp (crank), but then I guess VW would have trouble selling the V-6 model, which in the real world is not much quicker, despite having 280hp versus *200*.

  • avatar
    merlot

    This is the first negative review I’ve read for the CC, but that doesn’t surprise me coming from this website. Before I settled on the CC, I test drove the Regal GS twice (it was heavily discounted to just above $30K). I was so excited to find that car at that price but 2 things conspired together that absolutely killed it. The first was the motor – aside from lag the power was inconsistent and stuttered. Second was the horrible manual. I kept hitting the reverse lockout trigger they placed on the front of the stick (really Buick?!), the throws were long and the pedal spacing sucked. It really made it not enjoyable to drive.

    Then my narrow search ($30K w/ manual tranny) landed me on the CC R-Line. A test drive sealed the deal. Smooth power, slick shifting, proper pedal spacing, nice interior, solid feeling, and beautiful. Not to mention the awesome headlights with LED running lights, active bending technology, and corning lamps. Sold! Sure, the handling isn’t up to par with the GS, but I mainly commute and the ride is beautiful!


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