By on October 9, 2014

passat1

When I reviewed the most recent Passat 1.8TSI I confessed to liking the car, even if it wasn’t anywhere close to being the G.O.A.T. Therefore, when one of my driving students told me that he’d been unable to source my first recommendation for a non-premium trackday rental — the Camry SE — and had been stuck with a Passat instead, I was not immediately concerned about our prospects for the weekend.

In hindsight, that was probably incorrect.

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Until recently, most of the Passats sold in this country arrived with the 170-horsepower straight-five, pushing about 3,250 pounds through a six-speed automatic transmission. This was considered to be quite the dynamic package back when you could only get it in an Audi 5000 Turbo, but we live in an era where, ahem, the humble Accord Coupe can be had with 255whp and a 13.9-second quarter-mile. So this VW feels like the proverbial Poky Little Puppy at pretty much all times.

With tires that were worn-out on arrival, brakes that required some trackside bleeding just to be safely usable during the second day, and a pronounced inability to out-pull a Miata 1.6 on Summit Point Shenandoah’s uphill “ski jump”, my student and I weren’t exactly having hot times out there on the ol’ racetrack. It would have been difficult for him to find a car that was less suited for this sort of thing, even among the sad cafe of an Avis lot. Yet I come to praise the Passat, not to bury it.

The key virtues of VW’s aging big sedan remain present even when you’re doing 95mph down Shenandoah’s back straight. To begin with, the visibility is excellent and the beltline is low. This makes more difference than you’d imagine when a driver is just starting his trackday career. Being passed and passing (yes! that happened! We passed someone!) other cars at speed on a track is a profoundly disconcerting thing and it’s hard not to imagine there’s a charging Z06 Vette in every blind spot, even if your instructor has the mirrors and has assured you that he’ll watch for traffic. Therefore, the big greenhouse and good sightlines of this Passat are truly useful.

The same driving position that works so well for long trips is also comfortable for racetrack use, and it’s easy to get the seat and steering wheel in the correct relationship. All the controls fall readily to hand, as the old saying goes, and the efforts associated with those controls are predictable and reassuring. There wasn’t much grip to be had, but what there was could be clearly discerned. The same goes for the brakes — you knew how much you had left and there was usually a little bite available at the end of the travel.

As fate had it, I was driving a considerably more modern and feature-filled sedan at Shenandoah myself this past weekend and I was impressed by the Passat’s feedback and honesty when compared to that sedan, which shall remain nameless for the moment. As a tool for teaching the basics of racetrack driving — consistent brake pressure, single turn-in, unwinding the wheel early, providing predictable and minimal inputs — it really isn’t that bad. If everybody in the “Blue Group” had been driving a Passat, things would have been quite simpatico.

Naturally, however, no one else had a Passat. They had cars that went fast in a straight line, like turbo VWs, and cars that went fast in turns, like Miatas, and cars that do both, like the aforementioned Z06 in both C5 and C6 flavors. Compared to these cars, the Passat was pathetically outmatched and it wasn’t unusual for us to be lapped twice in a session by NISMO 370Zs and the like. It’s just too slow for anybody but the most committed and dedicated individual to use for this purpose.

Luckily for us, my student was both of those things and over the course of four full hours of track driving he improved tremendously, taking perhaps ten seconds a lap or more off his times. He did a good job of managing his brakes and his tires, he was thoughtful and interested when it came to making small improvments and keeping those improvements, and he was safe and predictable during his interactions with other traffic. Next time he’ll probably be driving something faster than a Passat and I’d like to think he’s going to have a lot of success in his future endeavors as a trackday driver and LeMons racer.

Though the VW was in no way rapid, and we had to pull the ABS/ESC/airbag fuse just to keep it from freaking out in Summit Point’s remarkable scale-model concrete Karussel, it was perfectly durable during the weekend. One thing stands out in particular to me: Because the Tiptronic gearbox was relatively slow-witted, and because most drivers find that shifting is a distraction during their first few days on-track, I did all the shifting for my student. Since it wasn’t my car (or, to be fair, his car) I made sure to grab second gear for every slow corner even if it meant zinging the engine to 5000rpm or above. Again and again I grabbed second gear, six times a lap, and every time that poor five-cylinder ran right back up to redline before automatically slamming into third about three seconds after I made the downshift.

This sort of thing is absolute murder on automatic transmissions, transverse-mounted low-torque-capacity transmissions in particular. I would have been nervous about doing it with all but the most recent Hondas, as an example. But the Passat just kept on keeping on.

Due to difficulty with my GoPro and phone I was unable to get laptimes to compare with other cars I’ve driven around Summit Point Shendandoah, from the Corvette C7 (1:39) to the Camry SE (1:54) but I’d say this was the slowest car I’ve ever run on the course by far. Still, it was trustworthy and usable and finished the weekend no worse for wear. Could you have done that with a Dasher or Quantum? Probably not. So my affection for the big Passat remains steady, though if you can afford to get any engine but this one, you’d be silly not to. Good car, big car, decent car. Let’s hope for VW’s sake that’s enough. But if you’re meeting me at the racetrack, would you mind being a sport and getting a Camry?

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52 Comments on “Track Tested: 2013 VW Passat SE 2.5L 6A...”


  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Wonder how much better a Jetta with the same lump would have fared.

    Wifey has an MK5 Rabbit 2.5 with the 6AT… on our road trips up north, using its manumatic function enables the best use of its meager horsepower up the Virginia mountains, and engine braking down them. Still though, coming out of my He-Man 350Z or jumping off my feel-the-contact-patch-squirming-and-tearing-at-both-ends standard 650cc motorcycle, steering weight, feedback, suspension damping and mechanical grip are always a let down in her car. Visibility is excellent, and I guess its low limits and slow reactions are good for learning to drive, but it’s anything but fun.

  • avatar
    vvk

    As an owner of a 2012 Passat with the 2.5 straight-5 and 5MT, I will tell you that the amount of power matches the abilities of the chassis. Driving in a spirited but measured (go slow to be fast) manner on the street with good tires, I find myself regularly exceeding the traction envelope of this chassis. And not the same fun way I do with my SLK350. The front end of the NMS Passat is severely underdamped, made painfully obvious on my frantic drive through potholed streets of Manhattan the other day. It does best on straight smooth highways at 75 mph, getting 38 mpg in the process.

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      Agree on the Passat being a comfortable highway cruiser. I had one while my GLI was in for service and it was far softer. I’m not sure i would buy the Passat over an Accord or Altima.

  • avatar

    I never had a problem with the 2.5-liter. It’s probably a lot more durable than most other Volkswagen Group powertrains…including the 1.8-liter turbo and the complicated TDI setup in my car. It’s also very comfortable on the highway, where I do most of my driving. And I believe it even uses the same engine head as one of the Lamborghini engines…

    But what do you think of the Passat with the 3.6-liter VR6? I’ve not driven a V6 Passat or CC; I’ve only ever sampled the 3.6-liter in the late-model Touareg and an early Q7…

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      My in-laws have a 3.6L Passat. The car is surprisingly peppy and in sport mode the transmission does a good job of holding a low gear. From the sounds of things, a vastly different beast than the rental grade 2.5L tested here.

      While being a PITA for me with repair issues, the car is pretty fun to drive.

      • 0 avatar

        Sweet. Thanks for the write-up. I did like the 3.6-liter in the Touareg and Q7. My other car (a 1997 Jetta GLX) has the 2.8-liter VR6, and it’s fun to drive, chiefly because it’s too much engine for the chassis. I assume a Passat VR6 would aim closer to smoothness and refinement when out of sport mode.

      • 0 avatar
        vtecJustKickedInYo

        When ever we had a client at the Audi and Porsche shop I used to work at and they asked about 4.2 v8 vs 3.6 v6 for a future purpose we always recommended the 3.6. It is very reliable (albeit for audi) and runs strong.

        The 2.5 is also really reliable, wish they kept it in the Jetta vs. the 2.Slow. Good memories learning stick and burning clutch on a 2.5 jetta.

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      I really think its too bad VW group discontinued the 3.2 V6. (which may have been Audi only) Nice smooth power delivery and a sweet exhaust note.

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        I had an R32 with a 3.2L VR6. In many ways it was worse than the GTI I owned at the same time. It was heavier, thirstier, and not any faster. It was a more premium vehicle that should be looked at as a grand touring car instead of a hot hatch (at least the MKV R32). I got rid of it because it liked to vapor lock in the desert southwest. I sold it to someone that lived in the midwest and came out to pick it up.

        There isn’t a place for the 3.2L V6 when the Golf R can put out 300 HP from a 2.0T. I’ll lament the loss of the Ford cyclone engine more than the VR6.

        • 0 avatar
          davefromcalgary

          The one I am referring to isn’t a narrow angle VR6, it was a conventional 90 degree V6 appearing in the A4 last decade.

          Roughly 250 hp and 250 torques, I know that the 2.0T can make more power, but my mom’s A4 with the 3.2 is really sweet to drive.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            You are correct. That engine was Audi only. I almost bought a used A6 with that engine. The dealer receipts in the glove box scared me off though.

          • 0 avatar
            davefromcalgary

            Smart. While its sweet to drive…its a 1995-2010 VAG product. If given to me, I would immediately flog to avoid the headache and heartbreak, excellent driving character and handsome looks be damned.

          • 0 avatar
            dude500

            I believe the 3.2 had DI issues (the valves would cake with carbon), which unfortunately led to its retirement. It’s the reason why A4 and A6 cars with the 3.2 are cheap in the used market.

        • 0 avatar
          vtecJustKickedInYo

          You just need some madddddd turbo power to that VR6.

      • 0 avatar

        The 3.2-liter V6 (which I believe was actually closer to 3.1 liters) was a sweetheart of an engine. It was actually one of the *more* reliable engines…believe it or not.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    This article couldn’t possibly come at a more appropriate time, coming off the heels of the Camry SE Hybrid review. Countering some of the usual ‘I’d rather walk than own a Camry’ crowd, I postulated that the Camry in SE trim is a legitimately good handling and driving car in the mainstream category it competes in. The European competition (namely the Passat) is no better, and in fact as we see here actually worse in many (most) regards.

    I hate to be seen as some sort of Camry fanboy, I truly don’t have a dog in the fight. I just can’t stand Euro-snobs. Speaking of whom, don’t forget to get your 40k intake valve walnut shell blasting and $400 DSG service!! Ironically, this Passat actually has a conventional 6A, and the 2.5 I5 has port injection and is mostly trouble free.

    • 0 avatar

      This.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Yea… when I was shopping for a car for my wife, we were looking at something like a Toyota Matrix. But when I saw that the Rabbit was on CR’s recommended list (!!!!!!!) I had to give it a look. For the same money it’s a much, much, much nicer car, with slightly better performance and a nicer highway ride.

      I do think cars like the Mazda 6 and Fusion are more fun to drive than the Camry, but I think the Camry would be just as fun, if not MORE fun to drive with a legitimately aggressive & better tuned suspension and a transmission calibration. I know I’d definitely rather give a Camry V6 a look than a Fusion 2.0T or Mazda 6. I’m not afraid to turn a wrench so if there are some aftermarket suspension options available, and someone put a gun to my head and made me buy a Camry, I could make it work.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        @SportyAccordy

        Even if you made the best handling Camry in the world, you would still have to sit in and look at the thing. The competition are all better in nearly every way but perceived reliability.

        The Camry is the perfect mid-size car for people who just don’t give a crap about cars. So if you care about cars at all, to the point of thinking about how you could make it handle better, why would you bother? As to me, my fat arse could use the exercise, and there is a bus stop just down the street from my house.

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          “As to me, my fat arse could use the exercise, and there is a bus stop just down the street from my house.”

          I’d love to see this actually happen. Going from a special-snowflake BMW to public transportation, in order to avoid a what-the-plebs-drive Camry? Get real man, you’re turning into a caricature of yourself.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            If large numbers of people on here get refuse to even contemplate owning a VW, I get to do the same with Camrys. Fair is fair. Has nothing to do with what the “plebs” drive. I would happily own an Accord, Fusion, Mazda6, or Passat if I had to, but not a Camry.

          • 0 avatar
            30-mile fetch

            FWIW I own a VW, I am a wagon fan, but I’m also tired of your “I’d rather take the bus than own a Camry” schtick.

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        Then there is that Novocain injected dreary steering in the Camry. About as sporting as a Town Car.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      For someone who only likes German cars and belittles all others, I prefer the term “Deutschbag”.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      This is barely “European competition”. This is a the car that VW thought Americans wanted, in it’s very lowest rental grade (literally) trim. With worn out tires. You can’t get it in Europe at all, and I don’t believe you can get it with this engine anymore. Which is sad, because it was perfectly fine in the real world – I’ve certainly rented enough of them myself. And yet it still did perfectly fine for *4 hours* on a racetrack. I don’t recall Jack doing more than a few laps in the Camry, but he can correct me if I am wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      The Camry SE *is* a legitimately good handling and driving car in the mainstream category it competes in.

      I think krhodes would be happier if Jack never wrote that Camry SE track review or frequently complemented that car in subsequent articles. On other forums his constant and vague haranguing about the Camry would be right at home, but he’s got no wind in his sails around here.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Do a W-body.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      My 2013 old hat W-body LT Impala flat out embarrassed a 2014 Camry in the twists and turns of the country side last weekend on a trip to my best friend’s house. The poor thing just couldn’t remotely keep up.

  • avatar
    cgjeep

    You sir have crossed the line, besmirching the reputation of the Quantum. An 84 Quantum was my first car, survived all the abuse a stupid high school kid could throw at it and then went on to survive all the abuse of 4 years of college. Track day would have been easy compared the indignities I heaped upon it for 6 years.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      82 Q-Coupe owner here.

      There was actually a Quantum Syncro that won a couple of LeMons events a few years back, with the Chicken and Waffles team. But it had been set up by some very savvy people and it was not trouble free.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    That 5 cylinder must be a bit long in the tooth by now. Those motors do like to be rode hard and put away wet though. Keep that motor on the red line all day and it will come back for more is more or less what I expect from a VW motor, especially that one. The predictable handling is what I would expect to.
    This car was will die one day and this track day will be the high point of it’s sad little rental life. The car probably thought it was a 80’s Quattro rally car for a day!

    • 0 avatar
      Sam Hell Jr

      However dated the big-inch port-injected 4 and 5 cylinder platforms become, you have to tip your cap to their sheer redoubtability. The Toyota 2.5 I4 in particular simply DGAF.

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    “As fate had it, I was driving a considerably more modern and feature-filled sedan at Shenandoah myself this past weekend and I was impressed by the Passat’s feedback and honesty when compared to that sedan, which shall remain nameless for the moment.”

    I am patiently waiting…

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    You are braver than I. For a track day car, I’d want at least some upgraded brake pads, and a brake and possibly a coolant system flush, along with tires I’d known since new. Either a brake or tire failure could put you in an unappealing situation pretty quickly.

    That you were able to pluck a rental off the lot and successfully complete a track day says much about the quality of modern cars and tires.

    • 0 avatar
      duffman13

      To be fair, Shenandoah isn’t all that fast of a track, so the heat you’re putting into all of that is limited.

      I was Jack’s student for one of the days of the famous Camry review, and while I was in an S2000 with good pads and RS-3s, both the pads and tires were barely worn at the end of the day compared to what they end up like at Summit Point Main or VIR.

      There are only 2 straights where most cars will break 100 and barely at that, compared to 120+ at the other 2 tracks I mentioned. Otherwise the vast majority of the track is in 3rd gear, rarely breaking 70, and not all that taxing on tires or brakes, though very taxing on driver skill and concentration.

      That said, it still is a testament to the quality of the off-the-shelf OE components that are used in mainstream cars now.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    I rented a car in this exact configuration a couple of years ago and found it to be an unsettling experience.

    I could tell from the feedback I was getting through my butt that it was fairly planted and had typical VW autobahn-ready suspension tuning.

    But I don’t think I’ve ever driven a car, including Priuses, that gave me less feedback through the wheel and the brake pedal. The old cliche that it was like driving a video game really applied to this Passat. Even over big bumps the wheel just sat there inert, like the dead hooker in the trunk. Using the brakes was a game of “push the pedal, watch carefully out the window, and adjust as necessary.”

    I came away from my few days with the car very strongly disliking it.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam Hell Jr

      If it is worse than the Explorer/Taurus, well, that is a really bad brake pedal.

    • 0 avatar
      superchan7

      The brake pedal issue is a VW design. My family had a 2001 Passat since new. Going from a Toyota to a VW, the brake pedal took some getting used to. As a rental car this can be quite upsetting since you press, and nothing, press further, nothing, press further, WHOAaaaaaaa!

      98% of the time I also couldn’t get the VW to come to a stop without a hard rebound. Not as big a deal, but another idiosyncrasy of the Passat (and I presume all other VWs).

      And no, we no longer have it. Too many 4-digit repair bills, and not even at the dealer.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I’ve driven plenty of other VWs in the past, most recently including a couple MuricaJetta rentals and a European Mk V Golf rental. None of them were nearly as bad with either brakes or steering. I really liked the Golf, and the Jettas felt cheap but drove as expected.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    We get the “special” version.

    Europe gets this:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/car-manufacturers/volkswagen/11144292/2015-Volkswagen-Passat-first-drive.html

  • avatar
    NeilM

    So you really think it’s a good idea to take an off-the-lot rental car and use it for a track day? There are good reasons that the group for whom I instruct specifically disallows regular rental cars, where likely insurance non-coverage is only one of a longer list.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Thanks for sharing.

      • 0 avatar
        AlfaRomasochist

        Years ago I did a HPDE at Shenandoah and there was an instructor there with a base Mini Cooper from PhillyCarShare. Not a bad little track rat for what it was.

        I assume this was the Trackdaze event? I haven’t done an event with them since I moved west in ’09 but I still get the e-mails. Really good group.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      Does anyone’s insurance cover track use? I always assumed any track damage was a “you broke it, you fix it” deal.

      • 0 avatar
        NeilM

        Most don’t, but a very few still still haven’t excluded it. It’s dollars to doughnuts that rental car policies (which God knows I’ve never read through) don’t. There’s also coverage available for (non-racing) track days from specialized companies such as Lockton.

  • avatar
    Thabo

    Sorry to pee on the parade her but last year I rented a Camry SE on the advise of the famous Camry article. At the Portland Toyota dealership we rented it from, my wife asked my why we had to pay more and I told her that we just had to because of an article I read online – I was excited and she just shook her head. Well this is the first car I’ve rented in 6 years but I can say that in every perceivable way my $3000 junker 1999 D2 A8 was better. Tried to give it some cowbell on the highway, not the most stable beast at high speed.

    I know, German car fan boy with exploding $5k transmissions and $1000 fuel pumps. It didn’t even fell that good in the turns, sorry. I really did like the red color though and the Nav system seemed to be nice, first time I used bluetooth too but now I have it in my Audi car of a $40 Amazon device.

    But I’m sure it’s better on a track : ) Ok so perhaps one day when the D2 A8 throws in the welly I’ll get a 2006 Acura RL or something toaster like (Come on the RL looks like a big Accord but I really like that car) but shite, this is a car forum where men (for the most part) talk about “cars”.

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