Volkswagen’s current ad campaign trumpets the theme: “Drivers Wanted,” and judging by the cars they’ve been turning out recently, they really mean it! Their newest car is this 2001.5 Passat. Already near the top of its class in European sales, the new Passat now aims to raise the expectations for mid-size family sedans in America. That’s a tall order for a land dominated by Camry, Accord, and Taurus. So what do we think?
Well, we think the Volkswagen Passat is one of the finest family sedans your hard earned money can buy. In fact, we said as much in 1999 when the Passat took top honors in our MotorWeek Drivers’ Choice awards for Best Family Sedan. And since then, and especially for this mid-year 2001.5 introduction, the Passat has been changed and improved in almost every way.
Like the Passat’s stylish exterior enhancements. The front end sports a more sharply raked grille, projector-style front lamps, a more generous helping of chrome, and a bolder VW logo. The Passat’s rear has also been smoothly reworked and frames newly shaped tail lamps.
Changes under the hood are more noticeable, however, if you equip your Passat with the base GLS 1.8 liter turbocharged 4 cylinder. As horsepower has been boosted from 150 to 170, and torque increased from 155 to 166 pound-feet. Our premium GLX tester comes standard with the 2.8 liter V-6 that, like the previous car, produces 190 horsepower and 206 pound-feet of torque. Like the 4 banger, it utilizes dual over- head cams and 5 valves per cylinder, but no turbo. 0 to 60 times averaged 7.3 seconds, with the quarter mile passing in 15.6 seconds at 92 MPH. Power is plentiful in the lower and middle ranges of the powerband, but flattens considerably near the redline.
Our GLX came with the standard 5-speed manual transmission that, despite its somewhat rubbery nature, delivers positive shifts. A 5-speed Tiptronic self-shift automatic is optional on all front drive Passats, and standard with 4Motion all-wheel drive.
The Passat’s ride and handling characteristics have also been enhanced thanks to an increase in torsional rigidity to the unitized body. That advancement not only gives the Passat a “hewn-from-granite” aura of solidity, but also allow the four link front, torsion beam rear suspension to be dialed in to produce a more nimble car.
And “nimble, yet solid” was a recurring phrase on our evaluation sheets after several runs through our low speed slalom. At no time did the Passat feel squirrelly or nearly out of control. And while the Passat’s rack and pinion steering is typically Germanic in soft feel, rapid side to side exchanges were handled expertly and without fanfare. Assisting in control is a traction control combo of EDL, Electronic Locking Differential, that uses brake pressure to regulate wheel slip up to 24 mph, and ASR, Anti-Slip Reduction, that modulates throttle response.
The “nimble, yet solid” theme is equally evident out on the highway where the Passat gives you a comfortable and controlled driving experience. Although we have noticed that all Volkswagens seem to be more softly sprung of late, and the Passat does tend to “float” a bit on undulating secondary roads. And during our braking test, where the 4-wheel ABS discs brought our GLX tester down from 60 in 126 feet, we did notice a tendency for the rear end to step out a bit if the front wheels were slightly off-center. But our drivers raved about the Passat’s ABS system. It provides just enough feedback to let you know it’s working, and not a lot of noise and chatter.
The only noise and chatter in the Passat’s rich interior comes from the occupants. And in this well appointed environment, it’s likely to be muted. Our GLX came with plush and supportive leather 8-way power seats for driver and passenger. Lumbar supports and heated surfaces are included. The driver faces a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel that tilts and telescopes and a handsome IP with chrome ringed analog gauges. The center stack can house a navigation system not yet available here, so it looked underutilized on our car. A Monsoon stereo system with 8 speakers but only a cassette is standard GLX fitment. In-dash CD player and trunk-mounted changer are optional. But an electronic fully automatic climate control system with rear vents and pollen filter is standard on GLX. As are side impact airbags and the new Side Curtain Protection that cushions heads front and rear.
In the rear you’ll find a comfortable and class average amount of space for two adults, although there are seating positions for three. And the spacious trunk can handle up to 15 cubic feet of cargo.
Although prices have gone up slightly, the 2001.5 Passat sedan is still quite affordable. Base price on the GLS 1.8T is $22,300. The GLS V-6 starts at $24,600. The top line GLX begins at $29,300. 4Motion adds another $2,835. And, don’t forget, a Passat wagon is also available.
Now, admittedly, you can buy an Accord, Camry, or Taurus for thousands less than Passat. Indeed, if you just want a family four-door, then the Passat is more car than you’ll ever appreciate. But, when it comes to the cutting-edge family sedan, we think the 2001.5 Volkswagen Passat jumps higher than its competitors can see.
Engine: 2.8 Liter V-6
Torque: 206 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 7.3 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.6 Seconds @ 92 MPH
60-0 MPH: 126 Feet
EPA Mileage: 18 MPG City 26 MPG Highway