The previous generation Jetta gave VW an unexpected with younger car buyers, but it is the Passat that was introduced in 1996 that made it a credible competitor in the mid-size market. Based on a stretched Audi A4 platform, the Passat offered powertrains that encompassed a turbocharged inline four, a V6, and—for a short time—VW’s W8. It could be ordered with front- or all-wheel-drive. And its refined styling and German roots brought the look and feel of an upscale European vehicle within reach of the masses. The question is: “Can the new car do the same?” It’s a legitimate question, especially as the platform underneath the new car shares it origins with the latest compact Golf and Jetta, not Audi’s more upscale A4.
- The powertrains start with a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four as the base engine, and a 3.6-liter narrow-angle V6 as the optional choice. Both use direct injection.
- Power outputs are healthy: 200 hp@ 6,000 rpm and 207 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm for the four, and 280 hp @ 6,200 rpm and 265 lb-ft @ 2,750 for the V6. VW claims the turbo four’s maximum torque is steady 1,800 to 5,000 rpm. Bosch supplies the direct injection pump and injectors.
- The narrow-angle V6 has a new block. The bank angle has been reduced from 15? to 10.6?, which makes it even easier to package transversely. The previous generation Passat mounted its powertrains longitudinally. As with all of VW’s narrow-angle engines, one cylinder head covers both banks of the new V6.
- A six-speed manual transmission is standard with the four and unavailable on the V6. That engine uses a standard six-speed automatic with Tiptronic control. It is optional on the four-cylinder cars, and is rated for a maximum of 368 lb-ft. VW claims this is the most of any drive-by-wire automatic transmission on the market.
- V6 buyers have the option of specifying 4Motion all-wheel-drive. Unlike the full-time arrangement used previously, the Haldex system remains front-drive until slip is detected. The difference in rotation speed between the wheels triggers the unit, sending power to the rear wheels.
- All Passats come with standard Electronic Stability Control (ESC), traction control, Electronic Differential Locking (EDL) and TRW’s EBC 440 ABS with brake assist and disc-wiping. There are disc brakes at each wheel.
- Auto-hold is standard and ensures the cars won’t move once it has come to a complete stop, forwards or backwards, with either transmission. It’s a feature of the interior space saving electric parking brake system.
- MacPherson struts are used in front, a 4-link independent suspension is found out back. Engineers saved 29 lbs through FEA analysis of the front suspensions and the use of aluminum. Unlike the Jetta on which it’s based, the new subframe is one piece instead of three, uses more aluminum, and has upgraded bearings for greater road isolation.
- The rear suspension uses an acoustically uncoupled subframe made of high-tensile steel and isolated by four large rubber mounts. Attached to it are three control arms, a suspension control shaft, track rod, and upper wishbone. The longitudinal arm guides the wheel lengthwise.
- Dual-pinion electro-mechanical power steering replaces the previous hydraulic unit, and cuts fuel consumption by 0.05 gallons. A custom software program is used for each engine. It self-corrects in side winds and on uneven roads to keep to the intended direction of travel.
- The body shell is 24 lbs lighter, despite an increase in size. A new metal-forming process called shape-hardening heats blanks until they are red-hot before they are stamped and quenched, and makes up 16% of the body structure including the roof and underbody cross members.
- Shape-hardening is combined with more efficient joints and force pathways within the structure, use of high-tensile steel for the remaining 74% of the structure, and a dramatic increase in laser-welded seams and the use of adhesives. Torsional rigidity is up 57% to 32,400 Nm/degree.
- To improve perceived quality, there are no weld marks visible in the door, trunk, and hood seams.
- Six airbags are standard with rear side airbags an option. There are three acceleration sensors in the airbag ECU, plus four external sensors. These include two in the front doors that measure air pressure changes for quicker side intrusion detection.
- Moving the ignition switch to the instrument panel will reduce knee injuries, while moving the column lock to a location under the panel is designed to reduce theft.—CAS