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New Passat Is Longer - And Long Overdue

To say that an all-new Volkswagen Passat is overdue would be an understatement.

To say that an all-new Volkswagen Passat is overdue would be an understatement. The last time Volkswagen took the wraps off an all-new Passat was mid-1997. Sure, they freshened it in 2001, but since then, Honda has revamped its Accord, Toyota has gutted the Camry and Nissan has redone the Altima. Clearly, the Germans need to speed things up a bit.

To provide a more passenger-friendly and more stable foundation, VW engineers widened the track of the Passat 1.5-in. to 61.1-in., while overall length has increased 3-in. to 185.2-in. Static torsional rigidity has increased 57% over the previous model via the use of high-strength materials and advanced laser-welding.

VW claims the new car is the most powerful Passat ever, at least when equipped with the optional 280-horsepower 3.6-liter 6-cylinder engine. Marking the return of VW’s narrow-angle (just 10.6 degrees) 6-cylinder powerplant, this new mill features four-valves-per-cylinder with variable valve timing. The base power plant is the 2.0T H-4 shared with the Audi A3. Producing 200 horsepower at 5,100 rpm and 207 lbs.-ft. of torque from 1,800-5,000 rpm, the engine benefits from a high 10.5:1 compression ratio thanks to its turbocharger and FSI (fuel straight injection) direct-injection system. As opposed to other direct-injection systems, FSI injects fuel directly into the cylinder, avoiding any potential loss of energy. VW will limit initial availability to the 2.0T version, with a base price of $20,950, while the up-level VR6 model (with a base price under $30,000) will arrive in showrooms in the fourth-quarter.

Styling is a combination of Phaeton, Golf and Jetta, Len Hunt, Executive Vice President of Volkswagen of America, tells AD&P. He says the new car has a more dynamic appearance than the previous model: “The front grille features the distinctive ‘V’ shape, but the car overall has the look of athleticism.” The rear of the Passat takes cues from Jetta, most notably in tail lamp design. The interior follows in the new tradition set by VW in the Jetta, with dual sunken round gauges on the instrument cluster and tasteful use of chrome trim around the gauges and HVAC controls. This is the strongest proof yet that component sharing has taken root at VW. There are some interior pieces that appear to be recycled from the old car, most notably the headlamp switch, seat heat adjustments and power window controls.

Hunt says he expects the 2.0T model to account for 75% of total Passat sales, with full-year sales expected to reach 75,000 units (dealers sold 500 within the first two weeks). The wagon variant arrives in February 2006 and will likely account for 10,000 of the annual sales tally. U.S. versions of the Passat are assembled at VW’s Emden and Mosul, Germany, plants. Passat represents the second-largest volume car for VW, behind the Jetta.

Hunt says Passat is the foundation for VW’s plans to grow its product range. He says newly appointed Volkswagen brand chief Wolfgang Bernhard (who used to be COO of Chrysler Group) recently told U.S. dealers the brand would add 5 to 10 new models to its range within the next few years. Among the upcoming vehicles are a four-seat convertible based off the Concept C, which debuted at the Geneva motor show last year, along with a compact SUV to slot below the Touareg, a four-door coupe (to compete against the Mercedes CLS) based on the Passat, and a minivan. Hunt adds he is pushing Bernhard to add a crossover similar to the Chrysler Pacifica and Mercedes R-Class, as well as an entry-level car below the Jetta, but not the Polo or Lupo, which are both sold in Europe.—KMK