For 2006, the Volkswagen Passat undergoes a major restyling, emerging as the sixth generation of the company’s midsize sedan.

Having completely re-made the Passat over inside and out, the company claims 120 standard or optional features, ranging from steering-adaptive bi-xenon headlights that swivel with the front wheels, to a self-draining umbrella compartment stashed inside the driver’s door.

For 2006, the Passat comes in sedan form only, with a new 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged gasoline engine that replaces the 1.8-litre four-cylinder of 2005, followed by a 3.6-litre “VR6” engine (more on that later), both in front-wheel-drive configuration. A 4Motion all-wheel-drive, featuring a FWD-biased Haldex system that transfers torque when it detects wheel slippage, will be offered later in the model year. The Passat wagon is expected to return for 2007; the company says a diesel is in the works, but probably not until 2008.

Both engines use FSI, a direct-injection fuel delivery system for more horsepower and a wide torque curve. The VR6 is VW’s famous narrow-angle six-cylinder engine, featuring 10.6-degree V-angled cylinders and a single cylinder head. The 2.0-litre comes with a six-speed manual that can be optioned up to a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic; the 3.6-litre comes with the automatic only.

The 2.0 Base includes four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, brake auto-hold function, 16-inch steel wheels, heated mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, single-zone climate control, cruise control, heated seats, power locks, CD/MP3 player with eight speakers, 60/40 folding rear seat, “leatherette” interior and power windows.

The 2.0 adds an integrated roof/window antennae, heated washer nozzles, door entry lights, illuminated vanity mirrors, and six-CD/MP3 player.

The 3.6 adds automatic headlights, power sunroof, 17-inch alloy wheels with locks, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone electronic climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, ten-way power driver seat, Homelink garage door opener, and leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel.

Available options include leather interior, rear side thorax airbags, DVD navigation system, and bi-xenon headlights with washers.

The Passat remains a popular contender in the near-luxury midsize market, with a firm but pleasing ride, seats that offer long-distance comfort, an attractive interior with excellent fit-and-finish, and numerous features, including brakes that periodically wipe themselves dry for better grip, an auto-hold feature that prevents rollback on hills, an excellent Dynaudio stereo system and a “keyless” ignition, where you push the key fob into a slot in the dash to start the car.

Both engines work very well: they’re smooth, with only a hint of growl on acceleration, and their broad torque bands instill confidence when you need to slip into an opening in traffic. But the 2.0, with a $240 price drop over 2005’s 1.8-litre base model, will probably appeal to more pocketbooks; as nice as it is, the 3.6 feels like it should cost about $5,000 less.

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