An upscale wagon with an upscale price
After driving the new 2001.5 Volkswagen Passat for a week, I came away with the impression that this German-built car is more ‘Audi-like’ than ‘Volkswagen-like’. Almost everything about the Passat, including its price, is upscale. Its fit-and-finish, cabin quietness, ride, handling, and performance are similar to luxury automobiles like the Audi A4 and BMW 3-Series.
Unfortunately, that places the new Passat in a kind of ‘nether’ region between high-trim imports like Accord EX/EX-V6 and Camry LE/XLE V6, and ‘near luxury’ cars like A4, 325i, and Infiniti I30. The 2001.5 Passat ranges in price from $29,950 for a base 1.8T sedan to $44,480 for a top-of-the-line V6 wagon with all-wheel-drive – that’s more expensive than the Nissan Maxima, Honda Accord, and Toyota Camry, but less-expensive than the Audi A4, BMW 325i, and Infiniti I30 – although not by much, in some cases.
Potential Passat buyers must ask themselves “Should I pay more than comparable models – or should I spend a few extra thousand dollars and move up to a luxury car?”
The new Passat does have a couple of advantages over mainstream cars like the Accord and Camry. It’s available in a wagon bodystyle (this week’s test-drive) – the only other automakers offering a mid-size wagon are Subaru, and upscale brands like the Volvo V40, Saab 9-5 wagon, and the new Lexus IS300 sport wagon.
The new Passat’s other advantage is that it’s available with all-wheel-drive which Volkswagen calls “4Motion”. Only Subaru and BMW offer this feature on comparable models.
What’s new on 2001.5 Passat
The Passat was last redesigned in 1998, and the 2001.5 model has been extensively updated. Except for the roof and the doors, the new Passat’s body panels are all new, and body stiffness has been improved to aid crash safety, reduce vibrations, and increase driver comfort.
Other changes include new halogen headlights under clear plastic, new taillights, an updated interior, and new safety features like standard side curtain airbags. Base 1.8T models receive a more powerful turbocharged engine with 20 more horsepower. In all, there are 2,300 changes according to Volkswagen.
The new Passat has a sportier look than the 2001 model. The grille is more sharply raked and the covered headlamps look sportier, and wider wheel flares add to its sporty stance. Standard projector beam foglights are built into the lower front bumper. New rear red-and-white taillight lenses and twin round brake lights make it easy to identify from the rear.
The base 1.8T model has 13% more horsepower – increased from 150 to 170 while torque has increased from 155 lb-ft to 166 lb-ft. This engine, which is also found in the Audi A4, is a turbocharged, intercooled 1.8 litre four cylinder engine with five valves per cylinder and dual overhead camshafts.
V6 Passats have the same 190 horsepower 2.8 litre V6 engine with five valves per cylinder, dual overhead camshafts, variable intake valve timing, and variable intake manifold.
A 5-speed manual transmission is standard on front-wheel-drive Passat sedans and wagons, but 4Motion (all-wheel-drive) Passats have a standard 5-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. As before, 2001.5 Passats offer standard four-wheel-disc brakes with ABS.
The 2001.5 Passat Wagon has the same interior dimensions as before, and includes comfortable front and rear seats with generous legroom and headroom for four passengers. With a tilt/telescoping steering wheel and a power height-adjustable driver’s seat, it’s easy to get comfortable. The front seats are raised, allowing generous foot room for outboard rear passengers. However, the centre rear passenger must sit on a raised hump and straddle the drivetrain tunnel. Rear passengers have a rear centre folding armrest with two cupholders and storage bin, and a rear powerpoint and ashtray.
Unlike most sedans with a high trunk, the Passat Wagon’s rear windows are big and low, improving outward visibility substantially. Only the centre rear head restraint hinders visibility, but it can be pushed down or removed.
The interior is extremely attractive and well-finished. The upper dash is black while the lower cabin is a light colour, in my case, beige – and there’s some attractive walnut trim on the centre console, shift lever, and the doors. I didn’t like the beige floor carpet though – it’s very hard to keep clean. The door handles and shift gate are finished in a bright chrome.
The Passat’s four round gauges have new chrome rings which give it a sportier, high-end look. Near the gauges is a digital readout for the odometer, outside temperature, and gear selector. The leather-wrapped steering wheel now includes cruise control and stereo volume controls. A new Homelink transmitter, for garage doors and home lighting, is located on the driver’s sun visor.
Other upscale interior features include an 8-speaker Monsoon AM/FM/cassette/CD player, and single-zone automatic climate control. One unusual thing: the defogger button is in a separate location to the other ventilation functions.
There are two new ‘size-adjustable’ cupholders behind the shift lever, and a new armrest/storage bin with a rather small storage compartment. There is also an open storage bin on the lower left dash and door map pockets.
For safety, there are five height-adjustable head restraints, and five three-point seatbelts, dual front airbags, front side airbags, and head curtain airbags.
The roomy 1,019 litre (36 cu. ft.) cargo area has a chromed scuff guard on the leading edge of the load floor, a sliding cargo cover, two 12 volt outlets, two tie-down rings, and two coat hangers on the back seats. The rear seatbacks fold down for additional cargo room. My car had a light-beige carpeted floor which is easy to get dirty – I would recommend a rubber liner of some kind. The cargo area has a payload capacity of 542 kg (1,194 lb.).
On the road
As I mentioned, the Passat GLX looks and drives like a luxury car. The 190 horsepower 2.8 litre V6 engine is unchanged from 2001 delivering 190 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 206 ft-lb of torque at 3200 rpm. I found it to be a very quiet, responsive powerplant that exhibits good off-the-line acceleration, and adequate, but not overwhelming passing power. 0 to 100 km/h takes 8.8 seconds in the 4Motion Wagon, about a half second slower than the front-wheel-drive Passat Wagon – this is because the 4Motion Wagon is 95 kg/209 lb. heavier than the front-wheel-drive Passat Wagon.
Passat 4Motion models are offered only with the 5-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission while front-wheel-drive models are available with a choice of manual or automatic. With a manual transmission, the Passat GLX is considerably quicker: 0 to 100 km/h drops to about 7.5 seconds.
In automatic mode, the 5-speed Tiptronic transmission offers crisp, seamless shifts that seem to enhance the engine’s performance. This is really a lovely powertrain combination. To engage manual mode, the driver moves the shift lever to the right-hand gate, then taps forward to change up gears, and back to change down. Shifts take about half a second, and enhance the Wagon’s performance on more demanding roads and when the driver needs to hold the transmission in a lower gear.
The Wagon is effortless to drive on the highway, and the engine does just 2,300 rpm at 100 km/h. Fuel consumption is rather thirsty for a mid-size wagon: 9.1 l/100 km (31 mpg) on the highway and 13.7 l/100 km (21 mpg) in the city. The 4Motion Wagon uses about 15% more fuel than the front-wheel-drive wagon because of its heavier curb weight and all-wheel-drive system. Also, the engine uses Premium fuel.
The 4Motion all-wheel-drive system is completely automatic, and is basically invisible to the driver. The system consists of a Torsen centre differential that distributes 50% of the engine’s power to the front wheels, and 50% to the rear wheels. If the front wheels slip, up to 67% of the power can be directed to the rear wheels, and vice-versa. 4Motion offers the security of additional traction and stability in poor weather conditions, but as mentioned, it increases fuel consumption, and is an expensive option.
Front-wheel-drive Passats have standard EDL (electronic differential locking) and ASR (anti-slip reduction) to provide traction control in slippery conditions.
I was surprised to see that the 4Motion Wagon has the same amount of ground clearance as the front-wheel-drive Passat (147 mm/5.8 in.). Models like the Subaru Outback and Volvo Cross Country have about 8 inches of ground clearance.
The Passat’s fully independent suspension absorbs bumps and ruts well and noises are well-isolated from the cabin. The Passat’s front suspension consists of four links with coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers, and stabilizer bar, and the rear suspension has fully independent double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers, and stabilizer bar. The wagon handles almost as well as the sedan – cornering is very neutral, steering is responsive, and the handling limits are very high. Standard tires are P205/55HR-15 inch all-season, and optional tires are P205/55HR-16 inch. Its turning circle of 11.4 metres (37.4 feet) is OK for an all-wheel-drive vehicle.
Well-equipped but pricey
2001.5 Passats come in GLS and GLX trim. My top-of-the-line GLX 4Motion wagon had everything: leather upholstery, climate control, heated 8-way power front seats, eight speaker Monsoon sound system, walnut trim, power glass sunroof with sunshade, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, anti-theft alarm, cruis control, central locking, power heated mirrors, trip computer, folding ignition key with remote entry, 16 inch tires and alloy wheels, a full-size spare tire, heated washer nozzles, and rain sensing wipers.
The only options on the GLX are a 6-disc CD changer, metallic paint, and the Tiptronic automatic transmission.
Note that a split folding rear seat is not available on 4Motion sedan models.
I calculated that suggested retail prices for 2001.5 Passats have gone up between 2% and 5% over 2001 prices.
Manufacturers suggested retail prices for 2001.5 Passat Wagon models are: GLS 1.8T $ 30,725; GLS 2.8L V6 $34,225; GLS 2.8L V6 4Motion $38,355; GLX 2.8L V6 $40,350; GLX 2.8L V6 4Motion $44,480.
Prices for the 2001.5 Passat sedan are: GLS 1.8T $29,550; GLS 2.8L V6 $33,050; GLS 2.8L V6 4Motion $37,180; GLX 2.8L V6 $39,175; GLX 2.8L V6 4Motion $43,305.
VW’s standard warranty is 2 yrs/40,000 km – that compares to 3 yrs/60,000 km for most other cars. Powertrain coverage is for 5 yrs/80,000 km, compared to 5 yrs/100,000 km for most other import cars. It’s about time VW improved their warranty coverage.
For more information about the new Passat, see VW’s web-site, www.vw.com
|2001.5 VW Passat Wagon GLX 4Motion|
|Base price||(GLS 1.8T Wagon) $30,725|
|Price as tested||$44,480|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger mid-size wagon|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive|
|Engine||2.8 litre V6, DOHC, 30 valves, variable timing|
|Horsepower||190 @ 6000 rpm|
|Torque||206 @ 3200 rpm|
|Transmission||5-speed automatic Tiptronic|
|Tires||P205/55 HR-15 (optional P205/55R16)|
|Curb weight||1,686 kg (3717 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2,702 mm (106.4 in.)|
|Length||4,682 mm (184.3 in.)|
|Width||1,746 mm (68.7 in.)|
|Height||1,498 mm (59.0 in.)|
|Cargo area||1,019 litres (36.0 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 13.7 l/100 km (21 mpg)|
|Hwy: 9.1 l/100 km (31 mpg)|
|Warranty||2 yrs/40,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 yrs/80,000 km|