Photos: Volkswagen. Click image to enlarge
by Richard Russell
It is often said the test of a design is how well it wears. The VW Passat was a dramatic and widely-praised update to the popular German family car when it arrived in 2001. It remains, at least to these eyes, one of the best-looking sedans – or wagons – on the road. The classy lines stand out in a sea of sameness and even years later look modern and very much contemporary.
While the style has remained untouched the folks in Wolfsburg have been busy making constant changes and upgrades, rarely waiting for a new model year to bring to market what it feels are improvements.
This week’s test vehicle is a perfect example of that policy of ongoing change. The Passat GLS 4Motion is new on the market, and is making its way across the Atlantic in growing numbers. The wider availability of VW’s renown 4Motion all-wheel-drive system has made it possible to offer it on the Passat at a lower price point – surely worthy of getting to market sooner, rather than later. The 4Motion system can now be coupled with the turbocharged 1.8 four whereas previously it came only with the V6 and V8 models. You only have to experience the added grip once to see the $2,500 premium as a bargain. As with all such systems, the advantages go way beyond winter. The security is there throughout the year such as when it rains, or you run across a situation where sand or mud have been tracked on the road.
VW also took this opportunity to upgrade the interior cloth on the GLS and introduce new wheel designs and a wider pallet of interior and exterior colours – making spring a little brighter in VW stores. Other improvements across all trim levels include introduction of side mirrors with integrated turn signal indicators and the Monsoon sound system which was previously reserved for higher trim levels. The mirrors are a small but significant reflection of VW’s penchant for safety, allowing those beside you in multi-lane situations, to be aware of your intentions.
The Passat continues to be offered in both four door sedan and wagon configuration with front or all-wheel-drive and four, six and eight cylinder engines. The trim levels run from luxurious to even more so, accompanied by a growing list of standard and technical features as you climb the price ladder. I sampled what is pretty much the entry-level Passat, the only option being the 4Motion system.
Even in this most basic format, the tester was extremely well-equipped. It came with heated mirrors, air conditioning, cruise, trip computer, auxiliary floor mats, central power locking with ability to close or open windows with the key, tilt and telescope steering wheel and power windows. A Homelink transmitter in the headliner above centre console is also standard, allowing you to activate garage door openers and security systems.
The 4Motion system with its torque-sensing Torsen centre differential proved itself repeatedly during a winter test period. With power going to all four wheels all the time there is a sense of sure-footedness that takes the worry out of poor conditions. The system distributes 50% of the go to each end under normal conditions. A series of sensors monitors traction and apportions torque accordingly, changing to as much 67% to either front or rear as needed. The result is a significant advantage in terms of both control and handling.
4Motion has been available on the Passat for a couple of years, but not with one of our favorite engines – the 1.8 T. This modern little four banger, thanks to a turbocharger really offers the best of two worlds – the fuel economy of a four and the poke of a six or small eight. The horsepower number is pretty impressive at 170 but the big issue is torque – 166 lb. ft. of twist from only 1,950 rpm. Torque is what determines motivation from rest and during acceleration and is vastly more important than horsepower. The 1.8T has its maximum torque output way down in the rev range where normal folks drive. No need to change down several gears to get the engine winding in the upper reaches. Simply prod the pedal, sit back and relax as the turbo force feeds the engine which responds with smooth, uninterrupted flow of motivation. Great engine!
Sustained high speeds on the Autobahn mean whoa is just as important as go and the Passat is well equipped in this areas as well with four wheel disc brakes and the latest generation of ABS (Bosch 5.3) as standard equipment. The rear torsion beam rear suspension of the standard GLS is replaced by a rear independent double wishbone setup when 4Motion is included. It provides a smooth and controlled ride but I’d prefer a little more roll control during serious cornering and more damping on the rough stuff. However, those who drive at a more subdued pace will likely prefer the Passat’s ability to absorb the worst the department of highways can serve up.
The interior styling is among the most widely praised in the industry. Clean, simple, classy and legible, it is a showcase for tight-fitting panel gaps and the use of plastic that doesn’t look or feel like plastic. The driver’s seat is height adjustable – allowing the driver to maximize visibility. The rear bench seat will accommodate three but the middle person will feel cramped. The outside positions are nicely contoured and the seat comfy for long stretches.
Driving at night brings a new level of appreciation due to the lighting of almost every control and switch. The Passat exudes safety from the absence of sharp edges and recessed controls and handles to the solidity of the chassis and the knowledge there are dual front and side bags to provide protection in an incident.
The mid-sized family sedan is often and wrongly considered too expensive to be included in shopping lists crowded with more popular nameplates. But look beyond the fashionable style and exceptional refinement and into the facts and you’d be surprised at how competitive it is – and if you’re interested in all-season security that list is a whole lot shorter.
Technical Data: 2004 VW Passat 1.8T GLS 4Motion
|Options||$1,400 (5 speed automatic transmission)|
|Price as tested||$35,155|
|Type||4-door, 5 passenger mid-size sedan|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/all-wheel-drive|
|Engine||1.8 litre four cylinder, turbocharged, DOHC|
|Horsepower||170 @ 5900 rpm|
|Torque||166 lb-ft @ 1950 rpm|
|Transmission||5 speed automatic Tiptronic (5 speed manual std.)|
|Curb weight||1600 kg (3527 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2703 mm (106.4 in.)|
|Length||4703 mm (185.2 in.)|
|Width||1746 mm (68.7 in.)|
|Height||1462 mm (57.6 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||400 litres (14.1 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 10.7 L/100 km (26 mpg)|
|Hwy: 7.0 L/100 km (40 mpg)|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 yrs/100,000 km|