In turbo, four-cylinder Value Edition trim, the 2006 Volkswagen Passat is aimed at the middle of the midsize sedan market, offering distinction and an engaging driving experience along with a more sophisticated design as its competitive edge. The V-6-equipped version, with its 280 horsepower and upscale option packages, takes a stab at the midluxury segment. Although an impressive sound system and GPS navigation can be had as options, the Passat doesn't include any cell phone integration or accommodation for MP3 players.
Our test car had the V-6 and a six-speed Tiptronic automatic, the only transmission choice, and is available for a base price of $29,950. But add the $5,550 Package #2 Sport with leather power sports seats; a leather-wrapped sport steering wheel with shift paddles and multifunction controls; rain-sensing wipers; heated front seats; dual-zone automatic climate control; bi-Xenon headlights with the Adaptive Front Lighting System; the Dynaudio audio system; park distance control; another $1,800 for the DVD satellite navigation system and glove-box-mounted six-CD changer; and the $615 destination charge, and that's $37,915 worth of Passat. That's a lot for a Volkswagen--but a lot of Volkswagen and still considerably less than the equivalent German luxury-brand luxury car.Although some road noise enters the cabin, the new 2006 Volkswagen Passat's sleek aerodynamic lines contribute to its interior quiet by reducing wind noise. The car has grown in all dimensions since the 2005 model but more in length and width than height, so it has longer, leaner proportions suggestive of Volkswagen's ultrapremium Phaeton. The front end features a new chrome accent undercutting the grille, which looks somewhat like a goatee.
The 2006 Volkswagen Passat comes with a collapsible umbrella stored in the driver's door. Perhaps it's gimmicky, but it's undeniably useful. The new Passat dashboard uses a floating design, a clever illusion produced by a distinct separation and color change between the top and the bottom. Instead of a traditional key, the electronic fob, which incorporates the remote-lock, remote-unlock, and trunk-release functions, goes into a receptacle in the dash. The car is started by pushing the fob in and holding it, and it's turned off the same way. The instruments, featuring blue and red lighting for night visibility, are easy to read. As an unexpected convenience, both the console box and the glove box are large and air conditioned. As in many luxury cars, the parking brake is actuated remotely from a button on the dash.
High-quality power-adjustable sport seats are part of the inclusive Sport Package #2 with which our test car was equipped, and the rear bench has noticeably more legroom than in earlier Passats. Cavernous is an appropriate description of the trunk.
The 2006 Volkswagen Passat's navigation system, with its bright LCD, gets high marks for visibility. Destination entry is by direct alphanumeric entry or by a location on the map, and it is possible to get directions to various secondary destinations near the primary destination. Well-marked context-sensitive keys next to the screen facilitate its use. When a destination is chosen, directions are read through the audio system and displayed not only via a highlighted route on the map but also on the Volkswagen Information System (VIS) trip-computer screen between the tach and the speedometer, directly in front of the driver. The VIS, controlled from buttons on the right steering-wheel spoke, controls and displays information on fuel economy, distance, compass data, and vehicle-convenience settings. When nav-system route guidance is in effect, the regular VIS functions are unavailable.
With the 2006 Volkswagen Passat's navigation system installed, the optional CD changer is used for audio entertainment. It too is controlled simply and logically by the context-sensitive buttons to the side of the screen. We had no problem playing standard CDs or CD-Rs, but, unlike the standard CD player, it wouldn't play MP3 CDs. The sound quality from the optional 600-watt, 10-speaker Dynaudio system is very good. Satellite radio, either XM or Sirius, is standard in V-6 Passats but was lacking from our early-production example.The 2006 Volkswagen Passat has not only gone upscale in styling and appointment but also has advanced considerably in the chassis and engine departments--not that the previous generation was deficient. Lighter materials and improved design efficiency result in reduced weight and improved strength, rigidity, and crashworthiness for the unibody structure in comparison with the old Passat. The suspension has also been upgraded, with MacPherson struts in front and the old rear torsion-beam axle replaced by an independent four-link setup. Although similar in design to the 2006 Volkswagen Jetta's suspension, the Passat's uses more aluminum for reduced unsprung weight and improved response. It also isolates the occupants from road shocks to a higher degree, appropriate to its more upscale position.
Handling is very good on the 2006 Volkswagen Passat, aided by the electromechanically assisted steering, which dispenses hydraulic fluid and sets the car up for inclusion of active steering and lane-departure systems in the future. The steering has a light touch at parking speeds, with more effort appropriately at higher velocities. On the whole, the Passat is far more fun to drive than many of the competitive midsize sedans and gives the luxury marques competition.