Forget any talk you might hear about this being the "entry level" Passat. Even in its most basic form, the Value Edition, it's a fully mature German sport sedan. Equipped with VAG's superstar combination of the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and six-speed manual transmission, the performance is rewarding and the amenities plenteous, all for a starting price of $22,950.
Credit the new 2.0-liter turbo for making the least expensive Passat such an appealing invitation into a higher class of automobile. It succeeds a tough act to follow, Volkswagen's venerated 1.8-liter turbo, but this sophisticated 200-bhp turbo simply blows it away. Not only is the 2.0T a rewarding showroom-stock engine, the world's tuners have been given a thoroughly modern beauty to tweak and twiddle.
Emerging from the same Hungarian box that built the 1.8T legend it replaces, the 2.0T is expected to yield more power, but the net gain of 30 bhp from a 1.5mm bore increase and 6.4mm longer stroke is just one measure of the new engine's superiority. The explanation has to begin with the Fuel Straight Injection (FSI) system. Compared to the previous manifold injection, FSI injects fuel directly into each cylinder for better control of the mixture and its subsequent ignition. The fully electronic engine management includes drive-by-wire throttle, adaptive lambda control, mapped ignition with cylinder-selective ignition coils and cylinder-selective knock control, all of which contribute to an environment that allows a higher, 10.3:1 compression ratio. Not long ago, such a CR in a turbo engine would have been an invitation to disaster; now, it's a sign of engineering prowess.
To fully illustrate the 2.0T's brilliance, it's worth dwelling on a couple more comparisons to the outgoing 1.8T. First, the 2.0T's horsepower peak has been lowered from 5800 rpm to a more accessible 5100 rpm. Second, and more importantly, the 45 additional lb-ft of torque now comes underfoot at 1800 rpm and doesn't let up until 5000 rpm. Compare to the 1.8T's lower torque peak, which ranged from 1950 to 4200 rpm. This translates into quickness off the line, a muscular midrange, and a farther reach at the top end-all without any turbo lag affecting the throttle response.
The 2.0T also is the sort of engine that will make every car it powers a better car. (Anyone who dismissed the new Jetta based on a drive of the 2.5L five-cylinder base engine should revisit the experience with the 2.0T behind the sedan's chrome shield.) However, this is not to dismiss the Passat 3.6 we drove in Germany (ec 12/05) as being inferior to the turbo-driven Passat. The 3.6 truly is a performance sedan, and such beasts require more involvement from the driver than lesser powered cars, trading off a tad of smoothness for a more dynamic driving experience. Admittedly, we've spent just a few hours with each of the new Passats, but the 2.0T felt a bit more comfortable to drive, especially in traffic, where its exceptionally smooth power delivery and estimated city/highway economy of 24/31 mpg will make it a commuter's friend.
Any qualms about the engine's ability to haul around the new, larger Passat were put to rest as quickly as the car accelerated onto Interstate 93 out of Boston. Manual transmission cars were not available to us at the first drive of the 2.0T, but the six-speed automatic with Tiptronic did little to hamper our appreciation of the engine's willingness to run. With the Tiptronic automatic, the MSRP of the Value Edition Passat increases to $24,025. Higher content Passat 2.0Ts begin at $23,900 with the manual and $24,975 with the auto Tiptronic.
An unfavorable exchange rate puts VW at an instant disadvantage to most of its competitors in the mid-size sedan market, but when the new Passat is measured in more dynamic terms, in its combination of elegant styling, upmarket interior and German engineering, the bottom line looks unbeatable.
2006 VW PASSAT 2.0T
Base Price: $22,950
Transverse front engine, rear-wheel drive
2.0-liter inline four, dohc, four valves per cylinder, turbocharged and intercooled
Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic w/ Tiptronic optional
MacPherson concept front with triangular wishbones and stabilizer bar, four-link independent rear with anti-roll bar
Power-assisted front ventilated discs, rear solid discs
Length x Width x Height (in.): 188 x 72 x 58
Wheelbase: 106.7 in.
Curb Weight: 3,576 lb
Peak Power: 200 bhp @ 5100 rpm
Peak Torque: 207 lb-ft @ 1800 rpm
0-60 mph: 6.9 sec. (manual)
Top Speed: 130 mph