History loves its heroes and usually forgets its failures, other thann as answers to trivia questions. Consider the current Volkswagen Passat. Its ancestor hit these shores as the Dasher in 1974 and I can attest to its weirdness. I worked at a VW dealer at the time and my daily ride was an early Cal Look, big-motor Split Window; it had eight-spokes (not BRMs, which would have been cooler), but my Bug was super-quick.
Into the mix came this odd-looking front-drive mess that needed water to run correctly. We didn't understand or care about what VW had to do about its future. For us, it was all air-cooled, all the time. Water was for the other suckers. The sister Porsche Audi dealers already had their hands full of defective Audi 100 models and many of us in the parts and service departments were expecting trouble with the Dasher. It didn't disappoint.
Carbureted 1.5- and 1.6-liter motors were particularly troublesome. The move to fuel injection in 1976 helped cure a number of ills, but with an output of less than 80 hp, not much was expected of the Dasher. Things started to look better when the Dasher morphed into the Quantum in the early '80s.
Through a variety of platforms, the Dasher of yore has finally arrived as the sixth-generation Passat of today. Our long-term model has been a revelation to the staff and assorted freelancers. Our black mount has been in constant demand since it arrived. It says a great deal of how good the Passat is, considering our garage also has at least one two-seater of high-performance caliber.
The 4Motion system has been around for a while, receiving many refinements; the 3.6-liter V6 is well suited to the all-wheel-drive platform. And while its 280 hp is by no means class-leading, the torque figures are impressive enough to hustle down to road to the 60 mark in six seconds or so. I was able to coax 25 mpg with the cruise set at 85 on a haul up Highway 101 for several hundred miles.
Where the Passat gets in trouble is how quickly its cost can go up when the options are piled on. The special body kit and sport package add more than $8,000. Then add the nav and those trick headlights, and the car is around the mid-40s. That puts it close to some fairly prestigious rides (but those hardly have the equipment at the same price). For the individual who wants something a bit different from the usual mid-size nameplates, take a long look at a similarly equipped Passat. Right down to the stealth black color.
I see the Passat as a more manageable Phaeton. I found fault with almost every aspect of that car and this is what makes the Passat such a relief. VW makes midlevel cars to a high degree of quality-that's the plateau it should build on. The quest to enter the high-end market is not something the masses will take to. The VW Group includes Audi, Bentley and Lamborghini-and Porsche owns a major share. How much more highend can there be? VW owners like what they drive-keep them happy.
At A Glance
Excellent initial quality - Options add cost quickly
Mileage: 14,992 Fuel Economy: 22.8 mpg