This job is one long blur of cars, travel, and writing; it can become hard to keep track of time. Long-term cars coming and going is an easy reminder that yet another year has slipped by in that blur. I've lost count of how many different long-term vehicles I've had either full or partial responsibility for in my career; some stand out more than others. Surprisingly, this somewhat inconspicuous 2016 Platinum Gray Passat V-6 SEL Premium sedan managed to work its way up into the all-stars, partly due to the lusty growl and smooth power delivery of the 3.6L VR6 engine under the hood.
I had big plans from the beginning of the project. The idea was to build it into something like an S-Line Audi: subtle yet still with a sharpened edge. I wanted to add some performance and driver engagement while not removing anything from its primary function of being a people hauler. Sadly, there wasn't as much available from the aftermarket as I had hoped and it took some convincing to get things made or adapted. Coincidently, VW has announced a Passat GT model for 2018, which will be a VR6-powered car with more aggressive suspension and aesthetics that will make it look as quick as it is. I'm not taking credit, just saying "great minds..." etc.
When the Passat GT does hit production, I am sure it will be lower than a regular Passat, but not as low as this car. It will be louder than a regular Passat, but I'm sure not as loud as this car. What it will be more of, is refined. While I loved driving this Passat in its modified state, it had several niggling problems that, given more time and budget, I would have loved to work out.
First, let's talk about the tire and wheel package. The wheels are Neuspeed RSe102 finished in Hyper Black. It is a 20x9-inch wheel with an offset of 40 mm; that is the distance from the centerline of the wheel to the face of the mounting surface. For tires, Pirelli provided a PZero PZ4 in a 255/30-20, which happens to be a Lamborghini Huracan front tire. The correct size for the Passat would actually be a 245/35-20, which is taller, and because of the rounded sidewall, actually a little bit wider. With the combination of the aggressive offset of the wheel and the tight rear fenders, the 245/35 wasn't possible. Even with the shorter and narrower 255, the tire just barely rubbed on the fender lip. This was exacerbated by the ride height, but more on that later. If I were doing it again, I would play with the offset on the wheels a little to try and get that 255/30 on the car. The extra sidewall would not only look more appropriate on the car, but I think it would handle and ride better as well. Ironically, the front tires and wheels had no fitment issues at all, the opposite of every other experience I've had with a VW.
As you've read in past updates, we used KW V3 coilovers in hopes of improving the somewhat soggy handling of the luxury-leaning Passat Premium. The adjustable damping rates did allow us to get rid of the float in the stock suspension. The spring rates, while stiffer than factory, weren't quite stiff enough. Again, with a bit more time I'm sure we could have ordered up stiffer springs. The ride quality of the car was amazing, even sitting lower than I would normally like. It still exhibited a bit more weight transfer than what might be ideal. The inside front tire always seemed to be unloaded in cornering and, without a limited-slip differential, would spin it ruthlessly exiting turns. The other problem with the spring rate was again at the back end of the car. When it was just me in the car, it was fine. However, if I had anyone heavier than my 5-year-old in back, it would drop the ride height drastically. On a couple of occasions, I had two adults in the back seat and it looked like I was carrying a trunk load of cement. A stiffer rear spring would help with both the weight transfer and load-carrying abilities.
Other than spring and damping rates, what the Passat really needs to up the driver engagement is front control-arm bushings. Although this car is a mash-up of different VW parts, nobody we talked to could provide stiffer front bushings to get rid of the compliance up front. This would have made a huge difference in feel and response. If you've read about our MK7 GTI Project, you know the front bushings are the modification I feel makes the biggest difference; I think the Passat would have been the same.
My MQB GTI might be miles in the suspension department, but I wish I could make it sound like this Passat. The four polished stainless steel exhaust tips roared out the most glorious note, unmatched by just about anything short of an exotic. The VR6 is without question the best-sounding engine VW has ever sold, and the 3.6L might be the best of the VR6s. As you might recall, Borla spent a few weeks with our Passat prototyping the exhaust for mass production; it is my understanding that by the time you read this, it should be available at retailers. This was my favorite addition to the car and the one with zero complaints. One of my favorite memories with the car was when I had nothing but the exhaust on the car. I left a driveway enthusiastically, with the engine wailing away, pulled up to a stoplight, and there was a motorcycle cop across the intersection. When the light turned green, he flew past me in the opposite direction to try and find whatever scofflaw was making all that noise in their sports car. I love cars that are sleepers. On more than one occasion, the Passat shocked other drivers at one of California's famous freeway onramp traffic meter grand prixes. Did I mention that in testing the Passat was just as fast as my Stage 1-tuned MK7 GTI Performance Package?
So the car was less than perfect, or maybe even further from perfect, once modified; I take full blame for not sorting out the proper parts. The Passat VR6, however, is an incredibly underrated car in the European market. The sticker on our car was $38,750, but I just priced out an exact duplicate 2017 model on vw.com for a total of $34,815. Your other option is to get the V6 SE with the Technology Package, which basically gives up the Fender Audio, leather seats, and Lane Keep Assist, but lowers the total price to $30,115. I've heard of people getting a couple of grand off that as well, with careful negotiation. A comparably equipped BMW 530i, which only has a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder, will set you back $62,323 and doesn't drive any better than this Passat. Not to mention, no matter how hard you try or how much you spend, neither a 530i nor even the 540i will ever sound half as good as the Passat with an exhaust. I can't stomach the thought of spending twice as much for nicer wood trim.
Since the car went back, I have been scouring the Internet for certified pre-owned VR6s; they aren't very common. The modifications on this car gave me a glimpse of what could be. With just a few properly chosen parts, the Passat has the ability to go from bargain-luxury sedan to deal-of-the-century sport sedan. From the driver assistance features to Apple CarPlay, and that engine—wow, that engine—it is so close to greatness.