An Acquired Taste

2008, Volkswagen, Passat

DETROIT – Volkswagen's 2008 Passat is an acquired taste. First the test model I had stickered for $30,100. With on options and the freight charge, my test model was priced at $37,089.

The Passat is the top of the line for Volkswagen. In fact the test model was the 2008 Passat Lux. In a sense, Volkswagen stretched the envelope with the Passat. The German automaker was charging premium money for a four-cylinder sedan. However, it was a world class four banger.

The base 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine was intercooled, had four valves per cylinder with variable valve timing and it had direct-injection. At 5,100 rpm, it made 200 horsepower and 207 pounds-feet of torque starting at a very low 1,800 rpm. A six-speed manual transmission is standard but I had the six speed automatic gearbox.

There is an optional 3.6-liter V6 available. It comes standard with all-wheel drive and makes a healthy 280 horsepower and 265 pounds-feet of torque. But the extra oomph can push the price of a fully loaded Passat to over $40,000.

And the quirks started with the four-cylinder Passat. It was front-wheel-drive and those test occasions when I pushed the metal to the floor, I had to tighten up on the steering wheel to prevent torque steer. That was on straight-aways. Thus, the car probably works best with all-wheel-drive.

Now, don't get it twisted. Mechanically, the Passat was fine. It rode well, handled well, and was pretty functional in traffic. I never felt overwhelmed or underwhelmed during my week-long test drive. The suspension was nearly flawless.

Still, there were characteristics about the Passat that seem to not be well thought out. The design was busy. There were four horizontal creases that ran the length of the car. And though there interior in some ways was very nice other attributes made me think what were they thinking.

There was plenty of back seat room. The rear seat arm rests gave plenty of support and overall the rear interior was comfortable and seemed well built. The Passat had rear sun shaded. I've seen manual shades on the side windows before. But I've never encountered a manual sun shade on the rear window. I know it saves money but it certainly can't be easily deployed to block the rays briefly.

So did the front portion of the interior. But again, it had its quirks. The dash is angled forward in layers. The top is fine but the middle has strip of faux wood that runs from the passenger side over to the driver's where it frames the instruments.

The strip of wood had a mirror-like finish that on a sunny day reflected everything the Passat passed under like sunlight and the reflection of trees. It got worse because the template surrounding the center-stack was made look like aluminum. That translated in into more sunlight reflection.

What struck me was that in areas of the country where there are months of sunshine, I could see the driver, perhaps the front seat passenger too, wearing sunglasses to protect her of his eyes from the continual glare reflected off the interior surfaces. That shouldn't be necessary on a sedan that approaches $40K.

Options on the Passat as tested included a navigation system and a premium side system but there was a quirk there, too. I had to pull up the CD to play my iPod once I plugged it into the auxiliary jack which was located in the center console. The diplomatic way of saying it is that there a lot of opportunities in the Passat.

Simply put, the car needs some refinement. Still, it is a German engineered sedan and that should and did count for something with me.

By Frank S.  Washington

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Images of the 2008, Volkswagen Passat

2008 Volkswagen Passat
2008 Volkswagen Passat
plenty of leg room
plenty of leg room
VR6 3.6L V6 Engine
VR6 3.6L V6 Engine
from the side
from the side