- The Washington Times - Friday, October 20, 2000

If you cruise through the dormant volcanoes along northern New Mexico's U.S. 87, don't be surprised to find yourself stuck behind a slow-moving recreational vehicle on its summer sojourn to the Rocky Mountains.
The highway offers some of the most dramatic vistas in the West. I rarely travel the route without seeing deep purple thunderheads lighting the hills.
It's enough to make you ease up on the gas pedal and stare slack-jawed at the horizon. But if that RV is blocking your view, your basic instinct is to look for a passing opportunity. On this highway, you must use caution.
Since I was driving a V-6-powered Volkswagen Passat, I felt comfortable whipping around the slow-moving traffic without waiting for a passing lane to appear.
To bolster my confidence, I looked at the speedometer. Yes, it indicated that this car was designed to hit 160 mph, more than double the speed limit. To be sure I had maximum control, I switched the automatic transmission to the manual mode that allows you to downshift with the flick of a wrist.
After dropping down a gear, I hit the gas pedal and felt the V-6 surge with excess power. Up ahead, the no-passing zone loomed as the highway began to climb a hill. Would I make it around the RV? Just to be on the safe side, I gave the accelerator an extra boost. Yes, I was going 100 mph, but it was in the name of safety. As I eased back into the right lane, an oncoming car appeared on the top of the hill. Westward, ho.
These are the kind of experiences that help you bond with a car, and the Passat is one of the easiest to love. With the styling, power and handling of a BMW 3-Series, the current generation Passat is undoubtedly the best car ever to bear the VW logo.
If you have miles to go before you sleep, this is a great way to travel. The power-adjustable seats equipped with heaters are remarkably comfortable, the stereo is nonpareil and the automatic climate control is quick to cool the cabin.
VW graced the interior with wood trim and aluminum accents that provide a sophisticated ambiance
What makes the Passat even more interesting this year is the addition of full-time, all-wheel drive called 4Motion. Adding this option will cost you $1,650. But if you live in the land of rime ice, that sounds like a bargain.
The 4Motion system is available on V-6 Passat sedans and wagons equipped with the five-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual mode. The all-wheel-drive system can be ordered with the GLS or GLX trim.
What does VW know about four-wheel drive? Just about everything. The company's luxury division Audi is the benchmark in all-wheel-drive cars.
The 4Motion system continuously distributes power to all four wheels at all speeds, with an automatic-locking center differential sending torque to the front and rear axles. In normal driving, the ratio is 50-50 between front and rear. When the grip slips, wheels with the most traction get more power, up to a maximum 67 percent in the front or rear.
Power is also rationed side-to-side through an electronic differential locking system that detects and limits wheel spin. If three wheels lose traction, the remaining wheel can still propel the car.
What has made Passat hard to resist in the past was the 2.8-liter V-6 that includes five valves per cylinder, dual overhead camshafts, variable-intake-valve timing and a variable-geometry-composite intake manifold. At 6,000 rpm, the V-6 is delivering 190 horsepower. At 3,200 rpm, the engine is hitting its peak torque of 206 foot-pounds. What that means is smooth acceleration across the range of revolutions per minute.
Like BMW, Volkswagen builds great chassis. The Passat has a innovative front suspension that improves handling. The four-link design turns the wheels from their centers, helping to eliminate torque-steer in the front-drive versions. In back, the Passat rides on an independent double-wishbone suspension with coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers and a stabilizer bar.
Passats feature disc brakes with an anti-lock system as standard equipment.
The GLX review car, base priced at $27,655, came with leather upholstery, heatable eight-way power front seats, walnut trim, automatic climate control, power central locking with remote keyless entry, trip computer, anti-theft alarm system, cruise control, halogen headlamps and fog lamps, power sunroof and heated windshield-washer nozzles.
The only options on the GLX are a six-disc CD changer or in-dash CD player and automatic transmission.

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