- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2001

In sales, the Volkswagen Passat trails the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry by a wide margin. But the Passat, nevertheless, is acquiring a reputation as the benchmark against which all other midsized cars are measured. The 2001.5 Passat that went on sale recently is bound to add to its reputation as the class act of the intermediate segment.
The new Passat is an evolutionary model that stresses refinement in design, comfort and ride. Only the roof and doors remain from the 2000 model's design. With a coefficient of drag of 0.27, it is still one of the most aerodynamic production cars on sale. That's one of the lowest ratings of current new models, whose coefficients of drag generally range from about 0.31 to 0.35.
There is a total of 2,300 changes in the new Passat, which first premiered in 1997. Although its 2.8-liter, six-cylinder engine doesn't generate the horsepower of the sixes in the Accord and Camry, the base four-cylinder engine has its horsepower boosted from 150 to 170. Torque has also been increased to 166 foot-pounds The result is excellent power in the low range and more than enough to make high-speed lane changes safely on the highway.
The 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine has a five-valve per cylinder design. There's also a turbocharger and intercooler to maintain high-density intake air needed for power generation. The double-overhead camshafts help valve control. Resulting from this engine design is a flat torque curve that is more than adequate from the low end through the top.
For most drivers the four-cylinder with a five-speed manual transmission is a more than adequate power package. But there's also a five-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission that allows clutchless manual gear changing, if desired. Until recently, about 40 percent of Passat buyers opted for manual transmissions. But with an increasing number of buyers coming from Japanese brands that have overwhelming sales of automatics, Frank Maguire, vice president of sales and marketing for Volkswagen of America, expects manuals to drop to about 20 percent of the Passat transmission mix.
Also available, but only with the six-cylinder engine, is VW's AWD 4Motion system. The system continuously supplies torque to all wheels simultaneously. In normal cruising, power is distributed 50-50 to front and rear axles. But when the car encounters slippery driving conditions, the set of wheels with a higher level of adhesion gets more power. But 4Motion can boost the new Passat's price to $31,575. The base model with four-cylinder engine has a list of $21,750.
Overall, the Passat delivers the styling and performance you might expect in a luxury-segment car. That's no accident. Mr. Maguire says the company wants to move the brand further upscale with the new Passat. In fact, next year VW plans to move the Passat even further upscale with the introduction of an eight-cylinder engine option, which would probably move the top price of the Passat to the mid-$30,000 range. That's even higher than some Audi models offered by VW's luxury division. Ken Moriarty, a product strategy executive with Volkswagen of America, says he doesn't think this larger engine will steal Audi buyers. He says that Audi will continue to compete over the entire range of the luxury segment from the $25,000 base-price A4 to the $73,000 A8, despite the fact that the expected VW V-8 Passat could go on sale for a price in the luxury range.
"There's a lot of opportunity for VW to get a position at that price without taking business away from Audi," Mr. Moriarty said. "The two divisions will stay on independent tracks."
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