- The Washington Times - Friday, January 26, 2001

Every segment of the auto market is competitive but none more so than the midsize family sedan niche.
Almost every car in the segment is first-rate and a buyer can hardly go wrong. One of the best examples is the Volkswagen Passat. I've previously reported on it equipped with four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines and praised it highly. Add on all-wheel drive and it becomes a superb product.
Volkswagen calls its all-wheel-drive system "4Motion," and it makes a fine car even better. All-wheel drive is great for those icy, winter roads, but it improves the handling under all conditions.
VW's 4Motion is one of the better systems on the market. It is no secret that VW borrowed Audi's Quattro system. VW owns Audi and also borrowed the platform of the popular A4. There is some sharing of parts between the two models, but they remain distinct.
The 4Motion system enhances traction and continuously distributes power to all four wheels all the time at all speeds. An automatic-lock Torsen center differential distributes engine torque to the front and rear axles. In normal conditions, the drive ratio is 50 percent to the front and 50 percent to the rear. On low-grip surfaces, the wheels with the higher level of adhesion receive more of the power.
The A4 has a reputation for sporty handling and is tuned to provide this type of ride. The Passat is aimed at the family trade, and its ride is a touch softer. But don't let this fool you. The Passat can more than handle almost any type of road. I found this out after a week of hard driving including city streets, twisty highways and freeways. The flagship VW never blinked.
While Passat and A4 share the same platform, the styling is quite different. The Passat's lines remind one of another Audi, the new A6. It has a similar roof line, and its family heritage shows through. I found the Passat to be an extremely handsome car and its styling should remain fresh through its life span.
All Passats equipped with 4Motion are powered by VW's 2.8-liter V-6, featuring five-valve technology, dual-overhead cams, variable intake valve timing and a variable geometry composite intake manifold. Those are the technical details. What you probably want to know is this highly praised engine puts out 190 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 206 foot-pounds of torque at 3,200 rpm.
I found this engine delivers exceptional pulling power smoothly and consistently over a broad rpm range.
Not only is it a quick engine, but I found it fairly thrifty, an important attribute when gasoline often costs $1.50 or more per gallon. The test car averaged 21.6 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving. The Environmental Protection Agency rates it at 17 mpg city and 24 mpg in highway conditions.
The test car's engine was mated to VW's five-speed automatic with Tiptronic, which can be operated as a normal automatic or, when the driver desires additional control, can be shifted through the gears manually using a special shift gate. I've never been enthused over the manual shift with an automatic. Some of my best friends think I'm nuts not to take advantage of the manual shift. It could be that I'm lazy. I concede it does come in handy in steep downhill roads, allowing the driver to take advantage of the engine's braking power.
The Passat employs a revolutionary front suspension system using a four-link design, and in the rear there is a fully independent double wishbone suspension with coil springs, telescopic shock absorbers and stabilizer bar. It also has power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering and four-wheel disc brakes with the latest generation anti-lock braking system.
The test car was the GLX and offered a comprehensive list of standard features. These include leather seating, heated eight-way power front seats, walnut wood trim, a fully automatic climate control system, power central locking with remote, CD preparation, a multifunction two-program trip computer (with a new display location in the bottom center of the instrument cluster and a new dot matrix-font), an anti-theft alarm system, electronic cruise control and halogen headlamps with integrated fog lamps. Even a power glass sunroof and heated windshield washer nozzles are standard equipment.
The only options are a six-disc CD changer and the automatic transmission. I found the front bucket seats to offer both comfort and support. The rear bench seat is comfortable for two passengers and becomes slightly crowded when a third joins the group.
The sticker price of $30,905 shocked me at first, but after driving the car and looking over its features, the GLX version with 4Motion is not only a fine midsize family sedan but also a member of the entry-level luxury-car segment.

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