LAKE TEGERN VALLEY, Germany – Founded in the First Century by Benedictine monks and popularized as the summer residence of Germany’s royal family, this sleepy Bavarian resort region now serves as a year-round retreat to natives from all corners of the country and nearly every walk of life.
So it only seems appropriateAG, reigning king of the European auto industry and transportation provider to the masses, would select these idyllic valleys and spectacular Alpine vistas to showcase the ’09 Passat Comfort Coupe.
Sharing curbside parking at 5-star resorts here with decidedly more expensive German sedans and coupes, the Passat CC’s tautly drawn exterior design strikes an equally confident profile. On the high-speed Autobahn, top-of-the-range models make the 30-mile (50-km) sprint from Munich to the Tegern lakeshore as quickly and comfortably as their pricier peers.
The Passat CC arrives five years after the Mercedes-Benz CLS, arguably the first sedan with such an overt, coupe-like design.officials say the intention behind the Passat CC is to inject some emotion into its sedan lineup and move the brand up-market in North America.
The auto maker tried unsuccessfully to do that a few years ago with Phaeton, which priced some models upwards of $100,000, out of reach for the traditional Volkswagen customer.
But there’s an economical side to the Passat CC, as well. Europeans will receive a nifty, 1.8L turbocharged gasoline engine that VW engineers mate to a slick shifting, 6-speed manual transmission. It moves the Passat CC off the line quickly and provides a nice punch through the first three gears, as does a 2.0L TFSI direct-injection gasoline engine with turbocharging that will come stateside with the same gearbox.
VW expects the 2.0L version to account for 70% of CC sales in the U.S. and says it will start at under $27,000.
While neither powertrain provides much kick in the higher gears, the European model delivers an impressive combined-cycle fuel economy of 40 mpg (5.8 L/100 km), while the U.S. combination provides a rating of 20/29 mpg city/highway (11.8-8.1 L/100 km). Later this year, VW will make available a new 7-speed, dual-clutch Direct Shift Gearbox with the European 1.8L engine.
The home market additionally receives a pair of exclusive 2.0L TDI turbodiesels varying in output with 6-speed manual or DSG transmission choices. Those customers can order their Passat CC now, with delivery closer to summer, while the gasoline-only car launches in North America in September.
The real hoot, however, comes from a direct-injection gasoline 3.6L FSI V-6 that VW links to a 6-speed DSG. The transmission operates in a fully automatic mode, a “sport” mode that lets the engine rev higher prior to the next upshift, or a rev-limited manual mode drivers operate with paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
A nifty piece of engineering, these 6-speed DSGs anticipate the next shift in line during automatic modes and can adapt to the aggressiveness of its driver. Most impressive, however, is how quickly it executes shifts under heavy acceleration, never letting the engine gasp an extra breath.
The V-6, which Americans already can order on the original Passat, and newly available DSG combine to deliver the Passat CC from zero to 60 mph (100 km/h) in less than six seconds and to a speed-limited 155 mph (250 km/h). But it also hunts out the most economical gear during more sedate driving for greater fuel efficiency.
However, don’t look for the DSG stateside on the Passat CC, as it’s a Euro-exclusive technology for now. North American models with 6-speed planetary automatics and VW’s Tiptronic manual-shift option won’t meet European specs, turning in a second-slower quarter mile and speed-limited to 130 mph (209 km/h).
Unfortunately, the Passat CC’s engine bay would benefit from some extra noise damping. Far too many unpleasant sounds from the direct-injection mills intrude the cabin, given the car’s assignment to move the brand up-market.
Ride and handling benefit from a rock-solid chassis, a vastly differentiated platform it shares with the base Passat, and a sound electromechanical steering system. Top-of-the-range models with 4Motion all-wheel drive receive an electrically adjustable suspension that switches with the touch of a button between normal, sport and comfort modes.
The normal adjustment allows the Passat CC to slide gracefully through long, lazy curves that circle the lake here, while sport mode noticeably stiffens the suspension and speeds up the steering to match twistier mountain roadways. The Passat CC handles the wet stuff pretty well, too. After an early-evening dash across the Austrian border, we never lacked confidence to push the car through wet corners racing back to the hotel for dinner.
|Vehicle type||Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 4-passenger sedan|
|Engine||Transversely mounted 3.6L DOHC V-6|
|Power (SAE net)||280 hp @ 6,200 rpm|
|Torque||265 lb.-ft. (360 Nm) @ 2,750 rpm|
|Transmission||6-speed, dual-clutch Direct Shift Gearbox|
|Wheelbase||106.7 ins. (273 cm)|
|Overall length||188.9 ins. (480 cm)|
|Overall width||73.1 ins. (186 cm)|
|Overall height||56 ins. (142 cm)|
|Curb weight||3,854 lbs. (1,748 kg)|
|Fuel economy||16/24 (15/10 L/100 km)|
|Competition||Acura TL, Infiniti G35, Lexus IS, Saab 9-5|
|Emotional exterior||Obtrusive engine noise|
|Adjustable suspension||Euro-only technologies|
|Whiz-bang powertrain||Prefers premium fuel|
Top-line Passat CC models receive a self-parking system similar to what Lexus brought to market two years ago and a lane-departure warning system that gently nudges the car back on line should the driver suffer what the Germans call Sekundenschlaf, or “second-sleep.”
The latter system worked perfectly well on the test drive without becoming an annoyance, but liability concerns will keep it from appearing in the U.S. for a couple more years.
VW also debuts with the Passat CC anti-puncture tires that wrap wheel sizes ranging from 16 ins. to 18 ins.
Inside, occupants will discover an interior on par with, or better than, many vehicles in the $30,000 neighborhood where most Passat CCs will sell. Material choices are sound, although the cabin is not without the occasional piece of cheap plastic. And while the dash and door-trim coverings are nicely textured, they feel a bit hard to the touch.
In a nod to the uber-luxurious Phaeton, which VW still makes available in Europe, the Passat CC’s specially designed instrument panel glows in white light, compared with the blue backlighting of lesser VW models.
Driver-control functions are clustered intuitively, and the priciest trim levels receive a newly developed touch-screen navigation/audio system that doubles as a display for the rear camera. A new multi-media USB socket also bows with the Passat CC. It’s cleverly hidden in the glove box to accommodate an MP3 player, which integrates with the central information display and can be controlled through the audio system.
Seats are comfortable and well-bolstered, and leather surfaces feature French stitching. Available fabric inserts keep passengers in place during aggressive maneuvers. The beige on black scheme trimming several test cars looked stunning and nicely complemented the Passat CC’s elegant exterior.
The rear seats accommodate only two, as a console occupies the center position. And although there is plenty of elbow room, the Passat CC’s coupe-like design slightly compromises headroom. It also limits rearward visibility for the driver, a sight line further complicated by the housing for a power sun shade.
But the Passat CC’s flaws are minor and relatively few, especially given VW did not want to build a car too expensive for its traditional buyer. As it is, the CC could swipe a few sales from customers shopping for an Audi A4, a distant cousin to the Passat in the VW family.
The Passat CC won’t make passengers feel like full-fledged royalty, but it succeeds at combining a sporty, emotional design with useful technology for a thoroughly invigorating and pleasurable driving experience.