Most of the Passat's new technology, including its chassis, is from Audi. A four-link front suspension keeps the car disciplined while negotiating potholes and bucolic, but bumpy, cobblestones. The car's body shell is 10% more rigid than the earlier model.The end result is a firm, but not harsh, ride. The power steering, however, is a bit too playful, which can result in oversteering.
Our test drive car's 1.8-liter, 5-cylinder (150 bhp) engine was perky, with decent acceleration both from a standstill and when overtaking Austrian Sunday drivers. A sprint from 0-100 km takes 8.7 seconds. The 2.8-liter (193 bhp) model finishes the deed in 7.6 seconds. The new Passat is the first Volkswagen available with an engine featuring five valves per cylinder. All Passat models have 5-speed manual transmission as standard equipment, while 5-speed automatic transmission is available on the upper-end models. The Passat's interior is quietly stylish. The gray cloth ceiling and window struts blend smartly with the soft black dash and door panels.
The combination leather and Alcantara front seats are comfortable and should wear well. For those bitter cold Slovak winter mornings, the internal seat warmers are a welcome feature. On the highest setting, however, being on the hot seat may not be only a metaphor.
Leg room in the front and back seats is adequate. The Passat is not cushy, but it is comfortable.
The Passat's interior buttons and knobs are less than intuitive, especially those on the climate control panel and stereo, so be ready to set the temperature and choose your music before pulling out into traffic.
And although an adjustable steering wheel is standard equipment, this reviewer couldn't locate the magic button. The front seat's unusually high and narrow armrest is not so restful and gets in the way of the parking brake. Fortunately, it is retractable. Although keeping an eye on fellow drivers is fairly easy in the Passat, the blue-tinted, distorted, driver's side-view mirror is unreliable.
Should an accident occur, the Passat offers attractive safety features. Driver and passenger air bags and ABS are standard equipment, and side impact bags are an available option. Passengers are protected from side-swipe impacts by anti-intrusion tubes and foam padding in all the doors.
Well received in western Europe, sales of the new Passat in Slovakia began in December, 1996. There's a "long" waiting list, according to a spokesperson at Porsche Slovakia, the VW/Audi importer. Customers in Slovakia eager to put a Passat in their garage will have to wait 3-5 months for delivery.
Jeffrey Jones is Editor-in-Chief of the Central Europe Automotive Report.
27. Feb 1997 at 0:00 | Jeffrey A. Jones