Volkswagen is very good at refining its products and making them ever so slightly better from generation to generation. This, of course, forces the consumer to periodically walk back into the showroom and plunk down their hard-earned cash for the latest greatest, which is actually only marginally better than what they were driving before. The new MkVI Golf is even more polished than the MkV, the Touraeg2 is just a little better than the original, and so on. The differences aren’t huge, it’s more like a 10% improvement. This has resulted in a maniacal following for the entry-level German marque because this process makes Volkswagens reliably, errr, reliable.
Still, VW has people within its organization who have red blood, not ones and zeros, pumping through their veins. These people made the original Scirocco, and more recently, the new Scirocco. For the most part though, these people are shuffled around to other parts of the VAG empire if they start getting too creative. For proof, just look at Ferdinand Piech’s move to Bugatti after his stint with VW (he was behind the Phaeton and the Veyron). So it was with a measure of surprise that I learned VW was once again aiming for the big guns with a new Passat variant, the CC. Not since the Phaeton aimed between the eyes of the Audi A8 has VW made such a bold move upmarket. The Phaeton was all about substance over style though, and we all know how that ended for them. Will Volkswagen be more successful with the style-centric Passat CC?
The vehicle I drove was the entry-level 2.0T Sportline with a Tiptronic automatic transmission. The options available on the Sportline are the olympic swimming pool-sized Panorama Vent Sunroof (which only tilts and doesn’t slide) and the Sirius satellite radio, both of which my tester had. The $3,450 Tech Package is only available on the up-level Highline trim, but this package is worth serious consideration for reasons I’ll soon explain. The Passat CC is also available with a 3.6L V6 and 4Motion AWD but then you end up with a Passat costing on the wrong side of $50k, so I tested what I believe will be the most common spec.
Let’s start with the exterior styling because that’s what is going to bring people into the showroom, not the Passat underpinnings. While aesthetics are largely subjective, you wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t at least curious as to my thoguhts. For starters, the roofline and window area are fantastic. If that’s all you could see of the car, you wouldn’t tell it from the Merc CLS, which is precisely the idea. This is meant to be a half-priced CLS, according to Vee Dub. So what is sacrificed for the $40,000 price difference between the two? The exterior isn’t quite as elegant as the CLS. The front of the CC is arguably better, as is the profile, but the rear of the CLS walks all over the CC’s. The CC’s taillights are easily its weakest design element thanks in no small part to a striking likeness to a 2009 Chrysler Sebring that spent a couple of minutes in a microwave. Minus ten points there. Other than that though, this is a properly brave design.
The interior is typical VW fare, which is to say that it is brilliant for this price point. Heck, it could shame cars twice its price. The steering wheel was one of the best I’ve ever laid my hands on. There should be a law mandating that wheel be put into every car made today, it’s that good. The quality of the materials around the dash and on the armrests were impressive as well. Only the dual-zone climate control dials indicated a cut corner with their flimsy operation. I also appreciated the manually telescoping steering wheel. There was a huge range of adjustment and it didn’t try to chop my legs off when the vehicle started up like the electric ones do. Win-win.
Rear 3/4 visibility really wasn’t as bad as I was expecting for such a design-centric car, it was the front and rear visibility that were truly negligible. Without the Tech Package and its back-up camera, I’d be scared to park within 50 metres of another car. Unfortunately, a Tech Package-equipped unit is $7,500 more than my test car. Still, for a car in the mid-forties, the CC can’t be beat on style and features. The Tech Package also features a touch-screen SatNav that had great graphics but had an interface that made my iPhone look like it was from the 24th century. Also included is the 600-watt, 10-speaker Dynaudio sound system. No Lexicon, but still sharp as a tack. Speaking of features, one of the coolest features was the windows that opened half a centimetre when opening the doors. The windows were frameless and this feature is necessary to prevent the glass from catching on the rubber seal. Plus, it’s just plain neat.
As for driving impressions, they were sadly forgettable. After leaving the dealership, I could scarcely remember what car I had just driven; it took a concerted effort. All I could remember was that when the Tiptronic shifter was in D (Drive), the throttle tip-in was lazy, which suited the car just fine but hardly sent me into cardiac arrest. When I knocked the shifter into S (Sport), the gears were held longer and the throttle was sharper. Hardly befitting a car that I would best describe as a Grand Tourer meant for eating up highway miles. So should VW have called this car the Passat GT instead of the Passat CC? Not with this much wind noise. I couldn’t figure out where it was originating from, but at highway speeds there was a distracting wind buffeting. For a car that appears to be more slippery than an oily eel, this made no sense to me. Nevertheless, the wind noise persisted.
Two hundred and seven torques is a healthy amount and they always made themselves felt. This was great for passing but that much torque nearly overwhelmed the front wheels from a stop. This car doesn’t beg to be driven hard so it wasn’t terribly surprising that it didn’t respond well to having its neck wrung. The steering was generally quite light but remained reasonably direct. The connection with the road, though, wasn’t really there. Instead, the chassis and steering were set up for comfort, thus the CC (Comfort Coupe) moniker, I suppose. The “Comfort” part was certainly there, but the VW engineers were apparently not familiar with the connotations of sportiness that “Coupe” implies.
The driving experience wasn’t particularly notable but most will agree that the looks are a success and the value proposition is undeniable. So maybe you shouldn’t buy this car if you’re a “Driver”, despite Volkswagen’s slogan of “Drivers Wanted”. If you appreciate good, understated design and want to be noticed when you roll up to the country club or the cocktail lounge, take a good look at this car. Otherwise, recommend that your friends buy them. That way, you can drink in the sultry CC whenever you get together. If you can twist your friend’s arm into picking up a CC, I can guarantee that you two will be spending a lot more time together.
Price as tested: $36,585
Summary: Style wins over substance. Call it the “un-Phaeton”.
Exterior Design: 7.5/10. Looked sharp in the Island Grey Pearl. Don’t you just love marketing names for colours?
Interior Design: 8/10. Spot-on ergonomics.
Engine: 7/10. Smooth and torquey at low revs.
Transmission: 6/10. Give the manual a look if you want some involvement. Otherwise leave it in “D”.
Audio/Video: 8/10. Nice sound, great back-up camera, touch screen wasn’t as intuitive as I hoped.
Value: 8.5/10. Compare the Sportline to the Accord and compare the Highline 3.6 to the CLS.
Overall: 7/10. If you’re looking for something different, look here.
Special thanks to Steve Crochetiere and Norden Autohaus of Edmonton.