Golf courses to restaurants, the quaintness of the small towns to the Pacific Ocean, there’s nothing quite like a visit to the Monterey Peninsula. But the 200-mile drive from Sacramento is also an ideal route for testing cars, particularly the 2006 Volkswagen Passat.
The high-speed interstate to narrow city streets, there’s no place to hide a car’s faults and there are plenty of opportunities for a vehicle to showcase its best attributes.
My weekly test drive on a recent visit to the Monterey Peninsula was the 2006 Volkswagen Passat. It’s available in three versions, the 4-cylinder Value Edition and 2.0T (turbocharged) model and the higher performance V6 marketed as the sports model.
I drove the 2.0T, which was plenty sporty and responsive on the high-speed, often crowd open roads of Interstate 5 to the winding, more subtle state routes of approaching the peninsula.
With the exception of the wheelbase, which is the same as the 1998-2005 sedans, Volkswagen redesigned its midsize car for ’06. The body has been extended three inches in length and it’s wider, too.
For the first time, a navigation system, steering-linked, bi-xenon headlamps and either manual or automatic six-speed transmissions, instead of five, are all standard. Front-wheel and VW’s 4-Motion all-wheel drive are also both available, with my tester including the front-wheel drive option.
The V6 Passat model, with its various options, can exceed $35,000. But my Passat for the week was more than $10,000 less. And from nearly every category — acceleration, steering and handling and comfort — the Passat has a lot to offer for a fair price.
Most impressive, is the combined effect of the Passat’s steering and handling, acceleration and ride quality. The car just feels right on the road. It has quick (but not overpowering) acceleration at any speed, with the standard 0-60 mph test (with automatic transmission) reported at 7.4 seconds.
The Passat smoothly and confidently maneuvers through every driving scenario presented — winding country roads to intense freeway traffic. Some major car review publications have cited wind rush from the windshield at high speeds, but that wasn’t the case during my drive.
Volkswagen takes a straightforward approach with the Passat’s interior. The exterior “shadow blue” color was nicely matched with the two-tone interior, beige leatherette seats and charcoal gray console and paneling.
The instrumentation panel and radio gauges are also straightforward and require little learning curve. The Passat interior isn’t luxurious, but nor are its interior materials cheap.
As a midsize, four-door sedan, the Passat is more spacious for front-seat riders, but its rear seating isn’t cramped via either its leg room or head room. The trunk isn’t particularly large, but the pass-through feature with a 60-40 rear seatback split is a nice addition. The trunk also has two side storage pockets, good for small bags or fragile items that need sequestering.
The Volkswagen Passat has a good variety of standard features: a push-button parking brake located to the left of the odometer to front and rear reading lights and cup holders. There are power windows and power locks, daytime running lights and a full-featured, in-dash AM/FM radio with CD/MP3 player. The 2.0-turbocharged edition adds front-power reclining seats, the aforementioned trunk to rear seat pass-through and alloy wheels.
The Passat’s only disappointment during my test drive, which included about 500 miles of primarily freeway driving miles, was lower-than-promoted gas mileage estimates. Consumer Guide rated the Passat’s freeway mileage at 26.9 mph, slightly more than five mph less than the manufacturer’s estimate. My gas mileage was very close to the review guide’s average.
Still, the Passat is largely matched against the Honda Accord, Mazda 6 and Toyota Camry, and it’s a good alternative positioned against strong rivals.
Safety Features — Driver and front passenger front, side and side curtain airbags.
Fuel Mileage (estimates) — 23 mpg (city), 32 mpg (highway).
Warranty — Bumper to bumper, 5 years/60,000 miles; Powertrain, 6 years/60,000 miles; Corrosion, 12 years/unlimited miles; Roadside Assistance, 4 years/unlimited miles.
Base Price — $23,900.