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Car reviews - Volkswagen - CC

Our Opinion

We like
Quality, TDI smoothness, performance and economy, comfort, refinement, value, handling, styling
Room for improvement
Jittery ride in Sport mode, steering could be sharper

6 May 2009

REMEMBER how everything somehow felt different on your first day of school, after your first kiss, the moment you passed your driver’s test or after your first pay cheque?

That’s the sort of rites of passage experience that the Passat CC – for Comfort Coupe, preposterously enough – can offer for folks aching to move up, Up, UP in the world – or so Volkswagen would have us believe.

So is this really a sort of ‘rites of Passat’ tale, or just a pretentious Passat that looks like it has been squeezed out of a tube marked “Essence of CLS” (as in Mercedes-Benz)?

Frankly, after some initial cynicism, we’re not so sure.

Even the base, front-wheel-drive TDI model tested here feels like you have made the small but seismic step from ho-hum to “Holy Toledo!” Canny VW doesn’t put any proletarian ‘Passat’ badges on the ample rump of this social climber either.

These days, nobody bats an eyelid when an Audi A6, BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E-class (let alone an A4, ‘3’ or ‘C’) saunters by. Yet this VW is eye-catching inside and out.

You see, the CC is a different beast to the humble and somewhat homespun Passat that lurks virtually unmolested underneath. Comparing the two visually is like the difference between, say, Kylie in Neighbours versus Kylie in hot pants.

We reckon it is the classically styled arcing of the roof combined with the emotional button-pushing presence of chrome, leather, and LED technology inside that sets these German siblings apart.

Of course, the idea is not new, since the Japanese have embraced their ‘pillarless hardtop’ sedans for decades (remember the Mazda HB 929 four-door Hardtop of 1982 to 1987?), while many should recall Rover’s Mark II 3.0-litre Coupe of 1962. HRH ERII herself swanned about in a latter P6B Coupe.

For the record, compared with the Passat sedan, the CC’s length, width, wheelbase and rear tracks have all increased, by 34mm, 35mm, 2mm and 8mm respectively, while height drops 55mm.

Every body panel is unique, leading a few observers to ask if this was some kind of new Mercedes. On the other hand, somebody thought the CC seems up-spec Toyota Aurion head on.

‘Our’ $54,990 CC was fitted with thousands of dollars of extras, including sports seats with fans and heaters, satellite navigation, and a host of other little luxuries that helped this Passat feel even more upmarket.

But from the moment you open the frameless doors and lower yourself down deep into the coupe-like front seats, all pretentions of being in a conventional ‘four-door sedan’ vanish.

So there is no point complaining about the tight rear headroom or tiny back door apertures. It’s like moaning on about how uncomfortable stilettos can be (err, we guess!). Sacrifices must be made at the altar of style.

Having said that, your 178cm tall tester’s head just cleared the VW’s ceiling after contouring and flexing a little more than, say, Constance the Contortionist, to slink into those shapely rear seats. That the door windows fully retract reduces the claustrophobia that normally inflicts most ‘coupes’ is a bonus, as is not having to squeeze past front seats and doorposts to get out back in the first place.

Speaking of which, here are our observations while perched pretty much perfectly in the rear of the Passat CC.

First impressions are what you might expect when sitting down low in a slammed four-door sedan. While not tight, the space available is limited and there is nothing much to do except look ahead to the back of the front seat.

The rear centre seat has been replaced by perhaps the world’s largest slide drawer that appears too cheap in a car with upmarket aspirations. It needs to either be banished or sheathed in a far more salubrious material – like the rest of the CC’s insides.

The perforated leather heated rear seats, sumptuous in their suppleness and handsomely stitched, feel divine and seem to do a good job supporting you to boot. But they don’t recline as you might expect, and the relaxed posture they encourage means that even people of average height will feel their shins jut up against the seat in front.

Yet you will find cupholders, rear-ventilation outlets, map pockets, reading lights and speaker jacks, while the door handle pulls make up for the absent overhead grab handles.

The general feeling, then, is that the CC’s rear quarters are beyond being just tolerably accommodating (and feel great in the process), but you’re much better off in one of the two seats in front.

For starters, getting in and out is easier although the front doors are not as large as most two-door coupe’s, and there is a similarly big drop into those contoured bucket seats.

Once strapped in, however, you will probably have no problem finding the perfect driving position, thanks to the tilt and reach steering wheel rack and myriad seat-adjustment options.

VW seems to have worked hard to keep unwanted noises out, because the CC’s interior is quiet. Some road surfaces do rumble through, and the TDI is clearly a diesel engine at idle, but on the move this is as refined as you would hope or expect.

While the dashboard architecture is essentially current-model Passat (and that is no bad thing, because the cabin is really one of that car’s best features), the CC (for now) boasts differences in the steering wheel, instrumentation, entertainment/navigation/audio presentation and climate controls. And it all helps to lift the interior up to a level beyond that of a mere Passat.

We enjoy the feel of the steering wheel, with its new toggle-like remote audio and trip computer switches and soft-feel rim. The interior and dash lighting looks expensive, the instrument markings are first class, the trip computer menu is elaborate and complicated but ultra informative, and the centre console’s touch-screen operation is second to none. There is practically nothing to criticise here.

Our car was fitted with radar-controlled automatic cruise control, and this fantastic option – though quite expensive – works brilliantly in controlling your vehicle’s speed to the same as the one in front of you, slowing the CC down to a stop and even accelerating it again under certain conditions back to where you want it to be.

Also worth a mention is the ventilated front seats option, which cools your posterior at a press of a button.

The other notable addition to our CC was its Park Assist function that uses radar to spot a parallel parking space, and then turns the wheel and straightens the car up while all the driver does is operate the accelerator and brakes. In our particular example, the device at times would not switch itself on, while on several occasions we mounted and/or kerbed the left rear wheel. Hmmm …

By the way, the push-button auto handbrake is among the best we’ve used.

VW includes an 18-inch full-sized alloy spare wheel that lives under the boot floor, meaning that the space is long and wide but quite shallow. Without the split/fold rear seats in the down position, boot space is still a quite acceptable 532 litres.

That’s 530 litres more than the powerplant that lives in the other end of the CC.

Based on the B6 Passat’s transverse engine and front-wheel drive architecture, the 2.0-litre TDI is off to a great start in life, since VW’s engineers have done a brilliant job sorting this chassis out.

Press – or rather push the tiresome starter key for as long as it takes until the diesel engine fires up/whatever was wrong with the old twist-key ignition – and the 125kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder TDI unit clatters like all of its ilk until it warms and settles into a smoother and somewhat quieter idle.

But floor the accelerator and the diesel bursts into action, spinning the front wheels and shooting off into the distance with impressive vigour. The standard six-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox is a super-slick companion, ladling out the torque in quick, bite-sized chunks that the CC – in the dry – has no trouble turning into fast, forward motion.

On wet roads though, under some circumstances, the modern version of that old-fashioned ‘axle tramp’ happens, as drive is abruptly cut and then applied leaving the front wheels scrambling for traction.

But don’t go thinking this is in any way an uncouth motorcar. Far from it, in fact, as in every other situation not involving hoonish driver behaviour, the CC TDI vies for the honour of being supremely smooth and composed. It seems like VW coated the whole drivetrain in gooey treacle, and this feeling is enhanced by the supple surfaces the car’s occupants are exposed to inside. It is all about being in a silent flow state.

So this stealthy Passat packs a velvety punch. It’s also quite incredibly economical, regularly dropping below 8L/100km in regular circumstances.

Aiding the CC’s effortless performance is foolproof steering and handling. The former does feel distant and remote if not exactly numb, but in fact that the weighting and turn-in is well judged for minimal effort and maximum aim and accuracy.

In the regular Passat, the combination of instant torque, sharp handling, excellent grip and high levels of body control means that stringing a series of bendy roads together is both easy and fun. The CC goes one further with the inclusion of an adaptive chassis control system that allows the driver to change the dampers from Normal to Sport or Comfort.

We are always a little wary of such gimmicks a well-sorted chassis should be able to be everything the car’s occupants want it to be. The Ford Mondeo is an outstanding example of this in the Passat’s class.

The CC in Comfort mode seems a little too soft and floaty after the well-judged Normal mode, but it is preferable to the busy and jittery Sport setting. So leave it in the middle and enjoy the firmish but compliant, and sporty yet benign, dynamic attitude on offer.

Excellent, unwavering brakes that respond with reassuring strength top off a capable and satisfying four-seater grand tourer.

So what does all this mean for the Australian new-car buyer?

Is the CC a new kind of sedan – or a new type of coupe for that matter? No and no. Is it sufficiently different from the regular Passat for prestige car buyers to get excited? Perhaps. Should potential purchasers of the 320i/320d, A4, C200 and IS 250 include the CC on their shortlists? Definitely.

Looking at it another way, while VW’s Polo, Golf, Passat, Tiguan and Touareg are all positioned somewhat above mainstream rivals in Australia with varying degrees of success, the CC – for what it is – is one of the more affordable and distinctive prestige alternatives, and so is a truer ‘People’s Car’ than any VW has been in a very, very long time.

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