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Passat groomed and clipped

Spot the difference: A chrome grille surround is one instant new Passat giveaway.

VW's big sedan gets a polish and model lineup shakeout

2 May 2001

LOOK carefully, this is the new Volkswagen Passat. It might appear much the same as its much lauded predecessor, but VW is actually claiming significant changes, including 2300 new parts.

It's a claim that might be hard to take seriously when you consider the engines and chassis are extremely familiar, but Volkswagen is happy enough to label this the "sixth generation" version of its prestige sedan.

Of more significance than the changes to the car itself, is what the launch represents the first chance for the management team at the new factory-owned Australian distributor Volkswagen Group Australia to strut their stuff.

VGA took over from the former independent distributor, Inchcape Motors Australia, on January 1, and has announced an ambitious growth plan which sees sales growing from around 7500 per annum to more than 20,000 over the next few years.

The Passat is a vital plank in that plan, with VGA wanting it to claim up to 200 buyers a month, a dramatic improvement from the 63 per month average in 2000.

These extra buyers will have a smaller range to choose from. The Sport variant of the 1.8-litre Turbo base model is gone, while the manual gearbox version of the front-wheel drive 2.8-litre V6 is now a special order. The four-wheel drive V6 4Motion is still the range topper.

Pricing is up. At $45,900, the five-speed manual 1.8 Turbo is nearly $1000 more expensive, as is the 5-speed Tiptronic auto at $48,000. The V6 climbs a hefty $3100 to $55,600, while the 4Motion with standard Tiptronic retails for $68,300 - a rise of $2310.

Options are few thanks to a high standard level of equipment. Leather adds $2990 to the 1.8T and $3490 to the V6. An electric glass sunroof is worth $1890 for the 1.8T and V6, while electric seats cost $1550 for either V6 or V6 4Motion. Metallic or pearl effect paint is $935 across the range.

Externally, you can pick Passat VI by its deeper chrome-lined grille, clear headlights, chrome-framed side windows, new rear light cluster and new design alloy wheels. Amazingly, only the roof and front doors are retained from the previous Passat but you'd need to line the two models up side-by-side to pick that or the slight increase in length and width.

Inside, new circular instruments have chrome trim, the centre console between the seats has been reworked to create two cupholders, and there's a new folding rear centre armrest with integrated storage compartment and cupholders. The V6s also get an auto-dimming rear view mirror and rain-sensing windscreen wipers.

All this is added to a specification list which already includes ABS and EBD (electronic brake force distribution), anti-theft alarm system, remote central locking, front and front-side airbags, lap-sash safety belts all-round, climate control air-conditioning, cruise control, eight-speaker audio system with single CD in the 1.8T and 6-stacker in the V6 models, trip computer and leather upholstery on the 4Motion.

Volkswagen is claiming improved handling and crash safety thanks to bodyshell modifications which improve torsional rigidity by 10 per cent, while there are bigger brakes across the range, including ventilated rears for the 4Motion.

The 20-valve four-cylinder 1.8T still puts out 110kW at 5700rpm and 210Nm spread between 1750 and 4600rpm, while the V6 is actually down 2kW and a hefty 20Nm (140kW at 6000rpm and 260Nm at 3000rpm respectively), VW offering in compensation improved claimed fuel economy.

Both engines also meet tough Euro 4 emissions levels due for introduction in 2005 and have electronic "fly by wire" throttle control.

The chassis is the same combination of four-link front-end and torsion beam rear for the front-wheel drive models, while the 4Motion gets a double wishbone rear suspension set-up.

The 4Motion system comprises an automatic locking Torsen centre differential and electronic differential lock on the front and rear axles.

PRICING Passat 1.8 Turbo $45,900 Passat 1.8 Turbo auto $48,000 Passat V6 auto $55,600 Passat V6 4Motion DRIVE IMPRESSION Considering the mechanical specifications of the Passat remain fundamentally untampered with, it's no wonder the driving feel is familiar.

That means safe, secure and solid progress even in the sometimes soaked conditions we sampled the 4Motion in.

The reduction in torque was not particularly noticeable, the V6 quietly thrusting the 4Motion forward without complaint.

The feel was similarly solid inside, with quality interior design complemented by significant adjustability and superb seating front and rear.

The ride was firm but smooth - only being ruffled by the largest potholes and corrugtaions.

Do we like it? You bet. Nothing's really changed there.

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