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Expert Reviews 1 of 7
By David Thomas
August 14, 2009
Because reviewers often drive new cars before they've hit dealers' lots, we occasionally draw stares. More often, though, no one notices what we're driving because the cars tend to be sedate, everyday transportation. Volkswagen sedans certainly hadn't elicited any special notice in the past, but the new CC, even in its base Sport trim, drew plenty of looks during my weeklong test.
The CC was originally named the Passat CC because it is essentially a stylized version of the company's long-running sedan. The longer name, however, reinforced the fact that the changes were only skin deep, and even though it's since been shortened to CC, I was still left wondering why the car exists at all.
That was before my test drive. After gawking strangers asked me questions in a Costco parking lot and several passers-by stared — behavior usually reserved for wild, bright-orange muscle cars, not pale-blue German sedans — I now understand why the CC exists. Aesthetics are also likely the reason why the CC is off to a solid start, easily outselling its blander Passat stablemate.
Of course, its fun-to-drive, gas-friendly turbo engine and terrific handling don't hurt, and — surprise, surprise — I didn't find the sloping rear as impractical as it looks like it would be. Even so, the CC still faces a lot of tough competition when you start thinking with your head instead of your eyes. CC Levels The new models we test are usually loaded with every option under the sun, lifting their prices beyond the reach of most of the car shoppers we write for. This time, however, my test car was the most stripped the CC comes — a CC Sport base trim level with front-wheel drive, a turbo four-cylinder engine and only one option: Sirius Satellite Radio, for $375. The sticker after destination was $28,225. It comes pretty well-equipped at that price, but it did have a six-speed manual transmission, which most buyers aren't looking for. Heated, power, imitation-leather seats; a six-CD stereo; steering-wheel audio controls; a trip computer; and 17-inch wheels are all standard at that price. A quick look at local inventories show dealers with quite a few of these lower-priced models on lots, so this isn't a rare find, as the least-expensive versions of some cars are.
You can, however, move up in price and accoutrements quite easily. The better-equipped turbo-four, dubbed "Luxury," comes with a standard automatic transmission and starts at $32,350. It also comes with real leather seats, a moonroof, dual-zone climate control and parking sensors.
A V-6 is next in line, called the VR6 Sport, though it features the same amenities as the Luxury trim, plus bi-xenon headlights and 18-inch wheels. It starts at $38,700.
The VR6 4Motion is the top trim level. It adds all-wheel drive for $39,800. Exterior What you get with any trim level is the curvaceous, swoopy, rakish rear end that VW's designers slapped onto the CC. I'm still not sold on the ludicrously large taillights, though that angle looks better in some colors than in others. As I said before, beauty seemed to be in the eye of a lot of beholders I came across; they openly stared at the CC, apparently envious of its lines, including a plain-old Passat owner who pulled up next to me at Costco. He asked, "It just looks different, right?" Meaning his car was still beautiful on the inside. And that's what should count, right? Interior Once inside, I was a bit surprised at the CC's level of luxury — or lack thereof. VWs generally have upscale interiors for the price, but starting at $27,100 and reaching near $40,000, I found the CC's digs wanting. The leatherette seating was acceptable; like a famous scene in "Pulp Fiction," in which hitmen tried to disguise a bloody car interior, it's good enough to look fine at a passing glance. Get stopped by car connoisseurs, however, and they'll spot the faux leather instantly. Its texture is a bit rubbery, and on hot days it may remind those old enough to remember of vinyl seats. I'd prefer a high-end fabric like Volvo uses on its base models, though at least the leatherette should be easy to keep clean.
The dash materials also give off a cheap feel that even the domestic automakers have left behind. There's too much shiny gray plastic, the air-conditioning controls are chintzy, and the top of the dash just didn't look right, especially when hit by the sun. The gauges, though, are sharp-looking, and other areas, like the doors, maintain that high-level feel that VW is known for.
The driver's seat is quite comfortable, and the roominess of the rear seats was shocking. When the CC debuted, I laughed and thought it would be as impractical in back as other four-door coupes, like the Mercedes-Benz CLS. Not so; the CC's rear is much more than livable. The only comfort issues will likely stem from the curving overhang at the door. There for style, it curves upward into a spacious roof, so you basically just have to duck when you get in.
I even managed to fit both our 18-month-old son's convertible child-safety seat — forward-facing — behind the driver and our 8-week-old daughter's infant seat behind the passenger. My wife had to move her seat up a bit to accommodate the infant seat, but she still wasn't as cramped after doing so as she is in our own Subaru Outback in the same setup. Unlike the reviewers at MotherProof.com, I had no problem installing the child seats in the CC. The bases of each were either wide enough or could adjust for the depression in the seat bottom.
The missing middle seat probably won't be missed by many. Take a second and try to think of the last time you ferried five passengers. Done? Would that stop you from buying this car? I'd gladly take the well-done cupholders instead. Those will be especially appreciated if you have older children or beverage-loving adult passengers. Performance The base model came with VW's turbocharged, 2.0-liter four-cylinder. It's used in numerous VW and Audi models, and it's one of our editors' favorite engines. In a larger sedan like the CC, it moves the weight crisply, and it's quite fun to drive with the easy-shifting manual, especially when moving through highway traffic. There's always plenty of passing power, and mileage is quite good, at 21/31 mpg city/highway.
The ride was noticeably rough even on the base 17-inch wheels. Jolts from highway expansion joints were brutally sharp, though road noise was minimal. VW calls this the "Sport" trim, but that doesn't mean there are added performance parts. Considering the car itself isn't pushing the boundaries of performance sedans in terms of handling or outright power, I'm not sure they couldn't have cushioned the ride a bit more. I had no issues with the front-wheel-drive setup in terms of torque steer.
Cars.com senior editor Joe Wiesenfelder tested the top trim level, a VR6 with all-wheel drive, and had these comments on the performance: "The six-cylinder adds the expected oomph, but like most cars these days that offer an engine upgrade, it seems unnecessary, even in the 4Motion all-wheel-drive version I drove. The all-wheel drive made for confident travels in winter weather, and even though the wheels were larger than David's car — at 18 inches — and the pavement was ravaged by winter, I thought the ride quality was reasonable. Not exceptionally comfortable, but reasonable. I think the V-6 engine only exaggerates the value conundrum David lays out. The new model already has a lot of competition, and raising the starting price to $38,700 for a less-efficient motor that you don't really need puts it in line with more luxurious models. And if you want all-wheel drive, which only comes with the V-6, you can find that for less than the CC VR6 4Motion's $39,800." Cargo When you take a gander at the CC's sloping roof and funky tail, it's easy to assume there isn't much trunk room. That would be wrong. At 13 cubic feet, it's bigger than the Acura TSX's 12.6 cubic feet but smaller than the Honda Accord's 14 cubic feet. After thorough testing at Costco, then emptying a rented storage space of baby swings and other kid gear, I can tell you there is no wanting for space in this trunk.
While sliding a large case of bottled water to the back of the trunk, I actually fell in because of how deep the trunk was. Another case could have easily fit in front of it. An umbrella stroller fit lengthwise, too, leaving a ton of room to the side to load more bulky gear. We can't even do that in our Outback's expansive cargo area.
There's a bin to the right of the trunk made of sturdy plastic that held a full gallon of milk in place with room to spare. VW CC in the Market The CC does an impressive job mixing stylish looks with adequate performance, good mileage and a lot of surprising practicality. However, even in stripped form, at a price of $28,000, the competition is stiff. Buyers will not only be cross-shopping other near-luxury rides, like the Acura TSX ($29,310 with leather and moonroof standard) and the new Buick LaCrosse ($27,085), but also entry-level luxury cars like the Audi A4 ($31,450) or the top trim levels of non-luxury sedans like the Honda Accord EX-L ($28,705), Mazda6 Grand Touring ($28,390) and Ford Fusion SEL ($27,435).
That's not a position to envy from a competitive standpoint. With the exception of the LaCrosse, which is itself just hitting dealerships this summer, I've tested all the models mentioned above, and the CC doesn't offer much of an advantage to any of them, even though it is a very solid all-around car.
That means the CC's styling might win out for some prospective buyers. It's just a good thing the rest of the car won't let those people down.