Vehicle Overview
Volkswagen redesigned its midsize Passat for 2006. Sedans hit dealerships first, and wagon versions followed later.

The base engine is a new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Constructed with four valves per cylinder, the new engine features direct-injection fuel delivery. The four-cylinder generates 200 horsepower and 207 pounds-feet of torque.

A narrow-angle 3.6-liter V-6 engine is also available. The VR6 develops 280 hp at 6,200 rpm and 265 pounds-feet of torque at 2,750 rpm. Both front- and all-wheel-drive models are offered.

A new medallion-shaped grille is installed on the 2006 Passat, and, in Volkswagen's words, the car's silhouette parallels "in a contemporary way its trendsetting predecessor." The Passat's brakes have a wiping feature that removes moisture on the discs. A sport suspension and Volkswagen's Adaptive Front Lighting System are optional.

Exterior dimensions have increased slightly. The wheelbase measures 106.7 inches, up from 106.4 inches, and the new Passat measures 188.2 inches long overall versus the prior generation's 185.2-inch length. Its width has grown from 68.7 to 71.7 inches. Standard wheels measure 16 inches in diameter, but 17- or 18-inch wheels are available.

Volkswagen says the five-passenger Passat's enlarged exterior translates to more interior width and legroom, especially in the backseat. Rear legroom has risen from 35.3 to 37.7 inches. New vents for the air conditioning system are installed in the rear, and the 60/40-split, folding rear seat has a pass-thru provision. Sedan owners get 14.2 cubic feet of trunk room. An electronic parking brake is installed, and the driver faces a four-spoke tilt/telescoping steering wheel. Leatherette seat trim is standard, but leather upholstery is available.

Air conditioning is standard, and models equipped with the 3.6-liter V-6 can have dual-zone automatic climate control. The standard eight-speaker CD stereo is MP3-compatible. A six-CD changer is optional in the 2.0T but standard in 3.6L models. Walnut or brushed-aluminum trim can be installed as an option in the 3.6L. A DVD-based navigation system and park assist are optional.

Under the Hood
Volkswagen's new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder develops 200 hp at 5,100 rpm and 207 pounds-feet of torque at 1,800 rpm. Either a six-speed-manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic that incorporates Tiptronic manual gear selection can work with the four-cylinder engine. The 280-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 teams only with the six-speed automatic, which includes a sport mode.

The Passat is equipped with six standard airbags, including frontal- and side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain-type airbags. For the first time in a Passat, rear-seat side-impact airbags are optional. All five occupants have adjustable head restraints, and the ones for front passengers are active. All-disc antilock brakes, brake assist, a tire-pressure-monitoring system and Volkswagen's Electronic Stabilization Program stability system are standard.

Driving Impressions
The V-6-powered Passat with the Sport package is quick from a standstill and responds promptly and eagerly when passing or merging. Acceleration doesn't diminish much when the turbocharged four-cylinder is teamed with the automatic, and it's offset by greater fuel economy. Exhaust sounds are satisfying, but the V-6 is a little noisy while accelerating.

An undeniably taut sport suspension yields confident control and adept steering and handling without impairing ride quality too much. Bumps are commonly felt, but not too many are troubling. The ride isn't much different in four-cylinder Passats.

Ample glass aids visibility, but the mirrors aren't as useful as some. The car's deep-set, hooded gauges almost disappear at times on sunny days. The low cowl provides good forward visibility.

Front space is ample, and the seats are indisputably firm but adequately comfortable, though the wide console is close to the driver's knee. Rear headroom is sufficient and legroom is acceptable thanks to an additional 2.4 inches in this generation of the Passat.