EXPERT REVIEW

IndyStar.com's view

Good things seem to come in threes at Volkswagen United States Inc. — like a new look, a lower price and even more sophistication.

That sums up the basis of the new 1995 Volkswagen Passat GLX.

As a fully refined five-passenger sedan and wagon, the Passat GLX is VW’s largest passenger vehicle. And the models have been restyled and given significant new safety and convenience features.

The image of Volkswagen from the days of the clattering little air-cooled VW “bug” certainly has changed. Today’s mid-sized cars have a more striking appearance with aerodynamic styling and advanced technology.

“Mr. Wood picked a right time to take on Volkswagen,” said Terry Vores, sales manager for Tom Wood Nissan-Subaru-Volkswagen. “They decided to get back into the (American) car business, and we’re really happy with this Passat.”

Varied forms of technology always have been present in a VW, even back to the opposed four-cylinder engine in the bug. Currently, the forms have changed to high technology, with computerization looming large.

The new Passat has a German styling theme mixed with a dash of American flavor. Built in Emden, Germany, the GLX’s solid contours evoke both strength and power.

The front end is highlighted by a sloping piece VW calls a waterfall-shaped grille. Unlike the squared-off Teutonic styling of many past models, this has more of a rounded contour.

Headlights wrap back into the fenders. A raked windshield and curving side glass and body panels flow back to a sports- profile rear deck.

From the windshield forward, I’d say the styling is distinctively Volkswagen. The rest of the car is an aerodynamic study adopted by many sedan manufacturers.

When Volkswagen gave up its air-cooled flat-4 engine and went to an in-line water-cooled 4, it began working with overhead cams and some fairly aggressive power stances for small engines. That thrust has been carried over to its innovative VR6 motor.

The VR6 that powers the Passat is a 2.8-liter (170-cubic-inch) V6 that can honestly say, “I’m different.” And different it is in that the angle between the blocks is but 15 degrees instead of the customary 60 degrees for V6s.

This lets a V6 be squeezed into a small engine bay in a transverse position. The mounting adds interior space that otherwise would be taken up by a wider motor.

“It’s a super engine,” Vores said. “It has power (172 horsepower), and makes the Passat a sports car-like sedan.”

Standard in the GLX is a five-speed transmission, with an electronically controlled four-speed automatic offered as an option. There’s about a 50/50 split between Passats sold with five-speeds and those sold with an automatic.

It seems that Volkswagen drivers are from the do-it-yourself school.

“VW drivers as a group seem to be more aggressive and sports-oriented,” Vores said. “They like a manual transmission, and want to shift gears themselves.”

With a 172 horses and a smooth-shifting gearbox, a Passat driver who knows what he or sh e is doing can zip from 0 to 60 mph in 8 seconds flat. Top speed is electronically limited to 130 mph.

Of course, it’s one thing to go and another to keep everything on the road. The GLX has a complete performance package that includes a modified suspension system designed to minimize the torque-steer effect.

The suspension is four-wheel independent, with VW’s unique track-correcting bushings enhancing handling and driver control. The front drive pulls in a true, straight line under heavy throttle.

VW hasn’t compromised ride qualities for road handling. Working off a body stiffness that has been increased 30 percent, the ride is a mixture of comfort and firmness that translates into precise control.

Devotees of the boulevard-type ride exhibited by the big luxo-boats probably will regard a GLX’s sports-tuned ride as a little stiff. But it guarantees predictable control.

{When driven aggressively, the GLX responds in a sports car-like fashion. It also offers persona l comforts with 99 cubic feet of passenger space and overall legroom of 82 inches.

Buyer demographics range from 30 years old to about 50 and strongly oriented toward automobile enthusiasts.

“I believe this new Passat will result in an increase in sales,” Vores said. “I’m estimating it will account for about 25 percent of our sales.”

1995 Volkswagen Passat GLX Base price: $20,890Type: Front-engine, front-drive, five-passenger, midsized sedanEngine: 2.8 liters, OHC V6, 12 valves, fuel-injected, 172 horsepower, 177 foot-pounds of torqueTransmission: Five-speed manualMileage: 18 mpg city/25 mpg highwayAcceleration: 0-60 mph in 8.0 secondsTop speed: 130 mphWheelbase: 103.3 inchesLength: 181.5 inchesWidth: 67.5 inchesHeight: 56.4 inchesCurb weight: 3,140 poundsOptions: Automatic transmission, power sunroof, CD changer, leather seats, cold-climate package, metallic paint

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