With a lower price, higher performance and added safety features, Volkswagen hopes to move the mid-size Passat GLX onto a few more shopping lists in 1995.
VW sold about 15,000 Passats in the 1994 model year, which ended Sept. 31. The German automaker plans to sell twice that many 1995 models.
This year the Passat – available only in GLX trim – comes with a new grille, a better interior that includes dual air bags, and VW’s excellent 2.8-liter V-6 engine.
And VW has dropped the price by about 10 percent, or $2,100.
Even though VW is aiming for 30,000 in sales for the Passat in 1995, I think VW could sell five times that many – if buyers considering a Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Taurus or Nissan Maxima also would take a Passat for a test drive and then make an item by item comparison of what all these cars give you for your money.
No matter how you measure it, the Passat is a winner.
In my view, the 1995 Passat GLX is a cut above much of the bland Asian competition. I see in the Passat GLX a true successor to the entry-level BMWs of the ’70s and ’80s, which were solid, affordable, exciting and fun-to-drive sports sedans.
Unfortunately, BMW has abandoned the lower end of the market. The least expensive BMW this year is the doggedly slow $25,000 four-cylinder 318i.
The six-cylinder Passat GLX is a far superior automobile that accelerates faster and is much better equipped.
VW’s compact and powerful 172-horsepower, 2.8-liter V-6 engine is a marvel.
The innovative V-6, outfitted with 12 valves, overhead cams and electronic fuel injection, comes with just one cylinder head. Every other V-6 on the market comes with two.
The V-6 engine is so narrow – it fits in a space designed for a four-cylinder – that VW engineers were able to make the cylinder head from just one casting. This saves weight and makes the engine less complex because it has fewer parts.
When you touch the accelerator the response is almost instantaneous. This engine just loves to be revved fast, and it pulls strongly all the way to its limit of 6,500 rpm. VW says the Passat leaps from 0 to 60 mph in just eight seconds.
Smoothness is another area where the V-6 engine, which VW calls the VR6, excels. It runs quietly and without much vibration, no matter how fast or hard you drive.
Our test car came with a five-speed manual transmission. The shifter slid easily through the gears. Accelerating quickly shows the amazingly flexibility of the VR6 engine. You almost can reach 65 mph in second gear.
Fuel mileage was excellent – 19mpg in the city and 26 on the highway, according to the car’s computer.
The Passat has a large 18-gallon fuel tank – unusual for a car this size. Crusing range is better than 400 miles between fill-ups.
The Passat GLX can handle with ease most any curve you toss it into.
With one exception, the Passat’s handling is very much like that of a BMW. The four-wheel independent suspension keeps Passat’s body straight in hard cornering, and the car remains stable and predictable under harsh conditions – a comforting trait, because now and then an accident avoidance maneuver is necessary.
The four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes grab hard and bring the car to a quick and easy stop. The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system also gets high marks. Response is quick and tight.
But that one exception involves the Passat’s front-wheel drive layout. Under quick acceleration, the driver must fight what is known as torque steer. Some high-powered, front-wheel-drive cars pull slightly to the left or right when the gas pedal is floored.
The Passat does have a bit of torque steer, but unless you drive like a maniac, you won’t notice it.
On a positive note, the Passat offers a quiet and smooth ride. Like other German-built cars, the Passat has a solid feeling as it rolls over bumps a d potholes. You don’t hear much noise from the suspension system, and you don’t feel much of the turbulence on bad roads.
Electronic traction control, a safety device that prevents the front wheels from spinning on slippery roads, is standard.
FIT AND FINISH
For 1995, VW has made the Passat more user-friendly.
Two fold-out cupholders are located just above the floor on the passenger’s side of the transmission tunnel. Clearly this is an ad-on item designed specifically for Americans. And although the cupholder isn’t as neatly integrated as others, it does show VW is concerned with the needs of American drivers.
Other items, such as the air conditioning controls (rotary knobs this year) are easy to operate. And window switches are lighted for easy use at night.
On short trips, several passengers said they felt the seats were too hard. However, I felt that the two bucket seats offered excellent support and were comfortable on long trips. The seats can be adjusted up and down as well as back and forth.
The rear bench seat also is comfortable, and even tall passengers will find plenty of room. The rear seat-backs fold forward to give the Passat extra cargo-carrying capacity.
And this is what amazed me. I was able to place a bicycle in the back of the car and close the trunk. I can’t think of any car the size of the Passat that could do the same. The trunk is cavernous.
I do have one minor complaint: The steering column-mounted windshield wiper lever is too close to the ignition switch. Many times I accidentally turned on the windshield wipers while started the car.
In any case, the easy-to-read set of analog gauges are cleanly designed and nicely placed with the dash. Visibility is excellent.
Our test car came loaded with features and accessories. It had electric windows, mirrors and door locks, cruise control, air conditioning and a power sunroof.
If you test drive the Passat GLX, you might just come away with the same notion I did: This VW offers terrific performance, excellent handling, enormous versatility and great value for the money.
In my view, the 1995 Passat GLX is the best car VW has built since the Beetle.
1995 Volkswagen Passat GLX Base price: $20,890 EPA rating: 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway Price as tested: $21,740 Incentives: None
Truett’s tip: The Passat GLX is a smooth, powerful and tightly built sports sedan that can be considered the poor man’s BMW.