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First Drive: 2009 Passat CC

We’re not sure if Volkswagen caught too much flack for some of its more recent bizarre model names like Tiguan, Routan or Touareg or just decided to keep it simple this time. Either way, Passat CC causes a bit of confusion as it seems to outwardly be a better looking replacement for the existing Passat model with a similar name to boot. However that isn’t the case here. The Passat CC is a new model designed to slot above the current more conservative looking Passat. Naming issues aside, the Passat CC has far more going for it than a pretty, coupe-like face. Underneath are a raft of changes, technologies and chassis dynamics that provide a far superior driving experience to the existing Passat making this car a bit more special than we expected.

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The Passat CC draws its obvious inspiration from the Mercedes CLS – a svelt-looking four-door “coupe” as Mercedes calls it. Volkswagen literally translated means “people’s car” and why not bring the high-end luxury of the MB CLS down to the people? After all, the current Passat is the number one selling mid-size sedan in Germany and logically an extension of the Passat line could be a good thing as Volkswagen explained to the press on hand. With that in mind, Volkswagen pushed their fairly conservative design envelope a bit and produced a vehicle that, while drawing inspiration from the CLS, manages to stand on its own fairly well. In our eyes, the design looks best from the front and sides – clean Volkswagen-like lines, identifiable Passat-like cues and a very handsome looking profile with taught lines and well balanced dimensions. Dare we say it looks a little elegant? The rear tail lamp treatment and slightly lumpy trunk belies a bit of an identity crisis with some Asian car overtones coming through. That nit aside, the car looks better in person than in photos and looks particularly good going down the road.

Dimensionally the new Passat CC is 1.2 inches longer, 1.4 inches wider and nearly 2 inches lower that the regular Passat model. These dimensions give the Passat CC a wider and lower stance – something we’re always a big fan of. The exterior sheetmetal is completely unique to the CC. The base chassis itself is also unique and as a result torsional stiffness and flex have been increased quite a bit. Part of this stiffness helps support the new frameless doors and optional “panorama” sunroof which offers a huge greenhouse-like piece of glass that stretches from edge to edge and A-pillar to B-pillar. More importantly the increased stiffness produces a rock solid platform and one of the quietest interiors you’ll find. Volkswagen was happy to point out the CC is as quite as a Mercedes S-class.

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Inside you’ll find some familiar pieces from the regular Passat as well as number of unique and improved features. First and foremost the Passat CC is a four-seater only – the rear seat area is divided by a center console with storage and cupholders. Without the need for a flat bench, VW is able to give rear passengers a nice snug fit individual seat similar to the seats up front minus the adjustments. The reduced overall height of the CC along with the aggressively sloped roof line eat at rear seat head-room and my long-torso six foot tall frame just barely brushes the ceiling. You’ll also need to remind your rear seat passengers to watch their heads getting out as the roof line drops down right where you’d least expect it.

Up front the dash layout is similar to the regular Passat but with a number of new features. The CC has redesigned HVAC controls that work in conjunction with an all-new vastly improved touch-screen navigation/radio system. Adjust the temperature and the large color radio display temporarily switches to a picture animation showing the fan speed and temperature of the driver and passenger independently. Likewise (but not obvious) the heated seat controls have also been built into the knobs that adjust the temperature. The CC also offers optional “cooled” seats in addition to heated seats whereby cool air can be circulated through a mesh in the leather on hot days. Snug and comfortable six-way power “sport” seats are standard with optional 12-way power sport seats available.

The new touch-screen navigation system vaults Volkswagen from one of the worst nav systems on the market to one of the best. The ability to use a touch screen in conjunction with a vastly improved graphical interface make this system both easy and a joy to use. High-end versions not only include nav and radio functions, but a built-in hard drive, SD card slot and an iPod/USB interface in the glove box. Optional is a 650-watt Dynaudio sound system that sounds great.

The European-market Passat CC has a number of technology features that won’t be available here in the States (at least not initially) thanks to our litigious nature. First is Lane Assist, a system that utilizes a black and white camera system mounted behind the rear view mirror to monitor how well the driver is keeping the car in the proper lane. . The system only activates at speeds greater than 40 mph and monitors the stripes painted on the road on either side of the vehicle. If the driver wanders to close to the center or side lines of the road, the system will actually steer the car back on course for up to nine seconds. The driver can always override the system and it is designed to stop providing assistance whenever the driver intervenes or activates the turn signal. While this all sounds a bit big-brother, it works remarkably well and will probably save a few butts along the way. We’d recommend (as does VW) that you turn it off when you want to carve up some tight twisting roads as the gentle nudges from the system every time you come close to apexing a corner will get old after a while.

Another available technology is Front Assist. This monitors the distance between your car and a vehicle or object in front of you and warns the driver via lights and sound that you are rapid closing on another vehicle. Further, the system will actually apply the brakes if necessary to avoid hitting the object or slowing the vehicle to maintain a safe distance. Like Lane Assist this system can be overided easily by the driver at any time.

Park Assist uses many of the same front sensors from the Front Assist system to help you park your car either in a parallel parking situation or to back into a regular straight parking spot. The VW system requires the driver to operate the gas and brakes and provides a clear graphical view of what it is doing and where it is going via the color navigation screen. Overall the system works pretty darn well and makes it obvious if you aren’t going to be able to complete the parking maneuver. Critical placement of the car in the right location to start the parking maneuver helps, but once you get the hang of where you place the car in relation to the parking spot, the system will steer the vehicle and get you there flawlessly. A bit gimmicky in our opinion, but likely dictated by market competitors like Lexus with similar systems.

Lastly and most importantly (for the enthusiast in us) is Volkswagen’s Adaptive Chassis Control. Adjustable suspensions are nothing new, however most are flawed or poorly executed where the “Comfort” setting is too soft and mushy and “Sport” is rock hard and brutal. Volkswagen’s system operates in three modes: Normal, Sport and Comfort. The system is an “active” one in that it monitors yaw sensors, dampening at all four corners, wheels speeds at all four corners, steering wheel input (and speed) and throttle and brake input (and speed of application). Based on all these variables the system “recognizes” various road conditions and driver inputs and delivers suspension settings accordingly. In normal mode the Passat CC goes down the road very smoothly with typical German-car control. Comfort mode is actually just a shade more comfortable without being too soft and Sport mode provides a very nice compromise of out right stiffness without harshness. Regardless of which setting you select, the system is constantly monitoring inputs and making changes. On the autobahn for example the system will stiffen the electromechanical steering feel to provide better on-center feel and to resist small inputs. It also relaxes the state of the dampeners a bit to give a more comfortable but controlled ride. In the Austrian Alps on twisting roads the steering input changes once again to give more direct feedback and slightly quicker response. Roll stiffness is also increased as are damper response and the Passat CC overall feels far lighter and much flatter through turns than its weight and size would otherwise indicate. The CC exhibits far better car control than the standard Passat and even puts it in lofty company with cars far more expensive. At the limits though the chassis tuning is neutral to understeer to keep things safe and despite all attempts to try and power over-steer or lift oversteer (with out resorting to a violent pitch in and stomping of the brakes) the 300hp 3.6l version we drove failed to get the rear end to rotate significantly. That said, the Passat CC was not designed to be an M5 competitor either and up to 8/10ths performance the car is thoroughly composed and actually fun to drive.

Engine choices for the U.S. market will be a newly revised version of the 2.0l four-cylinder turbo found in the current Passat and the current 280hp 3.6l V6. The new version of the 2.0T has internal changes that reduce reciprocating friction and weight and help to keep the emissions and economy in check while still delivering similar power. The 200hp 2.0T will be featured in the base model CC and is expected to start just below $27,000 available in both sport and luxury trim models The 280hp 3.6l V6 will only be available in sport trim starting around $38,000 nearly fully-loaded. 4motion all-wheel drive will be available as an option on the 3.6l version only. A manual transmission will be offered in the 2.0T model, but the 3.6l will only be available with an automatic.

Volkswagen of America says the primary competitor to the Passat CC is the Acura TL. Given the lack of a rear-wheel drive platform in this segment, we can see why the Infiniti G37 and Lexus IS were left as secondary competitors. What the Passat CC brings to the table is a unique combination of heavy style and German refinement. Even we were surprised just how solid the Passat CC is and we think VW will find takers looking for something different in the mid-size segment.

 



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