We recently had the honor of spending a few days in Volkswagen's second attempt at the luxury sedan market, the 2009 Volkswagen CC. Last time around, the big Audi-based Phaeton proved a sales disaster; VW learned its lesson and built a beauty on top of its tried-and-true Passat platform. This keeps prices within range of The People, while giving them nearly all of the style of Mercedes' CLS, the vehicle that started the four-door coupe nomenclature falderall.
I'll start with the good. VW attention to detail and interior beauty are found here overwhelmingly. An entire paragraph - no, article - could easily be written on VW's flawless melding of leather, metal, synthetics, and glass. It's a culmination of the brand's interior genius and it hits a sweet spot between form and function that few automakers, at any price, have found.
The door key/lock fob must be inserted into its rectangular receptacle to start the engine; it remains there until you press it again to turn the engine off and depart the vehicle. This should be the standard for the industry, as it eliminates fob loss in nether underseat regions. Four beautifully frameless windows inch down automatically in BMW fashion for proper door sealing but they do this preemptively, predicting with remarkable accuracy when you might open one of the four doors. The feel, texture, and stitching of the (optional) two-tone leather seating surfaces makes all four places in the CC as special as bespoke chairs in a high-end gallery. Nothing here shouts for attention; everything is a harmonious intersection of elegance and solidity. Think Dwayne Johnson in a tuxedo.
Now for the bad. Perhaps assuming its buyers wanted more of a luxury boulevardier, VW fitted the CC with absolutely zero steering feel. And the Passat chassis' front-heavy nature - especially with the big, rather noisy, 3.6-liter iron-block VR6 - ultimately results in a rather ponderous feeling not helped by front struts that don't seem quite up to sporting duty. Hit a large bump, and the chassis takes a second to recover. Not to mention, the 18" wheels and tires on our loaded VR6 4Motion clomped loudly over bumps and transmitted too much harshness into the cabin.
The automatic transmission, alas, is not VW's brilliant DSG unit. We've heard that VW believes luxury customers want the plush cushion provided by a torque converter, but, alas, their example is full of questionable surging, a speedy rush to sixth gear, and unpleasantly flared shifts at full-throttle. The fact that we know they can do so much better makes the auto transmission that much more of a letdown.
A big question mark is Volkswagen's decision not to fit the CC with an iPod interface beyond an auxiliary-in port. As far as I could tell, even after scouring the owners manual, the USB interface only allows owners to play video on the central-mounted Nav screen. Either a bizarre misstep at VW product planning, a German belief that all Americans simply must have TVs in their rides (guess you can't blame 'em), or my idiocy in not fully understanding the system. Technophiles (or VW), feel free to berate me and tell me how it really works.
Frankly, we look forward to driving the base model (CC Sport) with the firm's excellent, efficient 2.0T turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder. That model is available with a 6-speed manual transmission, which would allay our transmission frustrations. It weighs far less due to a lighter engine, two-wheel drive, and smaller wheels and tires. It also starts at $27,100 versus the VR6 4Motion's steep entry fee of $39,800. Sounds like a solid case of less is more, which has always been Volkswagen's calling card. We look forward to getting our hands on a Sport 6-speed manual to see if its driving dynamics more appropriately match the Volkswagen CC's phenomenal styling. Stay tuned.