2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 22, 2008

With its especially roomy, versatile, and quiet interior and especially powerful and refined powertrains, the 2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon is a great family alternative to an SUV.

To put together this comprehensive review covering the 2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon, the experts at TheCarConnection.com consulted some of the most respected review resources. Then TheCarConnection.com’s editors, who have driven the Passat Wagon and several other sedan variants, brought their experience to this review.

Volkswagen’s especially roomy Passat Wagon gets some new tech features, like Adaptive Cruise Control, for 2008, along with simplified trim levels: Turbo, Komfort, Lux, and VR6.

A 280-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 engine and 4Motion all-wheel drive are included in the appropriately named VR6 models; all the other 2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon models come with a 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Most drivers will be happy with the perky performance of the four-cylinder engine, which is very responsive with either the six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The V-6 comes only with the six-speed Tiptronic automatic and is somewhat faster, though the fuel economy penalty is significant. The base Turbo model is now the only Wagon that can be outfitted with the manual gearbox.

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The interior layout of the 2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon feels both luxurious and practical, and the quality of the materials is quite impressive. There are plenty of interior storage bins, and even an umbrella-storage area. The Passat Wagon has ample backseat legroom for lanky adults. Although the rear door line makes an odd straight cut downward, the door’s unusual shape really helps entry/exit. And in the Wagon, the backseats fold forward flat to greatly expand the cargo floor, which is easier to load than SUVs because of its low lift height. On that note, a power liftgate is standard on all Wagon models, but it seems an unnecessary feature.

Compared to a compact sport-utility vehicle or a mid-size sedan, the 2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon is one of the quietest vehicles inside, allowing almost no road or wind noise. The ride is very well controlled, and it’s perhaps more refined inside than many luxury-brand mid-size models.

The new 2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon handles and maneuvers well but without sharp sport-sedan reflexes. The suspension and the steering are tuned differently depending on which engine is under the hood, and the four-cylinder models have a more responsive, tossable feel.

All 2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagons include keyless entry, cruise control, air conditioning, and an eight-speaker sound system; leather steering-wheel trim, manual side sunshades, and a power 12-way driver seat are also standard. The Komfort edition wears larger 17-inch wheels and optional seat heaters, while the Lux edition includes a multifunction three-spoke steering wheel and an optional Dynaudio sound system. The VR6 edition gets heated washer nozzles, optional bi-xenon adaptive headlights, and adaptive cruise control.

The Passat Wagon has done reasonably well in crash tests, with four-star ratings in frontal impact and four- and five-star results in side impact from the federal government, along with "marginal" ratings for rear impact from the IIHS. Front side and full-length head/curtain airbags are standard; side airbags for backseat passengers—a safety feature that’s rare in any vehicle—are optional on the 2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon.

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2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon

Styling

Despite being the model meant for hauling kids and cargo, the 2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon is sleekly styled and good looking—perhaps more so than the sedan.

Nearly all the reviews TheCarConnection.com surveyed heap praise on the 2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon’s styling and design details, many of them noting its blend of sportiness and functionality.

There are no exaggerated flares or curves, just sloping lines (the roof) and smooth undulations in the body work (wheel arches), as described by Kelley Blue Book. “Up front, the lines are clean and uncluttered, with the shiny chrome grille serving as a love-it-or-hate-it addition.” ForbesAutos uses similar words: “Exterior styling for the Volkswagen Passat Wagon is smooth, sleek, and uncluttered, and it’s capped with VW’s signature two-piece front grille.”

Several other comments focus on the brightly chromed grille. “One of its most visible features is a plunging, V-shaped front grille that bisects the bumper,” says Cars.com, also noting that “the optional 17-inch alloy wheels fill up the wheel wells nicely, and 18-inchers are available.”

“If you live in a state that requires a front license plate,” Cars.com warns, “the plate will likely mar the look of that front end.”

“Standard roof rails are a wagon exclusive, while mirror-integrated turn signals are a nice touch,” says Kelley Blue Book, pointing out a few other details that help with the Wagon’s overall appearance.

The interior design, though geared to be especially functional in the Wagon, also garners compliments. Most notably, Kelley Blue Book declares, “The interior is a cut or two above that of any comparably equipped wagon in its price range.”

The Passat Wagon’s interior styling brings the same flowing instrument panel design and attractive soft-touch materials as seen on the Passat sedan. From the outside, as judged by TheCarConnection.com’s editors, the Wagon’s design is more cohesive and attractive than the sedan, with better proportions--at least until the racier Passat CC sedan arrives next year.

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2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon

Performance

The 2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon’s powertrains move this hauler briskly, but it lacks the goods to have fun with the curviest roads.

Whether reviewers had a 2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon equipped with the 200-horsepower, 2.0T four-cylinder engine or the VR6 model, with its 280-horsepower, 3.6-liter narrow-angle V-6 engine, there are few complaints about power.

Most are satisfied with the power available from the 2.0T engine, which comes with the Turbo, Komfort, and Lux models. “The 2.0-liter turbo is arguably the automaker’s best all-around engine in terms of bang for the buck,” opines ForbesAutos, assessing its “acceptable power and impressive fuel economy.” Car and Driver has no complaints about the Passat Wagon’s pep in around-town driving, but the reviewer is critical about the smoothness lacking when the accelerator is mashed to the floor. “Nail the throttle, and a two-part dance ensues: a molasses-slow waltz up to 2800 rpm, then a turbocharged tango to redline, with the front tires chirping and clawing and evincing a dollop of torque steer.” Car and Driver notes that the four-cylinder wagon can get to 60 mph in only 7.2 seconds, making it faster than a V-6 Ford Fusion.

Several reviews note impressive fuel economy for the four-cylinder model. “In fact, while traveling between southern California and Las Vegas, we recorded between 25 and 31 mpg depending on how far we bent the speed limit signs,” says MyRide.com.

Cars.com comments on the torque's accessibility from the VR6, as it reaches its peak of 265 pound-feet at a low 2,750 rpm, deeming it “very accessible in everyday driving situations.” While torque steer can be an issue in the V-6 sedan, all Passat VR6 Wagons now come with the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. The VR6 “makes this 3,953-pound wagon quite quick,” says Edmunds.

There are more frequent gripes, though, focusing on an automatic transmission that isn’t, to some, responsive enough to take advantage of the engines’ torque and responsiveness. “What’s worst about the Passat is its Japanese six-speed automatic,” says Car and Driver. “It’s slow to kick down yet, under part throttle, is lightning fast to upshift to fifth. Or sixth. You’re too often reminded that summoning the appropriate gear will take a while.”

There’s evidence the story is different with the VR6. Edmunds tests a 3.6 4Motion Wagon and beams about the transmission. “Much of the Passat’s thrust can be credited to its tightly geared six-speed automatic transmission. It’s a Tiptronic, so manual shifting is available should you feel racy, but we seldom felt the need.” Edmunds also notes that they don’t use the Sport mode “partly because the gearchanges and throttle inputs become too abrupt for smooth city driving.”

By and large, reviewers have good things to say about the Passat Wagon’s steering. The 3.6 4Motion model comes with an upgraded sport suspension and larger 18-inch wheels, but either model may be a bit too soft for those expecting a sport wagon.

“The electro-mechanical steering is sharp and has nice road feel,” says MSN Autos, also complimenting the brakes. Cars.com likes the light steering feel, as well, saying that “it feels like the wheel is connected directly to a giant ball bearing; it’s that smooth, and wouldn’t be out of place in a Lexus sedan.” However, the reviewer maintains that “steering feedback has largely been eliminated.”

Edmunds also labels the steering as “oddly numb on center and unnaturally light,” yet they say positively that “turn-in is crisp and its stability noteworthy.” MSN Autos vouches that the Passat doesn’t give up on its European roots: “Despite its rather soft suspension and probably would do well cruising at 100-plus mph on no-speed-limit German autobahns.”

Car and Driver is positive about the steering, saying, “The effort is low at all speeds, there’s no kickback, interstate tracking is exemplary, and path control is, well, German.” Car and Driver adds that it “lends this wagon an airy and agile feel that camouflages its 3,492 pounds.”

MyRide.com says “the Passat Wagon tackles the road with surprising dexterity. The responsive steering doesn’t hurt, either. To be sure, there’s some body roll when pushed hard, as one might expect from a front-wheel-drive family hauler, but all in all this VW proves to be a lot of fun whether the road is coiled or straight.”

Other reviewers are less enthusiastic about the Passat Wagon’s sport wagon credentials. Edmunds says that despite the engine’s enviable thrust, “the Passat Wagon 3.6 4Motion is not a sport wagon,” while Cars.com says, “the Passat feels more at home cruising on the highway, where it eats up the miles."

TheCarConnection.com’s editors have driven both a modestly equipped 2.0T Wagon and a fully loaded VR6 4Motion model and report that they have a very different feel. Even though the four-cylinder isn’t as overtly sporty, it’s more fun to drive because of its lighter-footed feel on the road.

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2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon provides refinement and interior comfort that rivals that of German sport wagons costing much more.

Reviewers generally laud the 2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon’s plush interior appointments, its seating space, and its ride, with the only consistent criticism being a little too much road noise inside the cabin.

Nearly all the reviews that TheCarConnection.com surveyed mentions the Passat Wagon’s luxurious feel inside. Cars.com says, “Volkswagen’s attention to detail and high-quality materials give the cabin a rich feel,” and Edmunds calls the interior “beautifully screwed together and richly appointed.” Kelley Blue Book notes, “Interior trim options include wood, aluminum or composite, and standard leatherette seating gives even the base model an upscale feel.”

With the help of the telescoping steering wheel, MyRide.com has no trouble finding a comfortable driving position, and notes, “The bucket seats are well padded but firm enough to be supportive, with a lower section that’s plenty long for thigh support but a little light on bolsters (the seatback bolsters are more substantial).” The reviewer claims that the lack of side bolstering is only bothersome in enthusiastic driving.

Edmunds echoes the lack of seat support, along with “cupholders with little hold, and the misplacement of the push-button parking brake. Instead of down by the shifter where it belongs, VW put it way over left of the headlight switch.” MyRide.com focuses on the backseat, saying, “If there’s a negative, it’s the low position of the bench seat, requiring you to fall into it rather than slide on,” but Cars.com notes that the higher roofline of the wagon actually brought more headroom for backseat occupants, in contrast to the sedan.

Cars.com is happy with the feel of the interior, aside from a door-panel seam and flimsy-feeling rearview mirror, declaring, “fit and finish levels are high and panel gaps are tight.” MSN Autos notes the rear cup holders “that extend from the center armrest feel flimsy.”

Many reviewers make some mention of the road noise or rattles inside the Wagon. Edmunds says that while the ride is “well damped and appropriately cushy,” road noise is abundant, especially on L.A. freeways. Kelley Blue Book also observes that “while the Passat Wagon very accurately mimics a premium vehicle on many levels, it often isn’t quite as quiet or smooth,” and Cars.com says, “The wagon’s body structure doesn’t feel as solid as the sedan’s when driving over rough pavement, and both the sedan and wagon I tested were afflicted with a number of interior rattles.”

Car and Driver also encounters road noise, but says that the four-cylinder model is actually quieter and smoother inside. “The 16-inch Michelins telegraphed less road noise than the 17s on the V-6 sedan, and our wagon’s ride proved more compliant, too.”

Cars.com also points out that despite a high overall level of powertrain refinement, “the V-6’s idle is rougher and noisier than expected.” However, the Passat Wagon is a great long-distance cruiser, the reviewer surmises: “It’s the kind of car you can step out of after driving for half a day and not feel worn out.”

Wagons are typically noisier inside than their sedan counterparts, note TheCarConnection.com’s editors, and the Passat Wagon is no exception. TheCarConnection.com heard some road noise but was extremely impressed with the smoothness of the powertrain and the plushness of the interior materials and surfaces.

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2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon

Safety

Despite the lack of crash-test results, the 2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon offers some of the best available safety equipment and promises to be among the safest wagons available at any price.

Although the 2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon hasn’t been tested for side impact by either the IIHS or NHTSA programs, the Passat sedan has been rated "good" for side impact by the IIHS and earned four- and five-star ratings from NHTSA.

“Most wagons are bought as family vehicles, so buyers pay particular attention to safety items,” MSN Autos notes. “The Passat wagon has standard front-seat side airbags and side-curtain airbags, along with anti-lock brakes.”

“Standard safety features include antilock brakes with automatic disc wiping to keep brake discs dry and clean in wet conditions, an electronic stability system, side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags, and LATCH child-safety seat anchors for each outboard seat,” says Cars.com. “Though the center rear seat — the best place for a child-safety seat — lacked anchors, it was easy to use an anchor from each outboard seat to tightly secure a child-safety seat."

Several reviewers note the optional torso-protecting rear-seat side-impact airbags—a feature that’s not widely available, even on luxury wagons costing much more. “What’s more, the Volkswagen Passat Wagon offers eight airbags, along with active head restraints to help reduce whiplash injuries,” ForbesAutos clarifies.

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2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon

Features

The 2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon has a number of innovative and cargo-friendly features as a basic four-cylinder wagon; or as a luxury VR6 hauler, it offers several high-tech options. But be forewarned that the price can creep over $40,000.

The potential to carry a lot of cargo—and be flexible about combinations of passengers and cargo—while still handling like a passenger car is why many customers are drawn to the 2008 Volkswagen Passat Wagon. With an extended roofline, low loading height, and handy cargo area, the Wagon allows plenty of cargo versatility, while actually offering better seating space in the way of more headroom, as widely reported by reviewers.

“The low, wide cargo opening allows fast loading of plenty of cargo,” says MSN Autos. “If more space is needed, the rear seats fold completely forward to provide an impressively large cargo area.”

Kelley Blue Book praises the low lift-over height and wide opening, and mentions the “storage cubbies on the side of the trunk area and six tie down points.” The reviewer continues: “Fold the rear split bench seat and you’ve got a nearly flat load floor, and the electric tailgate is a big bonus when your hands are full.” However, MSN Autos remarks, “The rather slow-moving power tailgate is handy if your arms are full of groceries, but not so welcome if you must stand in pouring rain waiting for it to fully open.”

Cars.com says that flipping down the seats and expanding the cargo floor effectively doubles the cargo space, to 35.8 cubic feet with the backseats up, but folding them down wasn’t quite as easy as it should be, because the front seat can’t be in its rearmost position when doing so. “The extra step of flipping up the seat cushion means that tall drivers will have to give up some space in order to make room for the backrest to fold down.” The reviewer warns that most owners may end up folding the backrest without flipping down the lower cushion to “avoid the burdensome part of that dance.” Car and Driver also notes that the backseat headrests must be removed.

Several reviewers gripe about the standard (and mandatory) key fob system. Car and Driver says that “the monster key fob was slow to unlock doors and doubled as the ignition key, at which job it proved as fussy as a two-year-old with damp diapers.”

Most reviewers are impressed with the number of cubbies and storage spaces, and latch on to several innovative features. “Neat features include an electronic key and electronic push-button parking brake, plus a cleverly placed umbrella holder and two cooled storage compartments,” says Kelley Blue Book. “A large, lined cubby on the lower left dash proves handy for holding a variety of items, and pop-out card slots located above the radio can accommodate smaller belongings.”

“All Passat wagons are fairly well-equipped, with such features as air conditioning, cruise control and power windows, (heated) outside mirrors and door locks with remote keyless entry,” reports MSN Autos.

ForbesAutos singles out the adaptive headlamps that “pivot to illuminate the road through curves at night,” and the “premium Dynaudio sound system that’s custom designed for Volkswagen,” and Cars.com praises the system’s “strikingly clear, rich sound,” noting its $1,000 price. “Other options include adaptive bi-xenon headlights that swivel in concert with the steering wheel, rain-sensing windshield wipers and front and rear parking sensors that emit an audible warning tone when approaching an object,” says Cars.com.

Reviewers aren’t quite as positive about the optional DVD-based navigation system, which Cars.com calls “more difficult to use than Toyota’s system in the Camry,” and Edmunds finds “a bit lethargic.”

TheCarConnection.com notes the vast price gap between the four-cylinder models, which start in the mid 20s, and well-optioned VR6 models, which can top $40,000. If you can forgo some of the high-tech equipment—and the wondrous Dynaudio system—the former is an excellent deal.

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