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The redesigned 1998 Passat sedan is a new breed of Volkswagen — the most refined, best-driving vehicle it has ever sold in the United States, Volkswagen of America executives assert.
But beyond that, it is a key part of Volkswagen's plan to recast its image in the United States. It marks an ambitious move upscale in a scenario that involves the Passat competing in the mid-size passenger-car segment against entry models from BMW and Mercedes. Volkswagen executives believe the Passat will succeed because the market is ready for a well-built German-engineered car that is approachable and affordable.
It is a bold plan from a company that hasn't been part of the American automotive mainstream since the Beetle's heydey.
The new Passat shares 40 percent of its components, including the engine, with Audi's highly respected A4. If looks count — and they do — the new Passat is more appealing than its predecessor. And in Europe, the new Passat is so successful that Volkswagen has a back order of 70,000.
The four-door GLS base model (currently in dealerships) has a standard, turbocharged 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 150 hp at 5,700 rpm and 155 pound-feet of torque all the way from 1,750 to 4,600 rpm for power at low rpms as well as high. The 1.8-liter also features five valves per cylinder.
And, although it provides performance on demand, it has EPA rating of 23 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway.
A five-speed manual transmission is standard; a five-speed automatic with Tiptronic — which lets the driver operate the car as an automatic or shift manually without a clutch — is optional.
This approachable GLS — first of five models planned — is priced at $21,150 (which includes a $500 destination charge). With Volkswagen's synchro all-wheel-drive system at $1,660 and Tiptronic at $1,075, the price comes to $23,885. Standard equipment includes electronic traction control, antilock brakes, 60/40 split fold-down rear seats, and seat-mounted side airbags for front passengers in addition to front airbags.