What a difference 0.5 of a year makes. Way back when--say, last fall--all of us busy-bee auto scribes were buzzing about the 2000 Passat sedans from Volkswagen, equipped with clever little--make that very little--1.8-liter turbocharged engines making 150 horsepower. What a neat idea, we collectively thought: take a popular sport sedan from corporate sibling Audi (the A4), stretch it into a slightly larger VW Passat family sedan, and install a fuel-stingy turbocharged mini-motor to keep the lid on purchase price and operating costs.
The result may not have been especially thrilling in terms of raw performance, but the compensation was stylishness, comfort, and even pretensions to luxury for just $21,450 base price. The hive of scribes chalked one up to V-dub, and we moved on in search of our next pronouncements.
By spring, VW Passat was back. "What gives?" we buzzed. "You've already gotten your chalking." Undeterred, VW's entry-level Passat GLS lifted her skirt and showed a little leg. "What-ho!" we scribes exclaimed. "Where've you been?" And with that, the 2001.5 VW Passat debuted an ambitious makeover accomplished in just six months' time.
Among the 2300 engineering and styling changes that VW claims to have made since just last fall, by far the most conspicuous is the 13-percent horsepower boost that enables VW's little turbocharged-engine-that-could to deliver 170 huffing-puffing horsepower. Even more dramatic are the 11 additional lb-ft of torque. Not only does torque now peak at 166 ft-lb, but it manages to reach and maintain maximum torque from 1950 rpm to 5000 rpm--a flat nirvana of maximum pulling power that inhabits almost half the usable powerband. In a 3200-lb sedan, these kinds of engine enhancements are enough to transform a humdrum commuter car into a very happ'nin' sport sedan--all for just a $300 increase in base price to $21,750.
Tweaks of the Passat's appearance are subtle but significant: The shape is edgier, bolder, cockier-looking than its predecessor. There are different chrome accents, a more steeply raked grille, some new sheetmetal creases at the rear, other creases ironed smooth up front. New treatments for front and rear lighting assemblies are discreet, but they add up to racy changes in appearance for a car that's positively more spirited to drive.