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The 1998 Volkswagen Passat was a surprise blow to the popular mid-size sedans at the time, the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and Ford Taurus. It wowed buyers with a level of attention to interior materials and details that was otherwise at that time reserved for premium-brand models costing much more. Its fun-to-drive characteristics and sporty feel made it an attractive standout versus the rest of the mid-size pack, reminding buyers that a driving a four-door sedan didn’t have to be such a dull tactile experience.


But while the Passat handled like a more expensive sport sedan, at the same time it had its deficiencies. For a mid-size car, there was a surprising lack of rear-seat space, with tight headroom and legroom. In addition, while the powertrains were competitive, they weren’t necessarily the most refined in the segment.


The all-new-for-2006 Passat improves on those complaints and many more, becoming more powerful and more refined, and larger in nearly all dimensions. Most notably, it’s 3.0 inches wider and 2.5 inches longer. Although the wheelbase grows by a trivial 0.3 inches, the cabin has been reconfigured to boost rear-seat legroom by 2.4 inches. Volkswagen officials commented that while the outgoing Passat was at the small end of the mid-size segment, the new Passat grows to a size that’s straight-on competitive with Camry, Accord, and Maxima.


The new Passat is built on a different platform than before, now sharing basic underpinnings with the recently introduced Jetta. Besides being larger in most respects, the Passat also makes gains in interior space due to the packaging advantages of a transverse-mounted (crossways) powertrain, as opposed to lengthwise for the outgoing car.


The overall body structure is about 24 pounds lighter than that of the previous model, while the use of high-strength steel has increased, and torsional rigidity has increased by 57 percent, according to VW.

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