Volkswagen’s mid-size Passat sedan received a complete makeover for the 2006 model year, then the 2007 edition added a wagon model (which is covered in a separate review) and some new tech features, like adaptive cruise control. For 2008, the Passat sees modest changes, including simplified trim levels: Turbo, Komfort, Lux, and VR6.
The VR6 model gets a 280-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 engine and available 4Motion all-wheel drive; all the other models make do with a 200-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Most drivers will be happy with the performance from the four-cylinder engine, which delivers brisk acceleration and 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 about a second faster to 60 mph than the four-cylinder/manual transmission version of the 2008 Volkswagen Passat, which gets there in about 7.6 seconds, though the fuel economy penalty is significant. Trim by trim, the base Turbo model is now the only sedan that can be outfitted with the manual gearbox.
The quality of the materials in the 2008 Volkswagen Passat is quite impressive, and the interior layout feels both luxurious and practical. There are plenty of interior storage bins, and even an umbrella-storage area. The Passat now has backseat space that rivals some of the roomiest sedans in the mid-size class; it’s especially leg-friendly for lanky adult passengers. Although the rear door line makes an odd straight cut downward, the door’s unusual shape really helps entry/exit. The ventilation system now has adjustable vents for rear passengers, too.
Considering the standard mid-size competition, the 2008 Volkswagen Passat is one of the quietest cars inside. Road noise especially seems much better isolated than in its predecessor, 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 handles and maneuvers well, but not as sharply as a sport sedan. The suspension and steering are tuned differently depending on which engine is under the hood, and the four-cylinder models have a more responsive, tossable feel.
All Passats 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 2008 Volkswagen Passat 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 adds heated washer nozzles, optional bi-xenon adaptive headlights, and adaptive cruise control.
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. The Passat 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 top "good" results in frontal and side tests, plus "marginal" ratings for rear impact from the IIHS.
The Volkswagen Passat is fully redesigned for the 2006 model year, and while its exterior styling and rethought proportions aren’t universally loved, its interior now finds broad acclaim from critics and reviewers.
Critics clearly differ on the 2008 Volkswagen Passat’s exterior appearance. Autobytel thinks that the Passat lacks the proper proportions, especially from the side, pointing to its “long overhangs at a time when contemporary design demands that the wheels get pushed out to the corners,” but Motor Trend positively gushes, noting the “clean, sleek exterior shape.”
Another reviewer, at the Detroit News, thinks that the Passat is simply too fancy for a Volkswagen, describing it as “laden with chrome and a too-flashy medallion-shaped grille.” However, Edmunds has positive words, noting the “shiny chrome grille and scooped headlamps,” and declaring, “From the front, the car looks aggressive, from the back it looks more like a roomy family sedan. Sounds contradictory, but it’s actually quite balanced.”
Reviewers are almost universally positive about the interior. “The analog gauges would look at home in a car costing twice as much,” declares Edmunds, “and even its 12-way leather sport seats show design influence from classic Ferraris.”
The Detroit News likes the two-tone gray-and-black interior in their test car, which “was more understated than the car's exterior, with carbon-fiber trim touches and just a bit of chrome in places like the shift lever surround.” So does Autobytel, noting the two-tone theme and real aluminum trim. “Decked out in two-tone trim separated by a generous strip of real aluminum, the Passat is definitely upscale,” the reviewer says. “The dashboard flows downward from the cowl, creating an open and airy feel to the cabin.” Motor Trend appreciates the “simple, orderly cabin that stands apart from some of the flashier competition.”
Like many other reviewers cited here, TheCarConnection.com’s editors aren’t in love with the wall-of-chrome front end, the long overhangs, or the overall proportions, but TheCarConnection.com appreciates the understated opulence of the interior, which has a mix of surfaces and materials that are softer and more welcoming than we’ve come to expect from the German brand.
Most mid-size sedans with their base four-cylinder engines have only adequate performance, but reviewers are extremely impressed with the acceleration provided in the entry-level 2.0T model of the 2008 Volkswagen Passat.
Motor Trend says that the Passat’s 200-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine is one of the strongest in its class and “leaves rivals gasping in its exhaust fumes.” The reviewer also compliments the engine’s smoothness and its 0-60 time of only 6.7 seconds, but mentions that it takes premium fuel only. But it’s also hard to maintain a slow, responsible speed in the Passat, Motor Trend warns: “You might not even notice your true pace until those blue lights appear in your rearview mirror.”
Although the VR6 model achieves an even more impressive 280 horsepower, reviewers aren’t nearly as impressed with its performance. Complaints center on the six-speed automatic transmission (no manual is offered), which Autobytel says “feels like it chokes the engine’s smooth power with lagging in low gears.”
The transmission has a sport mode, but “the accelerator is touchy and the downshifts are intrusive,” the Autobytel reviewer notes. Forbes.com isn’t satisfied with it either, saying, “when you use the sport mode and the Tiptronic paddle shifters, which shadow the steering wheel, downshifts come a half beat too slowly.”
Nearly everyone appreciates the Passat’s sporty handling response. “While the Passat isn’t light for its size, it handles smoothly, tautly and predictably,” comments Forbes.com, and the Detroit News attests that the “electro-mechanical power rack-and-pinion steering system provides good on-center feel and gives the average driver a lot of confidence, especially at highway speeds.” The same reviewer adds, “The Passat is a snap to maneuver, especially in tight parking spaces and U-turns.”
The Passat isn’t quite a sport sedan, though, as “body roll becomes pronounced” and the tires become very vocal, according to Edmunds, but it’s all kept in check by standard traction and stability systems. “Between the wider tires that come standard and the tightened-up suspension that’s part of the sport package,” the VR6 model handles better in track testing, Edmunds says.
Forbes.com says that the nose-heavy VR6 is a better car with the available 4Motion all-wheel drive, describing it as “far more pleasant and balanced to drive.”
TheCarConnection.com’s editors have driven the range of Passat models, and most like the lighter, more nimble and responsive feel of the 2.0T models (Turbo, Komfort, and Lux). Because the VR6 is quite a bit heavier, the real-world performance difference isn’t that great. The economical four performs almost as well, while costing less at the fuel pump and the dealer lot.
Nearly all reviews mentioned the abundance of space inside the cabin and a good seating position for front occupants. “The ergonomics of this vehicle are simply excellent, providing a good driving point of view, helping to keep fatigue at bay, and creating a comfortable environment that’s perfect for long or short trips,” says Autobytel.
“The Volkswagen human-factors engineers didn’t miss a trick in making the cabin feel as if it has a custom fit,” crows the Detroit News. “Even the front armrest can be adjusted for height.”
“There’s plenty of room in the cabin, the materials mostly look and feel high-quality,” says Motor Trend, while Automobile declares, “The driver environment is one of affordable luxury: materials are as nice to the touch as they are to the eye, standard equipment is comprehensive, and the colors and surfaces are tastefully blended.”
Autobytel describes the leather upholstery in the Passat VR6 as “high-quality cowhide, smooth, soft, and appealing to the eye and nose,” as does Edmunds, saying that the leather seats are “like something you’d find in an Italian furniture store: modern-looking although somewhat uncomfortable.” Edmunds, however, also notes that the seats just don’t offer enough lateral support for corners.
Forbes.com, too, says that backseat headroom and shoulder room are disappointing compared to the Acura TL and Infiniti G35, two vehicles that the top-of-the-line Passat is priced against. “For the money, it’s still not as roomy as other cars in its now-more-expensive class,” the reviewer proclaims. An Autobytel reviewer contends that even people of height or girth can be comfortable in the back, though the Detroit News mentions a lack of headroom.
A stiff ride might not be to everyone’s liking. Automobile refers to a “brittle low-speed ride,” while several other reviewers describe the ride quality as firm but relatively compliant.
Several sources report excessive road noise inside. “Most of the noisiness occurs at interstate clips of 70 mph, when both wind and road buzz echo through the cabin,” according to the Forbes.com reviewer. Edmunds, which drove both versions, says that road noise on the highway is more pronounced in the VR6.
And when some reviewers take a look closer inside, they aren’t all positive. Autobytel finds a host of issues, including “cupholders that feel as though they were purchased at the 99-cent automotive store, the clickety-clack of the center console compartment lid, and the flimsy hooks for the sun screens.”
Although TheCarConnection.com’s editors appreciate the more attractive look and plusher feel inside the top Passat VR6 models, the look and feel of the least expensive four-cylinder models is more impressive for the money, as it has a high-quality European air, yet costs the same as cars with a lot less personality.
The 2008 Volkswagen Passat offers a generous list of standard safety features, some of which are optional on rival mid-size sedans. And it especially stands out in providing optional ($350) rear side-torso airbags, a feature that’s offered in only a few vehicles at any price. The rear bags, a $350 option, “supplement the side air curtains by protecting the torso,” reports the Detroit News.
Automobile makes note of the extensive safety gear, including “six air bags, active front head restraints, ABS, brake assist, stability control, and traction control,” and CNET adds, “There are seven crash sensors: three internally in the air-bag control unit, two in the front doors, and two in the lower C-pillars.”
CNET also made note of the optional bi-xenon headlights with Adaptive Front Lighting System (AFS) on their test car. “We found it very useful at night, as not only do the headlights swivel with the steering to illuminate the road ahead even around corners, but auxiliary cornering lights cover what are too often blind spots to the side with bright light in sharp turns, such as into a driveway. The standard LED taillights are also praiseworthy.”
Reviewers are almost unanimously positive about the features inside the Passat, whether talking about the basics such as storage spaces and cargo convenience or high-tech options.
CNET describes the trunk space as “cavernous,” and Edmunds says, “Storage also benefits from easy-to-operate 60/40-split-folding rear seats with pass-through.” Additionally, Edmunds points out the low and easy access to trunk space and “the cute little insider way of opening the trunk. (Press the VW logo.)”
Several reviews mention the plentiful storage spaces inside the Passat’s cabin, including “two flip-top compartments” that Edmunds says “disappear elegantly into the dash and center console.” Nearly all reviewers cite the umbrella stowed in the door, a feature that Autobytel muses “owners in Seattle will love,” and the Detroit News mentions “a deep center console that can be heated or cooled with an air outlet.”
“The rear seat has excellent amenities," says the Detroit News, “including new air vents with fan control, an ashtray, an armrest with pop-out cupholders and individual, airplane-style reading lights.”
Autobytel praises the generous list of standard equipment even in the base model, including “heated and signaling rearview mirrors, 16-inch steel wheels and 215/55 tires, keyless entry, an MP3 player, front-side and side-curtain airbags, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and a host of power features.”
Motor Trend looks at the equipment list and concludes that, at about $26,000 with the automatic transmission, the Passat costs more than some of its competitors but still ranks as a strong value. “Extra money buys a nav system, a Bluetooth phone, adaptive cruise control, a heated windshield, and swiveling bi-xenon headlamps,” says Automobile.
CNET takes a closer look at the navigation system and gives its bright LCD screen “high marks for visibility,” and notes it was especially easy to enter locations or get directions to secondary destinations.
Another option that draws comments from reviewers is the optional 600-watt, 10-speaker Dynaudio sound system. It's described by an Autobytel reviewer as “better than just about anything I’ve ever heard inside an automobile.”
The only subject of criticism inside is the standard “smart key,” which Motor Trend says “is an obnoxious little rectangle that, instead of being smart enough to talk to the ignition while still in your pocket, requires insertion into a motorized slot that seems to exist only to break one day.”
TheCarConnection.com’s editors agree that the Passat trumps most of the competition, either in terms of standard equipment on the base model or some of the high-tech luxury features on the top VR6. However, some of the most desirable features, such as the stellar Dynaudio sound system—which TheCarConnection.com’s editors rank as one of the top-sounding systems in any new car—aren’t available on the cheaper models, and adaptive cruise control is only offered on the VR6.
- 2008 Nissan Altima
- 2009 Toyota Camry
Compared to most other mid-size sedans, the 2008 Volkswagen Passat has a poise and sophistication that’s unrivalled by any of these other models, except for maybe the Accord and Malibu. The new Accord has an especially attractive interior design, while the new Malibu combines a good-looking instrument panel design and comfortable seats with one of the smoothest rides in this class. The Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima both forgo some ride comfort for sportiness; in the case of the Fusion, its interior is quite basic and road noise is higher than in most of the other models, but it’s especially fun to drive, with great steering. The Altima’s backseat is smaller than the others', and its ride a bit firmer, but it also feels quite sporty. Then there’s the Toyota Camry, the best-seller that in current form is still a mid-size benchmark, with a spacious interior, soft ride, and respectable performance. But it suffers from subpar interior materials and build quality that isn’t always perfect.