Next time you’re feeling a little groggy at the start of your commute, forget Starbucks. We’ve found that a good smoky burnout will produce the same effect as a triple macchiato. We’re not sure if it’s the smell of melting Michelins or the neighbors screaming for you to grow up, but a good spin of the tires always leaves us feeling quite wide awake — and it doesn’t cost four bucks either.
Most family sedans can’t pull off a decent burnout, but they come easy to the 2006 Volkswagen Passat 3.6. Its big V6 is so powerful, a good stab at the gas lights up the sedan’s front tires like it’s a Top Fuel dragster.
We doubt Volkswagen considered this benefit when it installed the most powerful engine in the midsize class under the hood of its redesigned 2006 Passat 3.6. It was merely trying to give the sedan a chance against cars like the 2007 Toyota Camry and 2007 Honda Accord, two revamped competitors with powerful V6s of their own. Neither Japanese sedan can match the Passat’s upscale interior; then again, neither one starts at over $30,000 either.
Big bucks for a big engine
Yeah, you read that right. The ticket to a V6-powered Passat starts at $30,565. It’s a $5,000 premium over the four-cylinder 2.0T model and if you want 4Motion all-wheel drive it’s another $1,950. You get more than just the big engine, however, as all V6 Passats come standard with a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, sunroof, premium audio system and 17-inch wheels and tires. All are available options on the 2.0T.
Our front-wheel-drive tester had a few upgrades of its own, pushing its final price to $36,415. The extra six grand added a sport package, DVD navigation and a Dynaudio sound system. For comparison, the Toyota Camry that won our recent V6 family sedan comparison test was fully loaded at $30,840.
So the Passat 3.6 is expensive, but it backs up its premium price with a premium engine. It’s a new 3.6-liter version of Volkswagen’s VR6 design, a setup that arranges the cylinders in a very narrow “V” to keep its dimensions compact. Features like variable valve timing, dual-overhead cams and direct injection make this VR6 one of the most advanced V6s on the market.
With 280 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque, the 3.6-liter engine delivers numbers that not even the new Camry can match. And although the Toyota also uses a six-speed transmission, the Passat’s Tiptronic setup offers steering-wheel-mounted paddles, which allow manual control of the shifts. You can also choose between standard and sport programs in automatic mode, although the “Sport” mode should be avoided in the city because part-throttle gearchanges become too jerky.
Good first impression
Other than an almost diesel-like chatter on startup, the 3.6 makes a better first impression than the last Passat 2.0T we tested. The larger engine adds 232 pounds to the Passat’s curb weight, but with all the extra power the car actually feels lighter on the road.
Nudge the gas and it pulls away quickly with nothing more than a quiet hum and perfectly smooth shifts. At half throttle there’s a notable power advantage over the 2.0T, but it takes a heavy right foot for the 3.6 to really justify its existence.
Jam the pedal and the Passat’s 17-inch 235/45 tires scratch at the pavement trying to lay down the power. We expected more torque steer, but there’s only minor tugging at the steering wheel from the spinning tires.
Keep your foot in it and the VW will hit 60 mph from a stop in 6.8 seconds and cross the quarter-mile in 14.3 seconds at 98 mph. Faster than the 2.0T by a full second in either category, but still a few ticks slower to 60 mph than the Camry. With better traction up front the Passat would be even faster, since easing up on the gas to control wheelspin usually results in a momentum-killing upshift.
Worth the money in the turns
Whatever couple tenths the Camry has over the Passat in acceleration is made up for by the Volkswagen’s sharper, livelier handling. Between the wider tires that come standard and the tightened-up suspension that’s part of the sport package, the 3.6 weaved through the slalom more than 3 mph faster than the Camry and 1.3 mph faster than the 2.0T.
We were surprised by how well the electromechanical steering varies between a solid on-center feel at speed and one-finger maneuverability in parking lots. Standard electronic stability control keeps the Passat pointed in the right direction when it’s on and even with it off you get nothing but easily manageable understeer.
There are drawbacks to this Passat’s level of power and handling, however. Road noise on the highway is more pronounced than in the 2.0T with its smaller tires and softer suspension. And the temptation to make use of the V6′s power also makes for V8-like mileage figures. Although the EPA says 19 city, 28 highway we averaged 16.2 mpg.
Brake feel is also not the best. The Passat’s brake pedal is a little soft with a long throw and there’s a fair amount of ABS system noise. The car stops very precisely, however, with minimal dive, excellent straight line stability and short distances. From 60 mph our tester stopped in 124 feet.
If you’re still choking at the thought of paying nearly $37K for a Passat, take a look at the interior. It’s as nice as any equivalently priced BMW or Infiniti. Ordering the $3,050 sport package adds sharp-looking metallic trim that’s tastefully applied and laser straight. The analog gauges would look at home in a car costing twice as much and even its 12-way leather sport seats show design influence from classic Ferraris.
You also get dual-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel and heated seats, mirrors and headlight washers. There’s plenty of storage and good-size cupholders, too. Ditch the navigation system and the high-end stereo and you get the same interior for nearly $3,000 less.
You have to want it
Even with no options the 2006 Volkswagen Passat 3.6 isn’t much of a bargain. If you’re looking for value you’re better off buying a loaded 2.0T. It’s plenty fast and will get better mileage. Go the Camry route and you’ll get a V6 and nearly every option, fun to drive not being one of them.
As an entry-level luxury sedan this Passat makes more sense except for one thing — it’s still a Volkswagen. It may have more power than the BMW 3 Series and an interior as nice as an Audi A4, but to everybody else it’s just another Passat in the Starbucks parking lot. That is, until you lay some stripes on the way out.