Subtlety is the key with the Passat R36 but is there excitement lurking underneath? Peter Dignan finds out...
It is probably safe to say that the Volkswagen Passat R36 had slipped off my radar. I had heard rumblings of the new Golf being fitted with an R36 engine but VW has quitely slipped this engine into their rather unassuming fleet favourite. If rumours are true that we are going to be seeing a lot more of this engine this will be the first time to see what it is all about. Luckily one sneaked into the PH car park this week.
I use the word sneaked very appropriately, as the trend now is for big engine, quick, executive saloons to have subtle body changes to hide the power underneath. Walking around the car the only hint to its power is the slightly wider wheel arches, the bright blue brake callipers and twin tail pipes. The R36 badge placed on the tweaked front end is the obvious giveaway, but to anyone not in the know this car would seem like any other rep-mobile cruising the road arteries of the country.
Inside the switches and feel is standard German quality with plenty of space for five large people. The boot space is also huge, park it in Chelsea and you could sell it as a reasonably-sized studio flat. But the piece de resistance, or should I say widerstandsstück, are the seats. If the local drive-in cinema was showing The Godfather trilogy back to back this would be the car I would take - they are that comfortable. And with the variable side bolsters a touch of a button can make them figure hugging tight for any twisty road.
Under the bonnet the R36 has a 3.6-litre V6 engine which doesn’t sound as throaty as the 3.2-litre version in the R32 Golf, but it does provide over 50bhp more, delivering 299bhp. This fires the saloon model to 60mph in 5.6 seconds using the 258lb-ft of torque from the engine. If you extend your right foot it certainly doesn’t feel as quick as its statistics but watching the speedo tick off the numbers you realise its progress across the tarmac is more rapid than your eyes realise.
In between the wheels and the engine sits VW’s DSG gearbox fitted as standard to all R36s. This has three modes: D, S and Manual which comes with some exceedingly small flappy paddles on the steering wheel. The D mode does seem to get confused if you are progressing rapidly across country jumping around more than I would expect. The S mode seemed to be programmed to my racing driver style and down shifts into a roundabout means the engine is braking with you at 6,000 revs. But with the box set to manual the car is great with rapid gear changes – when you can find those flappy paddles – and a joy to use.
In the brochure the car is fitted with enough acronyms to make a scrabble box jealous: ABS, BAS, EBD, ESP, EDL and ASR all fitted as standard but the main change to your basic Passat is the suspension has been up-rated and lowered by around 20mm and all four wheels are powered by 4Motion. Throwing the car into a corner it sticks to the road but powering through the apex the car tends towards understeer - no power oversteer like you would get in some of Audi’s four-wheel drive offerings. The car makes very safe progress across the countryside and in no way do you think it will try and kill you. On the run to one of the PH Sunday Services the car didn’t embarrass itself with more exotic counterparts, keeping aptly up with the Z4M, Cayman S and F430 it shared the A303 with. Come rain and the predictability of the chassis meant it could stay near the limit without the worry the other cars had of saying hello to the scenery.
If you put the car next to its brief you would happily tick each box without hesitation. But sometimes you want to have a car that exceeds its brief and leaves you wanting to jump back in and drive some more, a car that scares you a bit, and this just simply doesn’t. With the car being £2k more than Audi’s A4 3.2 Quattro, and having a thirst for fuel and rep man’s taxes, it will probably be a rare sight on the roads. Better get that radar out to spot one.