There's filling a niche and falling between the cracks. Guess which one applies to the Volkswagen Passat R36. Not enough of an image to tempt buyers away from the Audi S4 yet too pricey and thirsty for the vast majority of regular Passat customers, the R36 sold in penny numbers and there are only around 150 left on UK roads.
That makes the R36 much rarer than the contemporary Audi S4 in saloon or Avant forms, yet used prices are on a par. With so few R36s in the market, much depends on what a buyer is prepared to fork out, but reckon on spending from £9,000 for a high-mileage saloon. The estate is more desirable, if a little slower as it covers 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds to the four-door's 5.6-second dash. However, the wagon is more practical, sold twice as many as the saloon so you're more likely to find one, and we all love a fast wagon.
The R36 certainly wasn't a slouch when launched in the early part of 2008. As well as covering the 0-62mph benchmark in quickstep time, it could hit a capped top speed of 155mph. In between, the six-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox made for rapid shifts in manual or auto modes, though the engine needs to be revved hard to give its best as peak power doesn't arrive until 6,600rpm. Fortunately, there's plenty of torque on offer much lower down the rev band and the R36 is happier when driven in a brisk rather than flat-out manner.
With an all-up weight of 1,747kg for the estate, it's a heavy car and this shows in the handling. Push on and understeer sets in to warn the driver the Passat has reached its limits. Don't expect any lift-off antics here as you would in a Subaru Impreza WRX - the Haldex coupling and 4Motion all-wheel drive of the Passat provides a different, more refined experience.
For some, that will be reason enough to sidestep the R36 as a used car. For a devoted few, it's what makes the car enjoyable. It's quick and under the radar thanks to the subtle bodykit, and the cabin is kitted out with climate control, heated front seats with electric adjustment, and leather and Alcantara upholstery. In short, it's packed with kit.
That's probably not enough of a reason for most reading this to choose an R36. It's also not cheap to run thanks to mid-20s fuel economy, full whack road tax and a penchant for tyres. However, reliability is decent and the wagon is a useful family estate. For those determined to drive something out of the ordinary, the VW Passat R36 has found its rarefied niche and makes far more sense now than it ever did when new.
Bodywork and interior
R36 sits 20mm lower than the standard Passat, so the underside and lower edge of the front bumper is more prone to scrapes from speed bumps.
If the car has a tow bar fitted, make sure the wiring has been professionally fitted as it can interfere with the car's warning lights.
Engine and transmission
Expect around 24mpg in mixed driving.
Mechatronic control unit for the DSG gearbox is better than previous VWs but can still fail. Check for smooth shifts in both auto and manual modes. Make sure the transmission doesn't slip into neutral and look for the dash warning lights. If it does fail, VW will charge £900 for a replacement, but specialists such as ECU Testing can supply rebuilt units for around £250.
Listen for any rattles from the cam chain as it can stretch and fail, though this is rare. A new timing chain plus guides and tensioners is £150 plus fitting.
Make sure the recall for a faulty battery cable has been carried out as it requires dropping the fuel tank and is a costly job to put right if you have to pay for it.
Haldex system needs an oil and filter service every 40,000 miles or four years. Also a wise idea to change the gearbox oil at the same intervals.
Suspension and steering
Feel for any vagueness in the steering as the Passat R36's weight and firm suspension set-up gives the bushes a hard time.
Wheels, tyres and brakes
Auto hold brake function can fail and stop releasing quickly. Check it works and if it doesn't, budget on £400 for a new sensor plus fitting.
It's good practice to rotate the wheels front to back to even out tyre wear as the four-wheel drive system favours the fronts.
Tyres and brakes have their work cut out in the 1,747kg R36 and some owners reckon on replacing discs and pads every second service, which means 20,000 miles per set. Tyres should last 10,000 miles or more depending on use.
SPECIFICATION - VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT R36
Engine: 3,597cc V6
Transmission: 6-speed DSG
Power (hp): 300@6,600rpm
Torque (lb ft): 258@2,400-5,300rpm
Price new: £30,990
Price now: £9,000 upwards