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Fast Passat satisfies. Image by VW.

Fast Passat satisfies
Fast versions of VW's classy Passat have not always hit the mark. We reckon the R36 changes that.


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| First Drive | St Andrews, Scotland | VW Passat R36 |

Volkswagen has tried to build fast Passats before, with little real success, but the new R36 is a more serious sporting offer. Available as either a saloon or an estate, the new R36 has subtle looks, four-wheel drive and a 296bhp 3.6-litre V6 engine to convince as a sort of junior Audi RS6.

In the Metal

The uninitiated will barely give the R36 saloon and estate models a second glance. The new Passat has a subtle menace that fits with the discreet performance mantra of this kind of car. For those in the know, there are plenty of detail changes to feast the eyes on, including gently extended wheelarches, 18-inch alloy wheels, bigger brakes, Xenon headlights perched over a deeper front air dam and a matte-black grille. There are also smoked rear light lenses, big bore twin exhaust tailpipes and a small R36 badge. The saloon also gains a lip spoiler in the trailing edge of the boot.

What you get for your Money

On the inside of the R36 there are front sports seats with adjustable side bolsters, while all the seats are trimmed in 'R36' materials with matching logos stitched in. Twin front, side and curtain airbags join standard ESP on the safety front, while luxury items are covered by climate control, a CD stereo, rain-sensing wipers and electric adjustment for those body-wrapping front seats.

On the mechanical front, the R36 comes with VW's 4Motion all-wheel drive as standard that can send as much power to individual wheels as is needed for traction. The engine is coupled to a six-speed DSG twin-clutch paddle-shift gearbox as standard in both the saloon and estate. Choosing the wagon adds 1,160 to the price of the saloon version.

Driving it

The R36 saloon knocks off 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds, with the estate hot on its heels in 5.8 seconds - both models top out at an electronically strangled top speed of 155mph. That's swift, if not outrageously rapid, and puts the Passat R36 in the hunt with the likes of the Mitsubishi Evo X and BMW 330i, which is the middle ground the Passat naturally occupies. It's not as extreme an experience as the Evo, with a more supple ride and greater refinement in all conditions. However, it's a shade more overtly sporting than the BMW in how taut the suspension is, though the BMW has the advantage on most roads thanks to its superior balance.

The Passat R36 may not quite outpoint these rivals, but it is genuinely fun and involving to drive. Its 3.6-litre V6 engine has more than enough low-, mid- and high-rev go to dismiss slower traffic to the rear view mirror in an instant. Changes through the six-speed DSG 'box are rapid, clean and unflustered, whether swapping up or down the gearbox. Our only complaint is that the steering doesn't have the same degree of feel as a BMW 330i's, so the VW is not quite so pinpoint accurate to place on switchback country lanes.

Worth Noting

Producing a healthy 296bhp, the 3.6-litre V6 engine makes every ripple of its muscles felt when the throttle is pressed hard into the carpet. There's a satisfying howl as the engine closes in on peak revs, accompanied by a muted bark as it moves up to the next gear. In hard driving the engine is quick to react to the driver's inputs and turns the friendly-as-a-Labrador Passat into something with more bite. It's no rabid street fighter like the Mitsubishi Evo X, but there's a harder edge to the R36 that will please keen drivers. Think of it as three quarters of the experience delivered by an Audi RS6 at a third of the price and you're well on the way to understanding the appeal of the Passat. Fuel economy of 26.9mpg for the saloon and estate is reasonable for a car of this power and performance and both versions share the same 249g/km carbon dioxide emissions rating.


VW's sales forecast for the Passat R36 is modest, which seems right to us as this is a car that has limited appeal. That appeal is restricted not because of the R36's performance or ability; it's just that not many people will 'get' this car unless they spend some time behind the wheel. It's not the last word in handling finesse or outright pace, but the mix of these elements with the eminent practicality and class of the Passat is an appealing prospect. Neither model is cheap, but we reckon this is a car that will reward long-term ownership.

Alisdair Suttie - 14 Oct 2008    - Volkswagen road tests
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2008 Volkswagen Passat specifications: (saloon)
Price: 31,015 on-the-road (32,175 for the Estate).
0-62mph: 5.6 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Combined economy: 26.9mpg
Emissions: 249g/km
Kerb weight: 1689kg

2008 VW Passat R36. Image by VW.2008 VW Passat R36. Image by VW.2008 VW Passat R36. Image by VW.2008 VW Passat R36. Image by VW.2008 VW Passat R36. Image by VW.

2008 VW Passat R36. Image by VW.2008 VW Passat R36. Image by VW.2008 VW Passat R36. Image by VW.2008 VW Passat R36. Image by VW.2008 VW Passat R36. Image by VW.

2008 VW Passat R36. Image by VW.

2008 VW Passat R36. Image by VW.

2008 VW Passat R36. Image by VW.

2008 VW Passat R36. Image by VW.

2008 VW Passat R36. Image by VW.

2008 VW Passat R36. Image by VW.

2008 VW Passat R36. Image by VW.


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