Originally Posted by TimesOnline
Stop. Don’t turn the page. Look again at the picture of this morning’s car. Pretty, isn’t it? It might not cause other motorists to swivel round in their seat, nor will it send a frisson through crowds on the pavement. It’s not pretty like Abi Clancy or Meg Ryan . . . was.
With its slim side windows and those gently dished alloy wheels, it’s quietly pretty, subtly pretty. Pretty like Daphne du Maurier. The sort of pretty you don’t really notice until it’s pointed out to you. And then you can’t get its prettiness out of your head.
There are other cars that pull off a similar trick. The new Renault Laguna coupé, for instance. But, of course, that is French and therefore the sort of car that beckons you in with many sultry promises and then has a massive breakdown.
The car in this morning’s picture is unlikely to do that, because it’s German. In fact it’s the new Volkswagen Passat CC, and that’s a bit unfortunate. It’s like meeting the girl of your dreams and discovering, at the last moment, that she’s called Ermintrude. Or Daphne, for that matter.
Actually it’s worse because “Volkswagen” smacks of National Socialism and “Passat” has a whiff of the municipal golf club. That’s a really bad image to have in your head. Hitler in Rupert Bear trousers, swinging a nine iron with his mates Rudolf and Martin at the council’s eighth tee.
However, you’d put up with the bad name and the horrific imagery for a slice of this pie. Same as you’d put up with Daphne du Maurier’s apparent fondness for dining at the Venetian Y. I would too.
I’m a sucker for pillarless doors. One of the reasons I like the Subaru Outback so much is that the windows are frameless. In fact when I look back at all the cars I’ve owned over the years, it’s a common thread. The CLK Black I have now, the BMW CSL, the Honda CRX, the Ferrari 355, the Gallardo. Some people buy cars for speed; some for practicality or value. It seems I buy on the strength of a frameless window in a pillarless door.
Step inside the CC and after you’ve rubbed your head better — you will bang it the first time, because the roofline is lower than you were expecting — you will note that all is well. Better than well. In the base models, everything is a bit dreary, a bit public convenience, only without George Michael to liven things up, but in the car I drove, it was all brushed aluminium and ivory leather and splashes of chrome.
I thought when this car came out that what it would say about you most of all is that you couldn’t afford a Mercedes CLS. That still holds true. It is a less expensive rip-off of the Benz original — base model for base model, it’s £25,000 cheaper — but you know what? The VW is better.
Certainly, it’s better in the back, because even though the Mercedes is the larger car, the Passat offers more room for the two passengers it can carry back there. It really is two, though. The centre of the back seat is suitable only for people who like sitting in cupholders. Or who actually are cans of Coca-Cola.
Further back still, we find a boot that is vast, and as we slam it we’re left scratching our heads. Cavernous, well priced, good looking and nicely trimmed. So where’s the catch? Apart from the municipal golf club handle.
Well it’s simple, really. You can dress a VW Passat up in whatever you like in the same way that you can dress me up in whatever you like. But underneath I’m still the same clod-hopping, fat, wheezing, middle-aged man.
The Passat I drove — a £30,492, 3.6-litre, four-wheel-drive GT — is not bad but it doesn’t exactly set your world on fire. The figures suggest it will get to 62mph in 5.6sec, which is pretty fast, but at no time did I think: “Wow. Even my pubic hair is standing on end.”
The figures also suggest it will get to 155mph, but the feel suggests you are never going to get there.
Part of the problem, I suspect, is the DSG gearbox. Usually, this is the best of the flappy paddle systems but in the CC it felt strangely dimwitted and unwilling to change down fast. And the simple fact of the matter is this: you can have the best four-wheel-drive system in the world, the sharpest handling and the creamiest engine, but if the gearbox is going to behave like a trade union leader in gooey shoes, the whole effect is going to be ruined.
Luckily, there are lots of things to play with as you bumble along. First of all, there’s the suspension that can be adjusted with a little button. To begin with you will put it in “sport”, which makes everything very uncomfortable and therefore at odds with the relaxed gearbox and the discreet styling. So you’ll then go for “normal”, which is still too uncomfortable. Which means, after two minutes, I guarantee you’ll put it in “comfort” and leave it there for the rest of time.
Then you have the safety features. One — not fitted to my car — is an electronic driving instructor who grabs the wheel if you try to change lane on the motorway without indicating. I mean this. Apparently, you can feel him pushing you back where you came from as though you are driving down a kerb.
Is that a good thing? Citroëns wake up the sleeping motorway driver by vibrating the seat. Other cars sound a buzzer. But Volkswagen has taken this rather more direct approach, which is fine, in theory. But what happens if you need to swerve and there isn’t time to indicate? The interfering buffoon in the dash is going to try to steer you into the obstacle you were trying to avoid.
The radar-guided cruise control is much better. This system works like a normal cruise control but should a car pull into your lane, you slow to match his speed until he moves over, then you automatically speed up again. In some cars — and I’m thinking of Mercedes here — it doesn’t work very well because it follows the car in front at such a great distance, its driver doesn’t realise you want to get by. In the VW the system allows you to get right up his bottom and bully the dozy halfwit out of the way.
There are lots of toys, too, some of which are quite good. The graphics on the sat nav, for instance, are so clear it’s as though they are being transmitted in HD — and that’s great. But what’s the point of a big glass sunroof the size of a tennis court if it doesn’t open?
It’s a funny old swings-and-roundabouts car, this, which is why, for once, I’ve spent the whole column writing about it. On the one hand, it’s a Mercedes CLS for half the price. On the other, while it’s comfortable and relaxed to drive, it lacks sparkle.
I’m therefore going to give it three stars. But they tell only three-fifths of the story. You see, there’s a hotel in San Francisco called the Golden Gate. It’s a three-star sort of place as well and it has a name that is every bit as unimaginative as “Volkswagen Passat”. Yet I always choose to stay there when I’m in the city because it’s pretty. Subtly pretty. Quietly pretty.
Volkswagen Passat CC GT V6
ENGINE 3597cc, six cylinders
POWER 296bhp @ 6600rpm
TORQUE 258 lb ft @ 2400rpm
TRANSMISSION Six-speed DSG
FUEL 28mpg (combined)
ACCELERATION 0-62mph: 5.6sec
TOP SPEED 155mph
ROAD TAX BAND G (£400 a year)
RELEASE DATE On sale now