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Volkswagen Passat CC
6/10

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Road Test

Volkswagen CC 1.8 driven

Driven June 2008

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Volkswagen chose to launch the VW Passat CC to the world at Munich airport. Bold as brass, they erected a temporary reception building in the terminal concourse - on the surface a staggeringly ritzy erection, but under it all a temporary one nonetheless.

In its toilets, the paper walls were printed to resemble tiles, the hardboard partitions were painted to resemble limed oak and the chipboard floor was faked to resemble parquet. Appropriate really, as right outside was a line of Passats, each mocked-up to resemble a Mercedes CLS.

So has VW produced nothing more than a shameless and superficial CLS knock-off? That'll be the widespread public reaction. But you can't really blame VW. The Volkswagen passat is a worthy-but-dull saloon, just as the E-class is. Benz's makeover into the CLS sprinkled some showroom fairy-dust onto the range, and the Passat's CC transformation looks likely to be just as successful.

And the CC's mission is exactly the same as the CLS's. Neither replaces any existing car. They just give a slinkier choice to anyone needing four doors and four seats but not wanting the staid profile of a saloon.

But I can't help thinking they could have designed a Passat CC that did all that while still escaping the charge of looking, especially from the rear three-quarter, like a Benz on VW wheels. Ah well, at least the Passat CC avoids the CLS's molten-arse look at the very tail end, and so far as I'm concerned actually emerges as the more handsome car.

Perhaps the most stylish four-door available for those who can't bear to leave the clutches of the German industry and try an Alfa 159.

Anyway, the main thing is the CC doesn't just look like a Passat.It's longer, lower, wider and to a surprising degree has a curvier feel to its surfacing. It's not an integral part of the range: it was conceived well after the Passat saloon and estate were finished, which probably explains the surfacing: VW designers were moving into their latest 'emotional' phase.

In fact, the CC wasn't even going to be badged a Passat to begin with. Then they thought about callingit Passat Coupe, but the American dealers objected: "That ain't no coupe, sir - it's got too many doors." So we ended up with CC which stands for 'comfort coupe' not, as every other manufacturer uses the abbreviation 'coupe cabrio'.

So no, before you ask, the roof doesn't fold into the boot. To be fair, the VW spokesman did at least have the grace to look sheepish at the confusion this is likely to cause.

Inside, you get pretty much a Passat dash, only with a slightly nicer entertainment/climate screen which will presumably fetch up in the regular car, come facelift time. And naturally, there isn't so much room in the CC. When you're driving, this shows up as no more than a slightly confined feeling that stems from the closeness of the tops of the screen pillars. It can block your view a bit at certain kinds of junctions too.

In the back, there are just two seats, moved towards the centreline because the car is pyramid-shaped, and if three of you tried to share the back, the outer two would clout their heads on the side rails. But the seats that remain are comfortably bucket-shaped and don't restrict your head- or legroom.

The slinky bodywork is inhabited by the exact same platform and mechanicals as a Passat, the same suspension and engines and transmissions: the direct-injection petrol turbo in 1.8-litre (160bhp) and 2.0 (200bhp) sizes, and the 3.6-litre VR6 with standard 4motion and DSG gearbox. Diesels are the 2.0-litre, in 140 and 170bhp tunes.

This is a hulking great car, so I approached a drive of the 1.8 with a sense of foreboding. It didn't take long to cheer me up, because there's no way it acts like a bog-basic engine. The turbo gets it perky at just 1,500 revs, then it cheerfully pulls its little heart out all the way to 7,000rpm. There's a trace of the tingly combustion sound typical of direct-injection, but mechanically all is smooth sweetness. It cracks 62 in 8.6 and emits just 180g/km of CO2, all of which makes you question the need for the rattlier, less revvy 140bhp diesel.

The 2.0 petrol, the one most famously in the Golf GTI, wasn't available at this early stage (UK launch isn't until summer), so I skipped straight to the V6. Now if 180bhp could do so much, I was imagining that 300 would send me half-way to orbit.

No such luck. Again, my expectations were confounded, but in precisely the opposite direction. Dunno where all the power went, but it's certainly eroded. The V6 is swift and overtakes rapidly, but it just doesn't have the urgency I was looking for. At low speed, there's also a lot of commotion, sounds of groaning bearings and cogs.

The unconvincing performance must be something to do with an extra 200kg over the 1.8. You feel the weight in bends too. It's less agile than the 1.8 FWD and just doesn't want to have fun. It's like the tyres are under-inflated. There's a similar gumminess to the brakes too. Was the whole thing set upto make in-house rival Audi feel sporty by comparison?

Setting the three-stage adaptive suspension to 'sport' adds some firmness to the ride and weight to the steering,but just because you can feel a difference doesn't mean it makes any difference.

No, the best thing is to revert to the 'normal' damper setting, which is very nicely judged. Then you get a really comfy pliable car. In dealing with jagged surfaces - which means half the roads in Britain - it's one of the most civilised things this side of a big Jag.

Life at a cruise is made even easier by a new optional lane-keeping system. A camera at the top of the windscreen reads the white lines and when you drift out of the lane centre it gently nudges at the steering to ease you back.

Early versions of this (Lexus LS460) were a bit clunky, but thanks to the pure-electric power steering, this is smooth and not obtrusive. It relaxes its grip when you use the indicator to change lanes. Imagine that - a car that encourages people to indicate on motorways. Deep joy.

VW is pitching the CC above the Passat in price and equipment: all CCs get 17-inchers, a touch screen for the climate control and hi-fi, even an electric driver's seat. That makes the base 1.8 a £21,000 bargain. By contrast the V6, which knocks on Jaguar XF prices, is a flagrant waste of money.

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