Volkswagen Passat R36
Bold chrome grille marks out R36 from other Passats
- Engine and transmission combination works superbly
- Excellent interior and high specification
- Superb seats offer great support
- Decent value for money
- Fuel economy is below average
- Running costs likely to be high
- Styling may be too subtle for some
- Automatic handbrake fiddly at first
Volkswagen's Passat is well established as a mid-sized saloon and estate range, with a wide choice of models and a high quality feel making it a popular choice in a declining segment. Now there is a new model heading up the range, promising improved performance, handling and specification.
The R badge is now well established in the Volkswagen range having appeared on two generations of Golf, but the Passat is the first car of this size to wear the performance logo. As with the Golf, the R36 moniker denotes the engine capacity, in this case a new 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine not yet seen elsewhere in the range.
As with other R badged models, the Passat R36 has a subtle but effective external makeover to signify is position in the range. Attractive 18-inch alloy wheels are standard, as is lower and stiffer suspension, giving it a purposeful stance. The front carries the bold chromed grille and surround, while deeper front and rear bumpers plus side skirts complete the look. A pair of exhaust pipes poke from the rear, hinting at the performance on offer. The changes are successful, lending more purpose to the shape without it becoming too outrageous.
There are more changes in the cabin too, justifying the R36's place at the top of the range. The comprehensive standard equipment is a given, but the R36 gets unique sports seats with adjustable side bolsters, ensuring ideal support and comfort. Small badges are dotted throughout the attractive cabin, while a thicker three-spoke steering wheel has chunky grips as well as carrying paddles for the dual-clutch gearbox.
The R36 is fitted with the Volkswagen 4Motion four-wheel drive system as standard, as well as the impressive six-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox. This gives the R36 the ability to fully exploit the power on offer in all conditions, with maximum traction and rapid gearchanges. It also allows the driver to relax, with a fully automatic mode putting the gearbox in charge of the shift points.
Our verdict on the Volkswagen Passat R36
The R36 is a welcome addition to the Passat range and makes the most of the standard car's virtues. Despite the increased performance and sharpened handling it is still a comfortable and undemanding car to drive, while the enhanced specification increases its appeal. There may be few credible rivals, but the Passat R36 is a model example of an executive express.
The R36 will inevitably cost more to run than lowlier versions, and a light right foot is required to achieve respectable economy figures. The insurance group could be higher however, although servicing costs won't be dramatically higher than other Passats.
Space and practicality
The R36 is just as practical as the regular car and, unlike some of its rivals, the Passat doesn't feel cramped when it's full of adults. This attitude spills over into the generous number of storage spaces in the cabin plus the usefulness of its boot and the ability to fold the rear seats. For those seeking more space the R36 can also be had in estate form.
Controls and display
All the car's major displays are object lessons in clarity. The various switches, knobs and vents operate with a smoothness that wouldn't feel out of place in a car costing twice as much. The fascia houses major controls like the ventilation and audio equipment, and everything is within easy reach. Commonly used audio controls are duplicated on the steering wheel, while the instruments themselves have an attractive blue and white illumination, unique to this model.
Although sacrificing a little comfort over the standard car, the Passat R36 is still a pleasure to ride and drive in. Wind and road noise are subdued, while the engine only announces itself when stretched. The ride is notably firmer than the standard car, but never becomes harsh, and the upgraded front seats are simply excellent, offering outstanding support and plenty of adjustment.
You get the usual immobiliser and remote central locking package from VW when you buy a Passat. Depending on the model, this expands to include an alarm and interior intrusion sensors.
Twin front, side and head airbags are standard fit on even the base model Passat. This is backed up by the usual ABS, ESP and other electronic stability programmes. Staying with braking, the Passat's stylish brake lights are of the fast-reacting LED type. Back inside the cabin, the rear seats get a pair of Isofix child seat mounting points. The car's push button, electromechanical parking brake boasts a function whereby you press the button and the car will come to a controlled stop in an emergency.
The R36's dual personality is its key appeal, as it manages to retain much of the comfort and practicality of the regular Passat while offering a sporting edge. In normal driving the suspension is a little firmer and noise levels are fractionally increased, but it is still an effortless everyday car. The engine offers plenty of torque and the gearbox shifts smoothly in automatic mode. Yet on an open road the engine sings with delight when stretched, with strong acceleration helped by the quick-fire transmission. In manual mode it can be operated with two hands on the steering wheel and with the strong brakes and honed suspension it is a joy to spear along a twisting road with such little effort.
Family car appeal
The Passat can do the family duties without too much trouble. It can take five adults with ease and the generous boot will swallow buggies with ease.
First car appeal
The R36 is a car too far for a new driver, especially in terms of expense and performance, although its easy going manner would not cause many problems for the inexperienced.
Quality and image
The Passat, in all its guises, offers a high standard of quality with attractive and well thought-out design combined with good build and excellent materials. The R36 version reinforces that, with even better materials. The Passat R36's image is a good one. Trading on the success of the Golf R32 and cementing the R badge as a genuine performance sub-brand.
Getting inside the Passat is a breeze, with large door apertures and chunky door handles. The same can be said for the boot, which has a large lid and opens high to an over-centre position. The lid can also be opened remotely, which is a useful feature when carrying a heavy load. One demerit is that the front seat passengers have to negotiate the bigger side bolsters, although this is a small price to pay for the excellent support.
Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)
Even the standard audio system delivers a strong sound performance, but the optional Dynaudio package includes satellite navigation, a CD autochanger with multiple format capability, plus an SD card reader and 30GB hard drive. Its versatility is backed up by a truly impressive sound quality, with a powerful output and superb reproduction.
Colours and trim
The R36's appearance is enhanced by a choice of attractive metallic exterior shades, helped by colour-coded bumpers. Inside the materials are of a high quality, even more so with the optional upholstery upgrade.
The Passat has decent visibility for a car of its size, although the high tail does restrict the view rearwards to a small degree. However, front and rear parking sensors are standard and a reversing camera is included in the audio upgrade, making life even easier.
Full size spare wheel fitted beneath the boot floor.
Petrol engines - 1.4-litre (120bhp); 1.8-litre (158bhp); 2.0-litre (197bhp); 3.2-litre (247bhp); 3.6-litre (296bhp). Diesels engines - 1.9-litre (105bhp); 2.0-litre (138bhp); 2.0-litre (168bhp). Transmission options: five-speed manual gearbox, six-speed manual gearbox, six-speed Tiptronic gearbox, direct shift DSG gearbox. Four-wheel drive 4MOTION offered with selected engines. Trim levels: S, SE, Sport, SEL, R36.
Cadillac BLS 2.8T Flexible engine, handsome, less impressive ride and handling
Jaguar XF SV8 Sumptuous cabin, sparkling engine and excellent dynamics
Lexus GS460 Smooth, fast and well equipped but lacks sporting edge
Renault Laguna GT Turbo Sharp responses and good looks. Well equipped too