V6 Passat combines practicality and pace, but at a price

What is it?

The slightly improbably performance version of Volkswagen’s practical full-sized estate. Beneath the sensible bodywork the R36 boasts a 3.6 litre V6 engine with 299bhp, four-wheel drive and a standard six-speed DSG twin clutch transmission.

High CO2 emissions and high running costs – not least depreciation – mean it will only ever be of minority interest. But assessed on a pure bang-per-buck basis, the R36 makes a surprising amount of sense.

What’s it like?

Surprisingly convincing. Granted, the R36’s combination of a north-of-£30K pricetag and sub-25mpg fuel economy are unlikely to win too many fans in modern Britain. But behind the running costs this is a talented, likeable car.

The R36 gets one of the crispest-shifting implementations yet of the DSG gearbox, working brilliantly in either automatic or manual modes. Power is delivered seamlessly, and the transmission’s quick reactions make it a pleasure to keep the rev-happy engine on the boil.

It’s brisk, too. Volkswagen claim a 5.8sec 0-62mph time for the R36, and it feels every bit as quick as that figure suggests. There’s certainly no doubt that, on a long enough Autobahn straight, it would have little difficulty in finding its 155mph limiter. The engine sounds good: growling and yowling as the revs ascend. And full-throttle upshifts are accompanied by a pleasingly throaty over-run.

Handling isn’t as quite as sharp as it could be: the R36 possesses commendable straight-line stability, but it feels big and heavy when asked to devour a series of corners, with understeer lurking behind the keen initial turn-in.

Under the surface this Passat has lost the Audi A6 quattro underpinnings of the previous-generation four-wheel drive version, instead getting a Golf 4Motion-spec Haldex clutch on the back axle to divert torque rearwards when slip is detected.

The rest of the experience remains as practical as that of the basic Passat estate: lots of space for occupants and luggage, good quality trim and – despite a firm ride – decent refinement.


So, should I buy one?

If the company’s paying – and you can afford the tax – then consider one. But we reckon this is one of those cars that will really start to make sense two or three years down the line, with half its value shed.

Mike Duff

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Jon Hardcastle 18 June 2008

Re: Volkswagen Passat R36 Estate

Would you pay £32K for a VW estate car?