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.