Classic CARmentary: 1998 Volkswagen Passat V6 GLS


Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.

This Passat will always make me think of Consumer Reports.  When this generation was able to achieve average reliability, the organization not only recommended it, but placed it at the top of its mid-sized sedan recommendations.  That Consumer Reports recommended the Passat ahead of the Camry and Accord, primarily due to its [don’t say it don’t say it don’t say it] fine Teutonic handling and luxurious accommodations for the price was a big middle finger to those who consistently, and falsely, claim that CR gives the number of cupholders equal or higher weighting than ride and handling, and that Toyota and Honda are always given preferential treatment.

My other favorite CR myth along these lines are the claims that, for example, the Toyota Corolla always received a higher predicted reliability and overall ranking than the Chevrolet Prizm because one was a Toyota and one was a Chevrolet.  This is blatantly false since CR always clearly stated that the Prizm/Corolla and Vibe/Matrix were basically the same car, sometimes even testing them together with different powertrain combinations, and encouraged readers to buy whichever car they preferred or were able to negotiate the better deal on.

Back to the Passat, please remember that while the previous generation Passat had VW’s narrow angle VR6 mounted transversely, this generation had Audi’s 60-degree V6 mounted longitudinally.  The subsequent generation reverted back to a transverse-mounted VR6, though it was enlarged to 3.6 liters. 

I honestly have little recollection of this car and wish I could remember the long trip I mention below as well as the person or couple we took along who reviewed the rear seat. 

The below review ran on October 19, 1998.  

“I took my Jetta in for servicing, saw the Passat, and had to have it!” says a 31-year-old female. Before the introduction of the all-new 1998 Volkswagen Passat, it is doubtful that you would have heard a comment like this about VW’s mid-size sedans, much less noticed one on the road. Remember the Dasher? Quantum? Last year’s Passat? Thanks to its stunning new look, “Passat” is now becoming a household word.

The new Passat inherits the rounded look started by VW’s upscale Audi A6 and which also has been passed on to new versions of the Jetta and Audi A4. The “look” is highlighted by a dramatically sloping roofline and short trunklid. While not as curvaceous as the A6, its sharper edges actually make the Passat appear more muscular.

The real muscle is supplied by a slightly de-tuned version of the 30-valve, 2.8-liter V6 that powers the A6, which is mated to the five-speed Tiptronic “manumatic” transmission. Power builds quickly, and shifts are almost imperceptible. A digital display in the gauge cluster tells you which gear you’re in if you choose to shift yourself. Entry-level Passats come standard with a five-speed manual transmission and turbocharged 1.8 liter four, and a wagon is also available. Passat buyers benefit from its excellent ride and handling since it is built off the same platform as the Audi A4.

Our GLS was equipped with features and trim found on most entry-level luxury cars, such as power moonroof, multi-function computer, remote locking, and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel. The high-quality cloth interior features heated front seats with driver lumbar support and real wood trim. Rear passengers have plenty of legroom, and the rear bench is quite supportive. An all-day trek left no one fatigued or uncomfortable. The trunk is large, but the sloping roof line results in a small opening.

Our only complaint was the blue lighting for the instruments. Although it looks groovy, we agreed it provides poorer contrast than green, beige, or even red.

If you want a genuine European sports sedan that turns heads but you’re on a tight budget, take a look at the Passat.

For more information contact 1-800-444-8987


Type: 4-Door Sedan
Engine: 190-horsepower, 2.8 liter V6
Transmission: 5-speed Automatic with Tiptronic
EPA Mileage: 18 city/29 highway
Tested Price: $25,765

By the way, I didn’t make up the quote at the beginning of the review.  She was someone I met at a party a few months prior and was telling me about her new Passat.  Also, this review doesn’t hold a candle to Jack Baruth’s reflective review, which not only accurately describes the impact of the early B5 Passat, but offers a valuable lesson for us car guys whose significant others couldn’t care less about cars, but know what they like.