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Driving Impressions: Passat 1.8T vs. A4

Last weekend I drove one of the new Passat's.  'Twas a base model
with 5spd, turbo 1.8 FWD.  A few weeks earlier I drove a couple '97
A4's, both the V6 and the 1.8T.  I've not driven the new '98 5-valve
V6, altho I convinced my boss to buy one, so I expect to try it soon.
 All the A4's I've driven were quattros.  Author calibration:  my daily
driver is either an S4 or a Miata, and I'm a Bondurant grad, former
mechanic, but NOT an engineer (bad thread).  My Impressions...

The Passat was a more interesting and involving car to drive than
the A4.  It seemed to have better throttle response, equally good low-
end torque, and at speed, a much better push from the engine than
the same engine in the A4.  I ran it hard up a VERY steep hill and
around some narrow, windy Connecticut roads.  It handled
responsively, no vagueness, but not a lot of feel in the steering
(numb).  Frankly, the steering felt similar to the A4, but the car felt
better coupled to the road than the A4s I drove despite skinny
standard tires.  It was a blast to drive!  I'm sure the Passat,
despite being bigger is actually lighter than the quattro A4.
Nevertheless, on dynamics alone I prefer the Passat to the A4.

The styling is a subjective issue, I like the Passat, but I love
the A4 styling.  I think the Passat is better integrated than my
sister's new RHD A6 in which I toured London over Thanks-
giving.  I expected that the A6 would be a stunner, but it wore
off on me pretty quickly.  The A4 has been around a long
time now, and yet I still find myself admiring it.  Winner: A4

Passat interior:  Lot's more space in it, nice fit around doors,
etc, and good standard feature list.  But I found it much more
plastic-y than the A4.  Mine was a base model with mouse-fur
upholstery, but it had a kind of rental-car feel to it.  The A4
compares very favorably with my '92 S4, I felt right at home
in the A4 sports seats (MUCH nicer than the V6's standard
seats) and was immediately able to use the car effectively.
The Passat's seats weren't bad, the mouse fur grips well,
but I didn't feel like they'd be very supportive on a long trip.
If I had to ride in the back seat I'd definitely prefer the room
in the Passat over the cramped A4.  But the seats in the A4
seemed more comfortable.  The seat cushions in the back
of the Passat were quite hard.  The Passat was very versa-
tile, with 60/40 split fold-down rear seats, and a very square
very large trunk.  A very practical beast.  Compared to the
A4, the Passat is likely to be more practical, roomier,
and a better family machine as well as cheaper to run.

Perhaps a more upscale version of the Passat might be
better, but I'm suspicious of the V6 (all the fun will be gone).
I'm in no hurry to buy a car, so I'll wait until next summer,
when the Passat quattro (er, synchro) version will be out in
a wagon form (altho rumored to be V5/V6 slushbox only:
DUMB VAG!)  Then I'll have another look.

Conclusions.  I'd certainly recommend the Passat, especially
at only $21,500 list equipped as mine was.  Nevertheless, I
expected to like it more than I did.  It certainly went well.
I'm sorta surprised at myself, because I've always valued
performance over looks (why I owned a Sentra SE-R, and
a Taurus SHO).  The performance is there, but the look and
feel, the styling, the sensory aspects all favor the A4.  If I
had to buy a car today, I'd buy the A4T with a sport package.

For the Audi list, fear not.  The A4 is a better car.  The
price premium commanded by the A4 is worth it for feel,
and quality.  Little danger of the VW being mistaken for
an Audi, at least so far.    So far, the Audi has it all
over the Passat as far as perceived quality goes.  Even
tho the Passat seems to be well-built, and is hopefully
durable as well, I think the A4 is a much nicer touring machine.

I question the wisdom of the announced VAG strategy of targeting
VW towards Mercedes (the VW sales guy was making the
comparison to the C-series MB's.  Strange!)  I suppose the
good news for Audi owners is the volume effects of having the
same A4 drivetrain in the Passat.  It bodes well for performance
mods, availability of parts, and better parts pricing for A4 owners.
Doug Haley (haleyd@yankelovich.com)
"There is no fundamental difference between a sufficiently advanced
technology and magic" (A.C.Clarke)