I have driven and enjoyed a 2002 VW Passat for many kilometres. It handles in a European manner, is happy on the highway, and is/was well-appointed inside. Family members have recently purchased a 2014 Passat TDI. The new vehicle is a cheaper car, in the wrong sense of that word. I have read that VW is intent on capturing North American share (and world domination), and that this vehicle is an example of catering to that market, but the current Passat has lost me. What do you suggest in a sedan with performance and (more taut/responsive) “European” handling in the $40,000-$50,000 range? Keep in mind that I’m generous in girth, and 6-foot-4. – Barnaby in Toronto
Vaughan: Barnaby, you say “Passat has lost me.” You’re not alone. Volkswagen is firing executives left and right in the United States where sales are down in a market that’s been up.
Cato: The top four sales and marketing execs in the United States have all been replaced in the last 10 months. Yikes! The new boss is Michael Horn, a German executive with strong ties to VW Group chief executive Martin Winterkorn. That’ll help.
What will help more is respect for the tastes of buyers on these shores. VW has been trying to crack the American mindset since the original Beetle faded – with marginal success. Horn admits that the challenge at VW is to change the mindset at the company's headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, where the new Passat that so troubles Barnaby originated.
Here’s what Horn told Reuters: “It's about how to translate the American market in Wolfsburg. They need to listen to the market, the competitive situation.” Really? They’re only now starting to understand that?
Vaughan: True understanding could take years. Barnaby: If you want handling and comfort “in a European manner,” you don’t have to fork out for a European car. Some of the domestics are just as good at a better price.
Cato: One I am thinking about traces its roots back to a German car – the Chrysler 300C. It’s evolved since Daimler owned Chrysler and shared an old E-Class chassis with the Americans that become the 300. Those Chrysler types hit the ground running once they got hold of that car.
Today’s 2014 300C with all-wheel drive starts at $41,795 and, for that, you get a large, full-size sedan with an excellent V-6 rated at 300 horsepower. For another $1,545, Barn, you’ll stuff a Hemi V-8 under the hood and leave all Passat drivers in your dust.
Vaughan: Cato, last year I saw a fleet of these 300Cs with all-wheel drive parked behind the National Assembly in Quebec City. Engines running, chauffeurs at the ready to whisk cabinet ministers away to wherever. No riding on the back of a motor scooter for these politicians.
Cato: If there’s space for a Quebec cabinet minister, Barn, there’ll be space inside a 300C for you, too. I also want you to look at a Ford Taurus – with all-wheel drive and a starting price of $36,599.
Here you go, Barn – another full-size American sedan that meets your needs. It’s as roomy as a police cruiser – in some places it is one – and the V-6 spins up 288 hp. It has European roots, too.
The Taurus, if you go back far enough, is based on the old Five Hundred, which can be traced to a Volvo platform from when Ford owned Volvo. Except the AWD Taurus rocks. If you want to really go nuts, get the 360-hp turbocharged Taurus SHO.
Vaughan: The new Taurus is so much better looking than the old one and I’m getting tired of looking at the Chrysler 300.
Ford used to get rich selling these big boats. Remember the Galaxie 500? But now they’re so much more refined. After his 12 years with a Passat, Barnaby’s going to think he’s moved up to a Lincoln if he buys this one.
Cato: Last option: Chevrolet Impala. Big sedan, well built, 305-hp V-6, loads of technology and this one is the best sedan Consumer Reports has ever tested. About $33,000 will do it.
Vaughan: Cato, as you will recall, we toured the plant in Oshawa, Ont., where this beauty is built – with the chief engineer, Kenny Kelzer. He was totally into building the best GM full-size car ever and I think he succeeded.
The big Impala is responsive – not exactly like a mid engine Porsche – but like a high-end German sedan. And quiet. The noise level at highway speed is next to zero. I think Barnaby needs an Impala.
Cato: But when he gets a Hemi-powered 300C, he’ll be in heaven.
Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.
HOW THEY COMPARE
2014 Chrysler 300C AWD
2014 Ford Taurus SEL AWD
2014 Chevrolet Impala 2LT
Curb weight (kg)
Fuel economy (litres/100 km)
11.4 city/7.3 highway
11.5 city/7.7 highway
11.1 city/6.9 highway
Source: car manufacturers
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