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VW Passat: Ahh, if only looks could thrill

2013 VW Passat CC.

ted laturnus The Globe and Mail

Overall Rating
If it had the V-6, this one would be just about perfect.
Looks Rating
Best-looking four-door on the market right now.
Interior Rating
A little tight but uncluttered and tasteful.
Ride Rating
Just about the right combination of responsiveness and comfort.
Safety Rating
A full roster of active and passive safety equipment, including engine braking and vehicle stability control.
Green Rating
Decent fuel economy for a car of this size.

The first thing that strikes you about VW's Passat CC is the styling. This is a beautiful automobile, reminiscent of the Mercedes-Benz CLS, which that company describes as a four-door coupe.

The CC – which is not to be confused with the regular Passat – has almost as much presence as the CLS and is a cleaner design, with less clutter and a tighter body size. Like so many successful styling jobs, it's a relatively simple theme, but flows perfectly and doesn't have an ugly line on it anywhere. It gets my vote as one of the tastiest-looking vehicles on the road, and looks much more expensive than it is. You can also see elements of the CC and the CLS in Hyundai's Genesis and Sonata sedans, by the way – it's that good-looking an automobile.

There are three versions of the CC: Sportline, Highline and Highline V-6. My tester was the non-V-6 Highline, with a 200-horsepower turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder mated to VW's six-speed DSG automatic transmission with Tiptronic and paddle-style shifters. Were I in the market for this car, this is the model I would not choose. A car this elegant looking deserves a better drivetrain than the punky turbocharged four-cylinder that is standard issue and, in tandem with the autobox, this engine lets the CC down in just about every way.

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To the point where I thought there might be something wrong with my car. Shift points were erratic and abrupt, and the engine was slow to respond and anemic. I've encountered this engine before – in the Golf GTI – and don't recall it being this sluggish and unresponsive. The manual six-speed transmission alternative might help things along here, and it's also about $4,000 less expensive than the automatic version. In short, having driven the V-6 version of this car, I can't recommend the four-banger/autobox combo. That said, the V-6 Highline costs some $7,000 more, and it only comes with the automatic transmission and VW 4Motion all-wheel-drive system.

Inside, the CC's layout is clean and uncluttered with easy to deal with switchgear and controls. Space could be an issue for taller drivers, however. One of the prices you pay with this kind of low roofline design is loss of headroom, and getting in and out of the CC can be a little tricky. Especially since it comes with high side-bolstered racing-style front buckets that hamper easy entry. The back seat will accommodate three adults, but the middle part of the seat is on the skimpy side and whoever rides there probably won't like it. Like the CLS, the CC is also a four-door coupe with, realistically, seating for four.

One note here. The trunk of the CC (and the regular Passat, as far as that goes) is huge and deep, with a purported 400-plus litres of cargo volume. A quick measurement with my tape measure reveals a depth of 115 cm and a width of 104 cm – there's all kinds of room back there and you can fold the rear seat down 60/40, with a passthrough for skis and such.

Standard equipment level is in keeping with this car's overall upscale flavour. Heated front seats, rear-view camera, cruise control, Sirius satellite radio, electronic parking brake, a massive sunroof, leather interior and larger 18-inch wheels and tires all come with the Highline. You can also order the Technology Package ($2,200), which includes a navi system and up-rated stereo. I can take this extra or leave it and, all things considered, would probably leave it. Go get yourself a Garmin or Tom-Tom for a couple of hundred bucks and you're good to go.

The larger 18-inch wheels set the car off nicely, but I wouldn't even hazard a guess at their replacement cost. I say this because VW is producing some of the tastiest alloy wheels on the market and, when I went to pick my test car up, thieves had hit VW's zone office the night before, boosting a complete set of tires and wheels off a GTi.

Being a VW, the CC has handling and braking that are a notch above most of the competition. There's nothing exceptional about the suspension – front wishbones with MacPherson struts and four-wheel discs, but the way it's built into the car and calibrated gives the CC sports-car-like handling with a nice even ride and a sure-footedness not found elsewhere in this market. Despite its lacklustre performance, the Highline is a pleasure to drive.

And here's something: the automatic door locking feature that drives me crazy with so many VW products doesn't kick in until the car reaches 13 km/h. I'd still remove it completely but this setup is an improvement.

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2013 Volkswagen Passat CC Highline

Type: Four-door, five-passenger mid-size coupe

Base Price: $39,975; as tested: $41,375

Engine: 2.0-litre, turbocharged/intercooled, four-cylinder

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Horsepower/torque: 200 hp/207 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.6 city/6.7 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Acura TL, Audi A4, Lexus IS250, Hyundai Genesis, BMW 128i, Infiniti G25, Mazda6, Suzuki Kizashi

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