Passat’s all, folks
No arguments, Volkswagen’s potent R36 is the fastest in the family, writes PAUL GOVER
THE fastest car in the Volkswagen family has just hit Australia. And it’s not the swoopy new Scirocco coupe . . . The boxy Passat R36 takes line honours with a combination of a 3.6-litre V6 engine that makes 220kW and gives the family hauler — sedan or wagon — the potential for a 5.6-second sprint to 100km/h and a top end well beyond Australia’s legal limits.
The potent Passat proves the point on Volkswagen’s R shop upgrading, which is done in-house at the Individual division and mirrors similar go-faster tweaking done by M for BMW, AMG for Benz, and TRD, HSV and FPV for the three homegrown Aussie brands.
The R36 rolls in alongside the existing R32 Golf and R50 Touareg to complete the R-car line-up (for now, anyway) with prices from $64,990 for a manual sedan to $67,590 for a wagon with DSG manu-matic gearbox.
Like all the other R cars it hits with sports suspension, a better brake/tyre/wheel package and a cabin upgrade. Oh, and all-wheel drive. The R36 also comes with the same bold Biscaya blue paintwork available on the R32 and R50.
The car trumps anything seen before from Volkswagen and is a significant twist for a company making most of its advances in Australia with diesels. The Golf GTi is still its best seller but more than half of all sales are diesels as the German brand lifted its sales 17.9 per cent by the end of July to take No.7 in the passenger-car rankings.
‘‘Australian customers have been very kind to us this year,’’ Volkswagen Group Australia boss Jutta Dierks says.
She is hoping for more kindness on the R cars and particularly the Passat R36, but admits total sales will probably still amount to only 1000 across the three models next year.
‘‘For us, R line is special. And we have plans to expand it,’’ Dierks says. ‘‘Basically, we can do this with every single car. It fits every model in our range.’’
The mechanical package for the R36 is built around its V6 engine and slick DSG six-speed gearbox, complete with paddle shifts. It is basically front-wheel drive until there is any slip, when the rear wheels — giant 18-inch alloys — are called into action.
The engine is much the same as the 3.6-litre unit fitted to the Touareg. Tweaking for the R36 drops the torque slightly but takes power up by close to 20kW.
The suspension is lowered 25mm with tauter springs and dampers, there are vented disc brakes at each corner and the body is tweaked with deeper side sills, a rear spoiler, chromed exhausts and the inevitable R badges.
It also has bi-xenon lamps, a combination of leather and microfibre on the sports bucket seats and a 250W sound system.
Volkswagen is not talking about sales numbers but says supply from Germany, which limited sales of the original R32 Golf to 200 cars, will not be a problem.
After the R36, the next R model will probably be based on the Passat CC, which is set for Australia early next year.
And what about the Scirocco coupe, which has the potential to take king-of-the-hill rights from the R36?
‘‘We have not made the decision, but the door is not closed,’’ Dierks says. HE go-faster Passat is like the rest of Volkswagen’s R cars — quick and enjoyable, but not as sharp as expected. It gets along briskly enough, and gives plenty of feedback and enjoyment, but is missing the ‘‘wow’’ factor we expect after years with HSV and FPV Holdens and Fords.
The R36 is more like a TRD Aurion, though that is probably unkind to the Volkswagen because the driving position is a lot better and it has a much better transmission.
It has a classy look and feel, and the R upgrade is balanced, but it is not a cheap car and there are shortcomings.
Volkswagen used the arrival of the R36 to roll out the whole family for a drive day at Phillip Island, which did its best to make the MotoGP track a challenge with a combination of Antarctic temperatures, showery rain and blustery winds.
The R36 showed up well on the track but, because the circuit is fast and open, did not feel all that fast. Punchy out of the pits, and with a nice cornering balance, but not what you would expect from a car trumpeted as the fastest Volkwagen in the business.
The R32 Golf was sharper again, thanks to the smaller body and a responsive engine.
The surprise, though, was the Touareg. The family hauler looks much more aggressive as the R50 and it punches beyond its weight.
The big surprise is the incredible torque from its 5.0-litre V10 diesel, which gives the sort of punch you expect from a Porsche Cayenne or AMG Benz ML. It really can get up and go.
But weight works against the R50 in corners and it was blown around badly on the approach to turn one at more than 200km/h — not what you really want. And you have to remember to shift early and often (unlike the smaller V6 models) to keep it moving along.
All three R cars were available for a car park motorkhana, which was fun but did not prove much beyond their off-the-line pace.
It was a fun day despite the weather, and proved Volkswagen has the basic building blocks to build some quicker and more enjoyable R cars. But we still think the Golf GTi is the one to beat in the Volkswagen line-up.
Quick smart: the Passat R36 tops anything seen before from Volkswagen and the company says supply from Germany will not be a problem.
Same difference: Passat’s R stablemates (above) Touareg R50 and (below) Golf R32