Volkswagen is like that tempestuous friend who lost their cool at the party, started yelling, and basically ruined a fun night out. This is now the morning after, one extremely throbbing hangover remains, and VW is rapidly trying to apologize and soothe hurt feelings.
Paying billions back to former diesel owners who the company scammed with engineering trickery is step one. The company that gave us Herbie somehow ended up developing cars that almost literally held their collective breath while undergoing official emissions tests; then they would belch out plumes of harmful toxins during real world driving. Not good. Not good at all.
Step two in this recovery is finding some of the fun and joy that marked Veedubs as a feel-good alternative to all those blander, far more corporate me-too vehicle choices. Anyone old enough to remember how cool those late-1990s Jetta blue gauges looked at night?
A small and, admittedly, pretty modest step in this voyage of rediscovery was introduced at the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show. The Passat GT adds a dash of Golf GTI onto the German automaker’s otherwise innocuous midsize sedan. It’s a sporty car for people who need lots of legroom and cargo space but don’t want to carry the baggage of driving a dullsville family car.
Hey VW, we like this idea … quite a lot, actually.
Too bad VW hasn’t confirmed if the Passat GT is going to make it to production. Let’s assume it will — fingers crossed — and move on to what adds extra zing to this otherwise very normal sedan.
Let’s be honest and upfront, the standard Passat is the perfect car for bank robbers. Park this Volkswagen anywhere, even in the deepest sea of Corollas and Camrys, and it simply is not going to stand out.
However, a combination of styling cues borrowed from the Golf GTI hot-hatch and a potent 280 horsepower V6 engine under the hood conspire to remake the Passat into a practical four-door with a not-so-secret wild side.
Red highlights on the front grille and larger lower air intakes — fake, but we’ll forgive it — add some menace onto the Passat’s mellow exterior. A slightly lower ride height and tasty 19-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels also add to this Passat’s attitude. Again, we’re talking in degrees here. A GT-R or Viper, this is not. But it’s good to see VW stepping away from trying to be everything to everyone. That’s why we have Toyota, after all.
The strange thing is that this car almost exists on Volkswagen dealership lots. The V6 is available as an option, of course, and the R-Line trim level adds many of the visual goodies you see on the Passat GT concept. Except until now, those R-Line items have only been available with the base four-cylinder engine. Why? Well, hey, why did VW decide to fudge the numbers for millions of diesel-powered cars? Let’s not get nit-picky about options sheet aberrations at times like these.
As it stands, the Passat GT — complete with its funky little side graphics — is a small sign that VW isn’t down for the count. Though maybe it should be?
Automakers make some pretty God-awful mistakes. Ford factored in the death of customers and the cost of lawsuits when it realized the Pinto was a BBQ waiting to happen during a rear-end collision. Toyota totally fumbled its response to reports that brake pedals weren’t actually stopping its vehicles a few years ago. And even almighty Audi almost bailed on the U.S. market over reports that its vehicles liked to accelerate on their own accord.
Does the Passat GT save VW? Not at all. Not even close.
The German automaker is going to have to earn trust on a global scale, and that will not be an easy task — nor should it be, considering how brazen the company was in its deception.
Does the Passat GT at least make us smile and hope VW has learned from its mistakes? Well, yes to the first part. And one can only hope for the second.