Volkswagen Passat R36

Flagship family car gets four-wheel drive and a powerful V6

High-performance sub-brands have become an increasingly common addition to many manufacturers’ showroom line-ups. Whether it’s the mighty M cars from BMW, Mercedes’ bruising AMG-badged models or Fiats with an Abarth sting in the tail, there’s a hot option for every class and budget.

And it’s a similar story at Volkswagen, where you can buy one of its rapid R variants. The recently launched Passat R36 is the third addition to the range, following on from the Golf R32 and Touareg R50 SUV.

With a 296bhp 3.6-litre V6, four-wheel drive and quick-shifting DSG twin-clutch gearbox, the newcomer has all the elements of a high-performance package. But take a look at our black test car, and it seems the designers chose subtlety over sportiness. A low-key bodykit adds a deeper front bumper, side skirts and roof-mounted rear spoiler, while a 20mm lower ride height gives the Passat a purposeful stance. Finishing off the stealthy appearance are an aluminum-effect grille, 18-inch alloys and two large tailpipes.

Climb aboard, and the VW’s sporty intentions are easier to spot. The driver gets a chunky three-spoke steering wheel embossed with an R36 logo, while the dials are backlit white with blue needles. Heavily bolstered seats hold driver and passenger firmly in place. As with all Passats, the build quality and materials are first-rate, while the cabin easily accommodates five adults.

Open the tailgate, and there’s 513 litres of luggage space, stretching to 1,641 litres with the rear bench folded flat. This easily eclipses the Saab, which manages 419 litres and 1,287 litres respectively. But these cars are as much about pace as practicality. At our test track, the R36 proved decisively faster than its rival, posting a scorching 0-60mph time of 5.7 seconds – nearly one second quicker than the Saab. This is in part thanks to the transmission’s launch control. Real-world performance is stunning, with each press of the accelerator accompanied by a muted growl from the smooth-revving V6.

On the road, the VW is surprisingly agile given its hefty 1.7-tonne kerbweight. The four-wheel-drive system has masses of grip, allowing the R36 to put its power down without any fuss and slingshot out of corners regardless of road conditions.

Direct steering adds to the sporty feel, although the composed ride means the VW is relaxing when you just want to cruise.

So, the Passat is faster and more practical than the Saab 9-3. Does this mean it’s a dominant victory for the German?

Details

Price: £32,175Model tested: Passat R36Chart position: 1WHY: High-performance R36 gives Passat nearly 300bhp and a subtle yet racy look.

Economy

Do the sums and, apart from residual values, the VW comes out ahead of the Saab. However, the R36 is by no means cheap to run, particularly when compared to more humble models in the Passat line-up. Despite slightly lower CO2 emissions of 249g/km, the VW still falls into Band G for road tax, meaning an annual charge of £400. Higher-rate company car users will be facing an annual bill of £4,504. At least the Passat is generously equipped, with xenon headlamps, electrically operated seats and tyre pressure monitoring. But at this price we would expect to see features such as sat-nav fitted as standard.

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