Volkswagen's recent advertising campaigns have centered around the concept of 'German engineering' being a desirable trait for those purchasing a passenger vehicle. While German automakers such as Mercedes, BMW and more recently Audi have had great success in building an image that marries both luxury and performance, it has taken Volkswagen a lot of hard work to reach the point where they are comfortable singing the same tune to as their more distinguished competitors.
There was a time where VW's reputation in the United States rested solely upon their ability to build inexpensive hatchbacks and sedans. With a lineage going back to the cute but never taken seriously Beetle, Volkswagen automobiles had much to overcome to change the minds of consumers who were convinced that the company was capable of providing very average, reasonably priced vehicles and nothing more. After several years with a limited lineup and an uncertain product future, Volkswagen decided to attack the 2000's by bringing their vehicle design to a whole new level.
Leading the charge would be the company's stalwart sedans, the Jetta and the Passat. By increasing the size of the entry-level Jetta, they were able to bring the vehicle upmarket without necessarily increasing the price to an unreasonable level. They worked hard to create a line of engines and an advertising campaign that touted the vehicle as having more torque and a sportier driving experience than base models of the Honda Civic or the Toyota Corolla. The Passat was given a similar kick upstairs, finally moving into the mid-size realm with authority and providing an alternative for those not interested in domestic automobiles and tired of the standard Japanese offerings. Volkswagen's reach eventually overextended their grasp, however, when they attempted to penetrate the luxury market with the Phaeton, an extremely expensive vehicle that was completely ignored by the demographic looking to spend $80,000 on a car. While there was nothing wrong with the Phaeton itself, it never caught on and was produced for only a limited run.
This article describes the best generations of each of these sedans as can be found on the used market. The re-designed Jetta and Passat can make excellent buys for those looking to break free from the traditional Honda / Toyota cycle, and the Phaeton is worth a look for those who are interested in owning a decadent automobile at a mere fraction of the original asking price.
2005 - 2007 Volkswagen Jetta
The 2005 - 2007 Volkswagen Jetta is far sleeker than any version of the car that came before it, trading in the broad front end of the previous edition for one which bears sculpted wraparound headlights and an aggressively-styled fascia. The Jetta looks as though it has been through the wind tunnel and emerged with competition-inspired styling that helps it stand out from some of the blander compact sedans found on car lots across America.
The Jetta also differentiates itself by making a 1.9-liter turbo-diesel 4-cylinder an option for buyers whose number one priority is fuel economy. Generating 100 horsepower and a gutsy 177 lb-ft of torque, the Jetta TDI sees 38 miles per gallon in stop and go traffic and 36 on the highway. There are of course several other traditional gasoline power plants available: a 200 horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and a 2.5-liter, 5-cylinder motor which sits right in the middle with 150 horsepower. Depending upon which engine is ordered, gears can be shifted via either a 5-speed or 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic transmission.
The 2005 - 2007 Volkswagen Jetta's larger exterior dimensions have helped enormously in the passenger compartment, which has seen improvements not only in seating room but in the seats themselves, which are more supportive than older versions of the car. The materials used throughout the cabin have also much better, and while the Jetta has not been loaded with features it feels slightly more exclusive than most of the entry-level competition. Drivers can order a sunroof, louder stereo system, leather seats and even wood trim to dress up their Jetta. Cruise control, a CD player, heated mirrors and a folding rear seat are standard equipment.
A huge step forward for the Jetta brand and for Volkswagen's reputation in general, the 2005 - 2007 Volkswagen Jetta is destined to continue on as a popular used sedan thanks to its wide range of configurations combined with striking styling.
2006 - 2007 Volkswagen Passat
The Volkswagen Passat has done well for itself by offering very similar levels of performance and equipment when compared to its Audi sedan cousins without approaching the same price point as these more well-appointed stable mates. In 2006 the Passat was given a brand new platform upon which to continue its quiet assault on the mid-size sedan market.
The 2006 - 2007 Volkswagen Passat benefits from the same updated engines which have permeated the VW lineup. Entry-level cars are powered by a 2.0-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder which puts out 200 horsepower, while a 280 horsepower 3.2-liter V-6 can be had on top of the line models. The turbo is equipped with either a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission, while the V-6 can be had only in automatic trim. The larger-engined car also has the option of all-wheel drive, an excellent feature for those who live in northern climates and a rarity on mid-size vehicles from Japanese automakers.
The Passat is a very comfortable vehicle to drive, providing great insulation from road noise and a fairly well connected feel through the steering wheel. The list of features that come with each version of the sedan is long, and includes power windows and door locks, an electronic parking brake and anti-lock brakes. Options such as a sunroof, CD changer and leather seats help to add an extra degree of charm and cushiness to the passenger compartment. Two separate luxury packages can add a number of electronic gizmos such as rain-sensing windshield wipers and xenon headlights. The 2006 - 2007 Volkswagen Passat feels large from the inside, with plenty of room in the front and the back, but once behind the wheel it never seems ponderous despite its size.
In terms of value, the 2006 - 2007 Volkswagen Passat holds its own as a used sedan. Especially considering the fact that it can be had with both a powerful V-6 and all-wheel drive, the Passat is worthy of consideration for those who traditionally have only shopped the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry.
2004 - 2006 Volkswagen Phaeton
There is a strong chance that most people shopping for a used sedan have never even heard of this car. It represents possibly the biggest faux pas made by the German car company in the past decade, a marketing disaster which transformed an extremely well-made car into the black sheep of the Volkswagen family. What this means for used sedan buyers is that the Phaeton, a hand-built vehicle of decadent luxury, is available at rock bottom prices as a secondhand car.
The 2004 - 2006 Volkswagen Phaeton is built on the same platform used by Bentley to produce their ultra-luxury sedans, giving the vehicle a commanding length and width. There are two engine choices, a 4.2-liter V-8 which is rated at 335 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque, and an unusual 6.0-liter 12-cylinder engine which uses Volkswagen's 'W' engine configuration to produce 420 horsepower (444 horsepower in 2006) and 406 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed automatic channels this prodigious power to all four wheels through VW's 4Motion all-wheel drive system, ensuring that Phaeton drivers - or their chauffeurs - are never without adequate traction.
The Phaeton's passenger compartment is an exercise in pure luxury. The vehicle can be ordered with either 4 bucket seats or a standard rear bench, and the car's vents are actually hidden behind wood trim until they are needed, when they emerge to bask driver and passenger in four different climate controlled zones of comfort. Seats are both heated and cooled, and the rear seats even feature a massage option. Navigation is of course standard, as are any number of other high end features commonly found in the most expensive of vehicles.
The 2004 - 2006 Volkswagen Phaeton may have been a controversial vehicle that was ahead of its time in terms of customer acceptance, but as a used sedan it makes a very attractive choice for those who are less concerned by what badge their vehicle is wearing and more interested in the power and comfort that it can provide them.