Cars used to be simple things. Some were big, some were fast, some were cheap. It was easy. You buy a big Mercedes, or a fast Ferrari or a cheap something else.
But consumers get more demanding and competition gets stiffer. So we now ask for space, luxury, speed, safety and looks all in an affordable package.
Sometimes, it all works out. Ever since Volkswagen started doing business properly in Malaysia this century, the Golf GTI has become a benchmark. Its dimensions and simple lines are handsome and understated, it goes straight and around bends in a manner that astounds for a hatchback that offers comfortable seating for five. And it all came for around RM200k, a lot less than much slower European cars.
Other times, you end up with the Passat “Comfort Coupe” R-Line. It’s more beautiful than the Golf with a seductive boot lip and direct-from-the-sketchbook lines, it’s faster even than the Golf R, doing the century sprint in 5.6s, a tenth of a second quicker, and is, well, bigger.
However, it costs nearly twice as much at RM373,888. And has only four seats. And empties your fuel tank as if it came with a hole.
Not that this makes it a bad car. Heavens, no. It was enjoyable to drive, nice to look at and very comfortable to sit in. Continue reading after the break for our take on the V6-powered Passat CC R-Line.
If the Golf GTI is for the sensible family guy who still wants the option of making quick progress, then the CC R-line is for the guy who wants to make even quicker progress and is rich enough to consider a stylish status car. But not so rich he will go all out for a premium brand and he also doesn’t have a family of five or more. I don’t know how many people that amounts to.
Volkswagen UK has suggested it will sell only 100 V6 CCs in a year. In Malaysia, the car may actually do better relative to the total industry volume. For reasons stated above, it has merits which may convince you to plumb for it over a Golf. And because it’s smaller and cheaper than other German four-door coupes (or, if you want to be technical, a four-door sedan with a sloping roof), it will draw the eye of someone who doesn’t want to spend upwards of RM700,000 on a car.
The BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe and Mercedes CLS both cost twice as much as the CC R and in fact, the VW costs about the same as BMW’s two-door 325i coupe, which is about the same size but only beats the entry-level CC for pace.
But this is the R-line with the 3.6-litre V6, and not the entry-level variant with an engine half the size. The 300 PS six-shooter is an endlessly pleasing animal to prod, with peak torque of 350 Nm arriving at 2,400 rpm, decent for a naturally-aspirated plant.
The Adaptive Chassis Control offers a pliant ride in Comfort but in Sport, well, handling improves, but not so much as to actually compensate for the loss in composure when going over the stuff that passes off as ‘road’ in parts of the Klang Valley.
All that tinkering is a bit moot, though. The problem is that the car feels big and lumbering. Even though it is pleasingly, both in terms of looks and drivability – 55 mm closer to the ground than the standard Passat, the car doesn’t quite shrink around you when you drop the six-speed DSG to S.
The throttle response becomes sharper, but you’re all too aware of the car’s size, turning the car into a jagged sabre instead of a flying epee. Of course, the VW Rs are not as engineered as BMW’s Ms, but it was still disappointing to drive the top of the line model but still have to curb your enthusiasm.
Still, in every sense except the lack of a fifth seat, the CC is an improvement on the regular Passat, kudos to Volkswagen on that. This range-topper also comes with all-wheel-drive, panoramic tilting glass roof and keyless entry/start (a must-have in these days of ‘perceived’ crime) on top of standard features which include the very useful auto-hold funtion so you don’t have to keep your foot on the brakes at stops.
But unless you really need four-wheel drive, and really need the, admittedly, very fast and very thirsty V6 (which gave less than 500 km from a 70-litre tank), then the 1.8 turbo is more than adequate and comes at a more attainable RM225,888.
The R-line on the other hand, well, is faster, but not as fast as the Merc or BMW four-door coupes. Smaller and more affordable though but not as practical as the Golf. The only bit it might be the outright winner in is looks, but even that’s subjective.
This is, in isolation, a very good car. It’s just that VW makes other very good cars which meet a certain market segment and given recent pricing revamps, at better value (for example, the regular Passat comes at RM170,888 now).
These criticisms though, might all be a bit unfair. We’ve come to place very high standards for VW to make cars that make sense while ignoring some completely rubbish ideas from others. Post-Scirocco, VW’s actively telling drivers now that it can be as stylish as it has been functional all this while.
Given that the VW group includes the even more stylish Audi stable, we’re pretty much going into saturation here. The CC’s presence in Malaysia, especially the R-line, is pretty much an indicator that the automotive market has come to a point where choices are as much emotional as practical (gone are the days of only buying Toyotas and Mercs because of resale value).
So while cars are no longer simple things, the buyer’s choice still is. If you like it, buy it. With the CC R, this holds true, especially if you have the ability to ignore what the guy next door is driving.