One morning, you wake up, and realise you are one suction cup short of a "Baby on Board" sign. It hits you. Perspectives must shift. Unfortunately, when my wife fell pregnant, there was no magic switch that flicked off my innate love of fast, great handling, sports cars. This lead a colossal conundrum; what car to buy now! Is it Tarago-time?
Enter Volkswagen's Passat R36 wagon.
From the outside the R36 has a premium athletic presence, without resorting to garish wings and blank vents that some of the opposition flaunt. It's an inconspicuous ride, never making you feel as if you are in a car you should perhaps have outgrown years ago. The wagon is beautifully proportioned and doesn't seem to suffer from the sometimes-awkward appearance of its sedan stablemate.
Boot space is comparable to the Holden Commodore station wagon; a full class size above - though folding the rear seats down does involve some uncomfortable manoeuvring from the back seat. Rear seat legroom belies the medium car underpinnings, with plenty of room for medium sized adults.
In a car like this, the driver's seat is as important as any other feature. And with the aggressively styled 12 way adjustable front seats, it manages to walk the fine line between comfort and its sporting aspirations. My wife was less of a fan of the Alcantara inserts, as they tend to show up the unavoidable stains that accompany child transportation, but the sporty overtones had me at hello.
Few would complain about the view from the front seat. The brushed aluminium sections in the dash, easy to use and feature filled infotainment unit, combined with great vision all round, makes this a classy and enjoyable place to sample the roads. Parking sensors, audible warning and proximity display in the dash, along with large side mirrors, make parking a breeze.
There are personal storage options aplenty, from hideaway coin/receipts/speeding ticket? slots, adjustable cup holders, ample glove box and centre console options and even an umbrella holder in the door; handy when an sudden downpour catches you unaware.
Although the DSG has had a chequered history, this version of Volkswagen's dual clutch transmission was refined for the R36 and proves to be one of the most reliable in the business. Shifts are as quick as need be in manual and sports modes and smooth enough to be forgotten about in automatic mode. I did find the launch control function a little gimmicky. The delay between releasing the brake pedal and actual launch is significant enough to make it redundant at the traffic light showdown. That said, 0-100kph in a repeatable 5.8 seconds for the wagon, is sure to put a smile on your dial. Only try this on the way to shopping, rather than on you way home.
Sitting 25mm lower than the Passat wagon, most of the understeer and vagueness from the standard range is dialed out and the fun-factor turned up. On extremely bumpy roads the firmness is obvious, but in general, it's a worthwhile compromise.
The esteemed VR6 configuration 3.6 litre engine delivers 220kw of grin-inducing, linear and responsive power. You can always ride the torque curve, both around town and on the highway, making lane swapping and overtaking effortless. Don't expect great economy figures though, after all this is the performance option of the range. I also found myself eating into my mileage figures, just to hear the beautiful burble, from the twin exhaust under full throttle. If you are solely looking for economy, go for the diesel option.
Volkswagen's 4Motion all wheel drive system adds to the sure footedness and safety of the vehicle. Self-leveling, adaptive cornering, and bi-xenon headlights, make driving in precarious low light, winter, dusk and night-time situations much less of a hassle. And with eight airbags and a Five-Star Euro NCAP rating, you'll be keeping your family safe, a major positive when considering a purchase like this.
Surprisingly servicing is no cause for concern compared to similar European cars, although you will pay a little ‘R' tax over the base models in terms of consumables like rotors/pads and premium sports tyres etc. The DSG does require additional servicing every 60,000kms adding approximately $500 to the bill.
This car is for the family man/woman that needs the practicality and safety of a quality European vehicle with that bit extra to satisfy the car lover within.
Maybe this whole perspective-shiftin' business isn't so bad after all.