VW Passat R36 Review

DSC_6246-small This isn’t really a review, but having owned my VW Passat R36 for over 6 months now, I just fancied jotting down some of the pros and cons I have experienced. The R36 certainly isn’t perfect my any means and there are a few niggles that I find really annoying, mainly to do with the use of electronics just for the sake of it. But first lets cover the good points:

Pros:

  • Power! Or as Jeremy Clarkson would say “Powwwwwwwwwwwwweeeerrrrrrrrrrrrr!” The 3.6L V6 delivers around 300bhp and provides plenty of grunt provided you are in the right gear (see cons below). There’s a set of traffic lights I get stuck at on the way home from work where it’s possible to do a “drag start” and I have never been beaten there yet! 🙂
  • Styling – it looks like a street sleeper and the styling is very subtle.
  • Practicality – I bought the estate version and it’s great on trips to B&Q when I can just throw all the stuff I have bought in the back. I recently bought some 2.5m lengths of PVC window trim that fitted inside great, something I would have found impossible with my GTO, 350Z or even my BMW 5-series saloon.
  • SatNav/music system – this is great, my car is fitted with the RNS510 head-unit and contains a hard disk that you can copy all your MP3’s too. The SatNav is great apart from the pronunciation of some place names which is not very clear and can be hard to understand. The Bluetooth kit is well worth getting but VW won’t retro fit the factory unit so I had to go to a specialist in Leicester to get this done. Also it’s quite fussy which phones it works with, my Sony Ericsson wouldn’t work so changed to Nokia in the end (you need a phone that supports Remote SIM Mode).
  • DSG gearbox is incredibly smooth and quick changing, but there are caveats, see below.

Now for the rant!

Cons:

  • The ridiculous electronic parking brake has to be my biggest bugbear. This is a button on the dash on the right hand side of the steering wheel. When you want to park you are supposed to press this button (with a finger on your right hand) instead of pulling on a traditional handbrake with your left hand. What is wrong with a good old fashioned handbrake, it gives you so much more control when parallel parking on a hill? As the R36 comes with a DSG (i.e. auto) gearbox, when you want to do a hill start, or parallel park on a hill, it can be difficult to stop the car rolling forward or backwards because you can’t apply/release pressure via the parking brake as you can with a traditional handbrake. Really, I think what you need to do is use left-foot braking, so you stop the car rolling by using your left foot on the foot brake, but this requires a complete change of driving style if, like me, you have a background of driving manual cars are so are used to using your right foot to brake. Why should I have to re-learn how to drive just because VW decide they don’t want to have a manual handbrake? This is probably the most annoying aspect of the car.
  • Auto-hold – this is another button you can press to get around the problem of the car rolling when you take off the parking brake and are on a hill. What it does is automatically apply the foot brake when the car is stationary (without you having to press the brake). So if you ARE trying to do a hill start, or trying to park on a gradient, turning auto-hold on will stop the car rolling. But the thing is you have to remember to turn it on! So basically it’s another button you have to press. And there is no option in the setup menu on the multi-function display to get this option to automatically be on by default when the ignition is started. So if you turn it on to park on a hill, when you come back to the car and want to leave, you have to press it again when you start the ignition because it will have forgotten you turned it on. What would be better in fact is if it remembered what state it was in last time the ignition was turned off. I can just see people have prangs when people have parked on a gradient in a street and the car rolls forward when they take the parking brake off. Sigh. Just give us a manual parking brake and that’s two buttons that can be removed!
  • Door mirror demist control – I actually didn’t think the car had heated door mirrors at one point, I put on the rear window demist but the door mirrors didn’t demist. With every other car I have had that had heated door mirrors, they would come on when you activated the rear window demister, but not on the Passat. They are controlled independently, but you try and find the control that turns them on! I actually found it by accident, on the drivers door, in front of the window controls, is a multi-axis joystick that can be used to adjust the door mirrors. If you twist it clockwise, the door mirrors will fold, which is a great feature that I had on the GTO. But I found that if you twist it anti-clockwise it will turn on the heating elements in the door mirrors. But here’s another niggle, when you twist it, it clicks into position and locks, so effectively the heated mirrors are on permanently until you remember to turn them off by twisting the knob clockwise again until it returns to it’s neutral position. Why do they have to make this so bloody complicated! I only want them on for 10 minutes in the morning, but I have to remember to turn them off. I suppose I could just leave them on all the time, but normally they are hooked into the rear window demister and will switch off automatically when the rear window demister switches off. Why why why? Grrrrrr!
  • DSG Gearbox – This is very smooth and pretty darn impressive, BUT it always seems to be in the wrong bloody gear! I understand that when in “Drive” mode “D”, the gearbox chooses a ratio that maximises fuel efficiency, but this means it always seems to drive around in 6th, even if you are only doing 30mph! So there I am on one of Basingstoke’s many roundabouts, coming up to the exit I want to take but the box is in 6th gear, if I squeeze the throttle gently it will stay in 6th and the revs will very slowly rise, but not quite quick enough for me, leading to a lack of power. To get the box to change down a gear (or is it up? I always get confused when talking about gear ratios!), you have to push down quite hard, but then you get a delay while the box down-shifts 2 gears and suddenly get too much power. You could drop a cog beforehand in preparation for the exit by using the flappy paddles, but this is yet some other action that has to be taken. Why can’t the box choose 4th or 5th, or whatever is appropriate for the revs/speed at that moment? There is a “Sport” mode, but selecting that makes the box far too rev happy for normal purposes, and I only use that when I want a bit of fun. In Sport mode the box will rev right up to the red line before changing, and quite often I don’t want to rev the nuts off the engine. Go around a roundabout in Sport mode and the box will be in 2nd gear revving it’s nuts off, which is completely inappropriate. So I quite often have to go back to driving with some manual inputs into the box via the flappy paddles. Really what I need is an intermediate mode between “D” and “S”. Maybe what they should do is rename “D” to “E” for Economy and then have a “D” mode that actually does choose the correct gear rather than just trying to shove it in 6th all the time. It would be great if you could customise the gearbox shift points via the setup menu, but there doesn’t seem to be an option for this (unless there is a hidden menu somewhere).
  • Flappy paddles – these are attached to the steering wheel, so rotate as the wheel is turned. This means if you want to change gear in a hurry, you can’t always reach the paddles as they won’t be at the 9am/3pm positions but some other random place. I believe they should be fixed so you always know where they are (although then you might argue that you have to take one hand off the wheel to change gear – hmmm).
  • Auto door lock – once you do more than about 5mph, all the doors automatically lock, like you are in a London taxi cab. This isn’t so bad if you are driving around a city and should help stop being car-jacked, but where I live this isn’t really a problem, and it’s an annoyance when you pull up at someone’s house to pick them up and they can’t open the door to get in. You have to remember to press another bloody button on the drivers door to unlock all the doors. (Fortunately, since I wrote this review I have found the option in the convenience menu that lets you disable this).
  • Headlight on/off indicator – I have the headlights on auto control most of the time, so they come on automatically, and sometimes they come on during the day when it’s very overcast, but sometimes you can’t actually tell if they are on or not as there is no headlight indicator within the instrument cluster. I just totally do not understand this. There are indicators that light when you turn the fog lights on and also when on main beam, but not when the headlights are on in dipped mode. Really odd. On the headlight switch, when in auto mode, there is a headlight icon actually on the switch which is lit green when the lights are NOT on, and goes out when the headlights are on, but it is difficult to see in the daylight and is not within the natural line of sight as the switch lies outside the instrument cluster. I quite like knowing when the lights are on or not so I can make a judgement about whether they need to be manually switched on, for instance if it’s raining. The instrument panel lights also come on when the headlights come on, but during the day it can also be hard to see if they have come on. I find this very annoying.
  • Odometer disappears when not stationary – When you do more than a couple mph, the total mileage display on the odometer disappears and is replaced by a digital readout showing the speed in km/h. When you stop the display reverts back to total mileage. I quite like having an odometer to look at but it’s infuriating when it disappears. I don’t really care what speed I am doing in km/h and would prefer to switch this “feature” off, but there doesn’t seem to be any way in the setup menu. Why do the designers keep deciding what features I would like and not giving me a choice to switch them off? Grrrrr!

This may seem like a bit of a rant, but basically these are things that I find really annoying. It feels like they have tried to redesign or improve certain features/aspects of the car that didn’t need improving or redesigning in the first place, and have subsequently made things worse or more onerous. It’s like they have tried to use technology for the sake of it rather than making things easier or smoother. It just seems that you have to press more buttons or put more thought into what you are trying to do. There are probably other things I don’t like, but I’ll add these as I think of them.

I hope this is useful for other potential Passat or R36 buyers, maybe you can print this off and take it to your VW dealer when you are thinking about buying one and seeing what they say (they probably won’t care though!).

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10 Responses to VW Passat R36 Review

  1. JOSH BYRD says:

    You can hold in the 0.0 i believe to turn off the km/h and have the odometer on all the time, it’s in your manual, just like the auto lock on doors. If you read your book you might not have so many nags and complaints.

    • There’s nothing in the manual about holding 0.0 in to turn the odometer on all the time. Surely if I did that it would reset my trip counter back to zero – can you point me to the page in the manual where it does what you suggest?

  2. Jake says:

    Interesting commentary … to date…but you made no mention of the most common niggle: the firm ride. Is it as firm as they say?

    • Good point, It does have a firm ride but I am used to that as all the cars I have owned over the past 10 years have been quite sporty and have had firm rides. Whether it’s too firm I couldn’t really say, but I regularly drive for 4 hours non-stop on motorways and don’t find it too firm, however I am probably just used to it. It’s great on twisty country roads though. I still have the car though and still find the gearbox ratios the most annoying aspect of it but haven’t found anything else that matches performance and practicality at a reasonable price. I’ve been looking at the Audi Q7 and VW Touareg but the fuel consumption is pretty bad even for a diesel, now looking at something like a BMW 535 but will probably hang on to the R36 for a little while longer. It’s great having something that is quite a rare sight on the road.

      • Andy Clark says:

        I have been looking to replace my MK5 Golf R32 with something that has more Boot Space and the R36 Estate seem the natural choice in terms of Size and Performance.

        Thank you for such an informative unbiased review!

        The difficulty now is finding one!!!

  3. Geoff Wake says:

    Well done on the commentary. Writers who take these cars out for a day and then make their assessments in magazine articles can’t make these sorts of comments which represent the real world experiences of ownership. I find this very useful as I am looking at buying an R36.
    What is it with electronics and ridiculous features that clearly no one has thought through properly? I also find them infuriating and my Mercedes shares a few that your VW.

  4. Peter says:

    Good write up. I bought the R36 two months ago and love it. The ride is firm but very firm also on cornering which makes it worth while. Performance is outstanding. My only gripe would be that the inbuilt bluetooth phone does not hold service well, and above 120km there is high wind noise from the doors, but the stereo is excellent and does kill all wind noise unless you have passengers.

  5. I’m thinking about selling my R36 so if anyone is interested, please let me know here and I’ll get in touch with you.

  6. sean says:

    Interesting. I’m weighing up a 3 year old R36 versus a new Skoda Superb with the same engine for similar money. The Skoda doesn’t look as good but it’s a better drive in my opinion, & has a normal handbreak!

  7. Davo says:

    Pleeeeeeze people, the cars brakes are spelt “brake”, you don’t need to stop for a ‘break’ to realise this.

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