Ten Point Test

Auto Trader Ten Point Test rating: 81%

Most new models make perfect business sense, but the R36 is one car which seems to have been designed without the numbers adding up – it’s Volkswagen having fun.

Powered by a 3.6-litre V6 with 300bhp it’s the fastest accelerating VW production car ever, and it’s available as an estate.

Chances are not many R36 will be sold, but those owners who do slip into its bucket seats will undoubtedly be pleased they did.

1. Looks 8/10

There is something very cool about an understated car fitted with a subtly blistered body kit, big wheels and twin tailpipes. Only aficionadas will notice these changes and the big brakes and R36 badges and recognise it as no ordinary family car. In our eyes the estate is the best looking, partly because of its balanced lines and partly because it’s even harder to spot its firepower.

2. Looks inside 9/10

The interior of the standard Passat is smartly laid out, but slightly dull, so the added character of the R36’s extra trim makes it hard to fault. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is chunky and good looking and the ambience is lifted by aluminium dashboard inserts, kickplates and racing pedals. The dials are backlit blue with white needles and racing front seats clamp occupants in place.

3. Practicality 9/10

It’s hard to think of many cars as sporting as the R36 which perform as impressively outside Homebase as they do at the drag strip. The Audi RS6 Avant has a similar philosophy, but it’s far dearer.

So, for the practical driver in a hurry, there is a colossal 513-litres of boot space, which can be stretched to more than 1,600 litres by folding the rear seats.

It’s worth noting the front bucket seats are firm and we found them less suited to long-distance cruising than country driving, where they come into their own.

4. Ride and Handling 8/10

The Passat R36 straddles several motoring camps, and for this reason it can be thought of in two ways. Think of it as a Passat with brilliant handling and huge grip and you will be very impressed.

But compare it with a model designed from the outset to be a sports car and it’s less convincing. The stability, security and extra grip of the new suspension and four-wheel drive can’t fully disguise the tendency of the R36 to understeer when pushed hard. It’s a very quick car across country, but it’s not a fully involving one.

5. Performance 8/10

The 3.6-litre V6 pushes out 300bhp and accelerates the Passat saloon from 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds, with the estate taking 5.8 seconds. This makes it the fastest-accelerating production Volkswagen so far, and one of the quickest cars available in this price bracket.

It’s an effortlessly smooth engine which picks the car up from low revs, producing a cultured acceleration roar which sings around the cabin. A tuned version of the excellent DSG semi-automatic gearbox comes fitted as standard and changes gear in 100 milliseconds – so fast the acceleration is almost seamless.

View our Volkswagen Passat R36 slide show

6. Running Costs 6/10

For a humble Passat the R36 has quite eye-watering running costs, chomping through fuel at a combined rate of 26.9mpg and emitting 249g/km of carbon dioxide while sitting in insurance group 18. But, think of it as something more exotic like a junior Audi RS4 or even baby RS6 and its £30k asking price makes it seem more like good value for money.

7. Reliability 8/10

The standard Passat is an exceptionally well-built car with few mechanical gremlins and the R36 should be no different. DSG is proving reliable, and the engine is a development of the venerable 3.2-litre V6 seen in the Golf R32.

8. Safety 9/10

It could be argued the R36 is even safer than the five-star EuroNCAP standard Passat, thanks to its bigger brakes, improved handling and extra power for safe overtaking. It has six airbags, ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution, ESP and traction control.

9. Equipment 8/10

The flagship R36 is no stripped-out racer, with an opulent level of kit including Xenon headlights, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, tyre pressure sensors, automatic lights and wipers, leather multi-function steering wheel, aluminium trim and an electrically-adjustable front seat and door mirrors.

10. X-Factor 8/10

While the Volkswagen Passat might be a car for Joe Bloggs, the R36 is anything but. It’s something of a rarity which will delight spec-sheet junkies for years to come and attract buyers of cars which look respectable but have a trick or two hidden up their sleeve.

Key facts

Model tested: Volkswagen Passat R36 Estate
On the road price: £32,990
Date tested: May 2009
Road tester: Andy Goodwin