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by Steve Siler

Volkswagen Passat
2003 Volkswagen Passat

The gorgeous Volkswagen Passat has always been one of our favorite mid-size sedans. Sure, with a price range that starts just under $22K and stretches way up to near forty large, the Passat is one of the more expensive offerings in this set. But as they say, you get what you pay for, and accordingly, the Passat is worth the dough.

First of all, its son-of-Audi styling is spot-on. Not only that, but that classy sheet metal encloses a heckuvalot of interior space; you can actually fit three people in back in reasonable comfort! Said interior is just as nice to behold at as the exterior, with higher trim levels (GLX and W8) featuring real wood, leather upholstery and keeping you cozy with climate control. The base GLS is extremely well equipped right out of the box, with plush fabric, power everything, keyless entry and side and curtain air bags.

There are three engines to choose from, a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (170 hp), a 2.8-liter V-6 (190 hp) and a blazing new 4.0-liter W-8 (270 hp), the latter fanning its cylinders out like a W, instead of arranging them in a line (a.k.a. "inline") or a "V." Both of the smaller engines are come with front-wheel drive standard, and are available with manual or manu-matic transmissions; the V-6 can be ordered with all-wheel-drive (4Motion), which the W-8 gets standard.

Now also worth noting is that the Passat is available in a classy and versatile wagon bodystyle, which is configurable in just as many engine, transmission and drivetrain combinations as the sedan. In fact, a Passat wagon with the W-8 engine, is the only eight-cylinder wagon you can get with a manual transmission -- in this case a six-speed manual (the stick should be hitting dealerships as you read this). You can even slap on a Passat sport package, which comes with 17-inch wheels and tighter suspension. Sure, it's $40K. But it saves you from having to buy a sports car for Sunday thrills.