Automobiles are my hobby, so what I spend quite a bit of time researching a vehicle before I decide to buy or lease. This time around I am leasing, and I just decided to wed a 2000 Passat GLX for 4 years. In the running were the Nissan Maxima SE, Infiniti I30t, 2001 Lexus IS300, Acura 3.2TL, Audi A4 Quattro, Chrysler 300M, and several sport utility vehicles.
My previous vehicle was a 1997 Nissan Maxima SE, which was virtually trouble free for 3 years and 29,000 miles. Not one service call was required outside of routine maintenance, and a check engine light that required (under warranty) the replacement of an oxygen sensor.
When the chips were down, the Japanese brands were reliable (the Lexus stirred passion), the Audi was just too small, the Chrysler felt too big(lethargic handling?), the sport utility vehicles faded fast as gas prices hit $2.50/gallon here in Chicago, and I settled on the Passat.
Attention to detail ... every detail is what put Audi and VW out in front. With the Audi being too small, the Passat decision was clear. Quality plastics that do not look like plastic, real walnut trim, blue and red cockpit lighting throughout, scissor-type hinges and struts for the trunk (even the new Lexus uses the old style hinge that eats up trunk space), a strut-supported hood (Lexus falls short here, too, using a prop rod to hold up the hood), and great suspension that is soft over bumps, but capable in the corners. The Maxima and Infiniti still use an economy beam-axle rear suspension that falls short in both areas.
The drivetrain in my Passat is superb. I've got the V6 with the short-throw 5 speed manual. While the wood shift knob leans more towards luxury, everything else about this package is a ball to drive. The V6 is not quite up to Nissan's VQ V6 (there is none better), but it is smooth, and has a superior manual transmission and clutch. And there is NO annoying torque steer ... impossible to find with ANY front drive car outside of the VW-Audi line up. Traction control on a manual? The Passat has it! The Nissan Maxima does not offer it.
"Just plain neat" features include the side mirrors that fold in toward the car at the touch of a switch (for washes and tight parking spaces), the one touch down (and up) front windows, the dial up sunroof controls, rain-sensing wipers, those blue dash lights, the Swiss Army knife key arrangement, a telescopic/tilt steering wheel, and the actual full-sized aluminum alloy spare tire in the trunk well (which you discover once you dig beneath the exceptionally well-finished trunk).
Space wise, this car is sufficient. Sufficient for my 6'+ frame, sufficient to put 3 adults in the back for short hops, and more than sufficient in the trunk.
The car has had its problems. More, quite frankly, than I would like to admit for a 5 day "new" car. The front turn signal light was apparently faulty and collected water, which shorted out the left side marker and tail light. The dealer replaced this to my satisfaction after 2 visits in 1 day. I also have not gotten the memory seat feature to work yet, but cringe at bringing the car in just for this (perhaps combined with the first oil change). The basic bumper-to-bumper warranty of 24 months/24,000 miles is "light" in comparison to others ... but the powertrain and corrosion warrantees are exceptional.
Now, the best testimonials often come from the mouths of babes. My friend's son, whose dad drives a well-equipped Lexus GS300, sat in the back seat of the Passat and claimed that THIS car is the nicest car he's ever been in. And he has sat in the back seats of some fine vehicles (the Lexus and Audi A6, to name two). Score a big victory for VW ... particularly at a list price of just over $28,000 ... at least $10,000 less than the comparison vehicles just named.
If you have need to transport yourself in comfort and style, and occasionally up to 4 of your friends, I can't recommend a better value, or quite frankly, a classier, higher quality, more fun to drive car for your purchase price.