The Good: The 2006 Volkswagen Passat offers a solid GPS navigation system and an excellent Dynaudio sound system. The available V-6 engine with direct fuel injection offers impressive power and, mated to the six-speed automatic, gives the car a sound LEV-II emissions rating. The Bad: Cell phone integration isn't even an option on the 2006 Volkswagen Passat, and it won't play MP3 CDs in its changer or offer a place to plug in an MP3 player. When optioned out, the V-6 model gets pretty pricey for a Volkswagen. The Bottom Line: The 2006 Volkswagen Passat hits pretty well in a number of tech departments, with an innovative power train, safety equipment that includes active headlights, and a very nice sound system. But the car just won't play with the gadgets in your life. 2006 Volkswagen PassatThe 2006 Volkswagen Passat is a substantial update on the previous year's model. It is slightly larger and shares a platform with the Jetta, as opposed to the Audi A4 and its 2005 model. The new platform allows for transverse engine mounting, which the Passat takes advantage of. Our test car came with Volkswagen's newest ultracompact narrow-angle VR6 engine, with a 3.6-liter displacement and 280 horsepower. The base-model four-cylinder is the 2.0-liter, 200-horsepower turbo. In turbo, four-cylinder Value Edition trim, the 2006 Volkswagen Passat is aimed at the middle of the midsize sedan market, offering distinction and an engaging driving experience along with a more sophisticated design as its competitive edge. The V-6-equipped version, with its 280 horsepower and upscale option packages, takes a stab at the midluxury segment. Although an impressive sound system and GPS navigation can be had as options, the Passat doesn't include any cell phone integration or accommodation for MP3 players.Our test car had the V-6 and a six-speed Tiptronic automatic, the only transmission choice, and is available for a base price of $29,950. But add the $5,550 Package #2 Sport with leather power sports seats; a leather-wrapped sport steering wheel with shift paddles and multifunction controls; rain-sensing wipers; heated front seats; dual-zone automatic climate control; bi-Xenon headlights with the Adaptive Front Lighting System; the Dynaudio audio system; park distance control; another $1,800 for the DVD satellite navigation system and glove-box-mounted six-CD changer; and the $615 destination charge, and that's $37,915 worth of Passat. That's a lot for a Volkswagen--but a lot of Volkswagen and still considerably less than the equivalent German luxury-brand luxury car. Although some road noise enters the cabin, the new 2006 Volkswagen Passat's sleek aerodynamic lines contribute to its interior quiet by reducing wind noise. The car has grown in all dimensions since the 2005 model but more in length and width than height, so it has longer, leaner proportions suggestive of Volkswagen's ultrapremium Phaeton. The front end features a new chrome accent undercutting the grille, which looks somewhat like a goatee. The 2006 Volkswagen Passat comes with a collapsible umbrella stored in the driver's door. Perhaps it's gimmicky, but it's undeniably useful. The new Passat dashboard uses a floating design, a clever illusion produced by a distinct separation and color change between the top and the bottom. Instead of a traditional key, the electronic fob, which incorporates the remote-lock, remote-unlock, and trunk-release functions, goes into a receptacle in the dash. The car is started by pushing the fob in and holding it, and it's turned off the same way. The instruments, featuring blue and red lighting for night visibility, are easy to read. As an unexpected convenience, both the console box and the glove box are large and air conditioned. As in many luxury cars, the parking brake is actuated remotely from a button on the dash.We like the bright LCD and the simple navigation system for the various car functions.High-quality power-adjustable sport seats are part of the inclusive Sport Package #2 with which our test car was equipped, and the rear bench has noticeably more legroom than in earlier Passats. Cavernous is an appropriate description of the trunk.The 2006 Volkswagen Passat's navigation system, with its bright LCD, gets high marks for visibility. Destination entry is by direct alphanumeric entry or by a location on the map, and it is possible to get directions to various secondary destinations near the primary destination. Well-marked context-sensitive keys next to the screen facilitate its use. When a destination is chosen, directions are read through the audio system and displayed not only via a highlighted route on the map but also on the Volkswagen Information System (VIS) trip-computer screen between the tach and the speedometer, directly in front of the driver. The VIS, controlled from buttons on the right steering-wheel spoke, controls and displays information on fuel economy, distance, compass data, and vehicle-convenience settings. When nav-system route guidance is in effect, the regular VIS functions are unavailable.The Passat's fob doesn't use a key. Instead, pushing the fob into a hole in the dash starts the car.With the 2006 Volkswagen Passat's navigation system installed, the optional CD changer is used for audio entertainment. It too is controlled simply and logically by the context-sensitive buttons to the side of the screen. We had no problem playing standard CDs or CD-Rs, but, unlike the standard CD player, it wouldn't play MP3 CDs. The sound quality from the optional 600-watt, 10-speaker Dynaudio system is very good. Satellite radio, either XM or Sirius, is standard in V-6 Passats but was lacking from our early-production example.The 2006 Volkswagen Passat has not only gone upscale in styling and appointment but also has advanced considerably in the chassis and engine departments--not that the previous generation was deficient. Lighter materials and improved design efficiency result in reduced weight and improved strength, rigidity, and crashworthiness for the unibody structure in comparison with the old Passat. The suspension has also been upgraded, with MacPherson struts in front and the old rear torsion-beam axle replaced by an independent four-link setup. Although similar in design to the 2006 Volkswagen Jetta's suspension, the Passat's uses more aluminum for reduced unsprung weight and improved response. It also isolates the occupants from road shocks to a higher degree, appropriate to its more upscale position. Handling is very good on the 2006 Volkswagen Passat, aided by the electromechanically assisted steering, which dispenses hydraulic fluid and sets the car up for inclusion of active steering and lane-departure systems in the future. The steering has a light touch at parking speeds, with more effort appropriately at higher velocities. On the whole, the Passat is far more fun to drive than many of the competitive midsize sedans and gives the luxury marques competition.Paddles on the steering wheel let you choose gears for the six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission.Volkswagen's VR6 has always been an interesting engine from a technical standpoint, with compact packaging from a narrow 15-degree angle, and the new version improves upon the old in all ways. It's even narrower, with a 10.6-degree angle, and it uses a single cylinder head and a set of chain-driven camshafts to actuate four valves for each cylinder. FSI direct fuel injection, variable-intake and exhaust-valve timing, and a variable-length intake manifold contribute to both high power and low emissions. With 280 horsepower at 6,200rpm and 265 pound-feet of torque at a low 2,750rpm, it bests the old Passat's V-6 engine by 90 horsepower and 58 pound-feet--and it even beats Volkswagen's 4.0-liter W8 by 10 horsepower. It's rated LEV-II by CARB.There is only one transmission choice for the V-6, a six-speed automatic with both sophisticated electronic and Tiptronic manual shift control. The six-gear ratios allow good acceleration and economical highway cruising, and the engine's great torque often makes gear choice a moot point. It shines in highway driving and is even pretty good in the drive gear on winding roads, although manual shifting does bring out the engine's best there. At times, it seems a little balky at slow speeds in traffic, when manual shifting and staying in second or third gear can bring better response. As might be expected, the 2006 Volkswagen Passat with the V-6 engine is capable of seriously quick acceleration. Its 6.6-second 0-to-60 time puts it in some exclusive company, and a good front-suspension design keeps torque steer at bay while it does so. With its refinement and performance, think of the Passat not as a larger Jetta but as a smaller and more affordable Phaeton. EPA mileage ratings are mixed, with a decent 28mpg on the highway but only 19mpg in the city.The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety puts the 2006 Volkswagen Passat in its top 10 cars for safety. In addition to its structural integrity, the car offers standard front, front-thorax, and full-length side curtain head-protection air bags, with rear seat-thorax air bags optional. All occupants have three-point safety belts and adjustable headrests; the front headrests are active for additional protection. There are seven crash sensors: three internally in the air-bag control unit, two in the front doors, and two in the lower C-pillars. Active safety starts with good handling and steering response, aided by strong four-wheel antilock disc brakes and the Engine Braking Assist system. The electronic stabilization program is standard, as are traction control and electronic differential locking.Another option fitted to our test car was bi-Xenon headlights with the Adaptive Front Lighting System (AFS). We found it very useful at night, as not only do the headlights swivel with the steering to illuminate the road ahead even around corners, but auxiliary cornering lights cover what are too often blind spots to the side with bright light in sharp turns, such as into a driveway. The standard LED taillights are also praiseworthy.For noncrash safety, courtesy lights in the outside rearview mirrors and perimeter lighting turn on when you are parking your car at night.The 2006 Volkswagen Passat is covered by Volkswagen's standard limited warranty for 4 years\/50,000 miles, although wear-and-tear items are excluded after a year. The power train gets 5 years\/60,000 miles of coverage, and corrosion coverage is offered for 12 years. Four years of 24-hour roadside assistance is also covered.