If the 2009 Volkswagen CC VR6 Sport represents the future of Volkswagen, the company has a bright future indeed, and we get to benefit from some very beautiful cars that strive toward luxury. But the CC's beauty is mostly skin deep, as many attributes of the car reflect its folks' wagon underpinnings. The engine and interior quality are clear stand-outs, but the ride quality removes some of the car's luster.
Electronics also seem impressive at first, but the cabin gadgets are bedeviled by weird quirks and outright faults. The model's broad $13,000 price range between base and upscale models suggests Volkswagen couldn't decide if it wanted to market a midsize or sport-luxury sedan. But we can't deny the car's aesthetic appeal, its nicely curved roofline suggesting the much more expensive Mercedes-Benz CL550.
Test the tech: Touring
In poking around the navigation system for our 2009 Volkswagen CC VR6 Sport, we found a feature called Tour, which allowed us to enter a series of destinations and organize them into a coherent route. We used the system to define a route that would test the car on high-speed freeways and mountain roads where we could see if the word "sport" in the model name had any foundation. Entering destinations along the freeway was easy using the onscreen keyboard, but when we tried using the map to find waypoints on mountain highways, we ran into trouble. In map input mode, you get a disc overlay on the screen, which you have to drag to your destination. But the disc was extremely balky, refusing to easily follow our finger on the touch screen and leading to an epithet-filled one-way shouting match with the car.
Entering destinations on the map was difficult, because the cursor wouldn't easily respond to dragging.
Getting the tour programmed was further exacerbated by the fact that, if we hit a wrong button, all of our work would be lost. A couple of times we had multiple waypoints entered, then accidentally hit a button that took us out of Tour mode. Although this navigation system is hard-drive-based, it didn't save our work, forcing us to start from scratch.
Once our route was in place, however, the system did an excellent job of guiding us out, using street names and useful graphics to let us know where to turn. The system also includes traffic reporting, which would have been handy if there were any incidents on the freeways we initially set out on. But we had an unobstructed cruise in light traffic, and the CC offered excellent drive quality. The V-6 engine could barely be held back, putting us well over the speed limits before we realized it. The steering, transmission, and suspension were all silky smooth, while the cabin felt nicely insulated, further leading us to underestimate our speed. Even better, our average fuel economy was closing on 27 mpg over an hour of driving at speeds around 75 mph.
After this bit of freeway driving, the CC lulled us into forgetting our difficulties with the navigation system, and we were thinking it was the perfect car. But that impression faded after a few miles on a country highway, where rougher asphalt transmitted a less pleasant ride to the cabin, reminding us that this was, in fact, a Volkswagen. At lower speeds it became more apparent that the CC uses electric power steering, which produces a whirring sound when you turn the wheel. But Volkswagen did a good job of programming the steering unit for more road-feel and heaviness as the car's speed increased.
An abrupt end to a good drive, but at least it's easy to put on the spare.
Into the fun portion of our tour, the navigation system still providing excellent direction, we attacked the curvy highway with vigor. In the corners, some typical understeer made itself felt, but the engine was ready to send plenty of power to the front wheels, pulling us through the turns. With the six-speed automatic transmission in sport mode, we found it a little lazy on shifting, maintaining too high a gear when we got on the brakes before a corner, but once it downshifted, it held the lower gear long enough to build up speed on any ensuing straight-aways or keep the engine speed up enough for the next turn. In manual mode, paddles on the shifter let us choose the gears, with shifts occurring fast enough for our purposes. The suspension isn't particularly sport-tuned, and we felt a little body roll and travel when the car was subjected to fast cornering.
Our tour was ended abruptly by a jagged rock in the road that put a big gash in the left front tire. The car helpfully pointed out the problem by putting the message "flat tyre" on the speedometer display. We pulled over, jacked up the car, and put on the spare, a temporary donut, then limped home.
In the cabin
We've been pretty disappointed by past Volkswagen navigation systems, and were looking forward to trying out this new system in the CC. Hard-drive-based navigation systems are cutting edge right now, and usually mean better-looking maps, faster processing, and extra features such as traffic and onboard music storage. Our first look at the interior of the CC gave us a lot of hope, as the steering wheel had smartly-designed buttons set in the spokes for using navigation and audio, plus a dedicated phone button--our first time seeing Bluetooth in a Volkswagen.
The traffic reporting is one of the better features of this navigation system.
But that phone button let us down immediately, as the optional cell phone support wasn't installed in our car. Seems like something that should be standard at this level. The navigation system mostly lived up to its promise, providing high-resolution maps, but showed that balkiness during map input mentioned above. The maps include 2D and 3D views, along with a nice 3D compass graphic. The traffic overlay, with information transmitted over Sirius satellite radio, looked particularly good, showing traffic flow on major roads and potentially obstructing incidents. With a route programmed, the system will also dynamically detour around bad traffic. But we didn't always find the onscreen interface clear, as shown by our trouble programming in multiple destinations.
As expected, you can store music on the in-dash hard drive, but not as easily as we've found on other cars, such as the Lincoln MKS. To get music on the hard drive, you have to look at the list of your current sources, from CDs, USB drives, or SD cards, and see if there is a special square icon next to the source. If there is, you can touch that icon and get the choice of playing or copying music from that source. In practice, we couldn't find any rhyme or reason to which tracks the system let us copy. It wouldn't rip a commercial CD, and with an MP3 CD, it only let us copy a few of the album folders over.
Strangely, the audio system would only let us copy some folders over to the car's hard drive from an MP3 CD.
The stereo system does have plenty of audio sources, though. We mentioned SD cards, which you plug into a slot in the unit's face plate, and USB drives. Similar to the Audi Music Interface we saw in the Audi A5, the CC has a proprietary port in the glovebox with a set of cables for connecting a USB drive, iPod, or USB mini-jack. The single-disc player reads MP3 CDs, there is an auxiliary jack in the console, and the radio includes Sirius satellite.
Standard on the VR6 Sport trim is a very nice Dynaudio sound system, which pumps 600 watts through 10 speakers. We found that this audio system delivered exceptional clarity, with very distinct sounds coming through from the various tracks we tried. But forget any thumpety-thump; this system is composed of four tweeters, two mids, and four woofers, which means no subwoofer to create deeper bass.
The CC rounds out its cabin tech with an innovative parking system, based on its rearview camera. When you put the car in reverse, the rear-view camera shows up on the LCD, with overlay lines indicating distance to rear obstacles along with the car's path depending on how the wheels are turned. But it also has a parallel parking mode that uses different overlays to show the spaces next to the rear view, making it easier to find your distance from other cars and the curb. Beyond even that, there is an animated display, Volkswagen's Optical Parking System, showing a top-down image of the car. If its ultrasonic sensors detect objects in front or back, an image is shown on the screen indicating how close the object is to the car.
Under the hood
We were impressed by the motive power in the 2009 Volkswagen CC VR6 Sport, a narrow angle 3.6-liter V-6 that uses direct injection and variable valve timing and lift. Volkswagen says that the engine can run the car to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds, a time we can believe from our experience with the car. The engine produces 280 horsepower at 6,200rpm and 265 pound-feet of torque at 2,750rpm. It all comes together to move the CC effortlessly, contributing to a luxury car feel. And with all this power we were impressed by our real world mileage. The EPA rates the CC VR6 Sport at 18 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. Our final average, with a mix of freeway, highway, and city driving came in at 23.6 mpg.
This V-6 delivers an excellent combination of power and economy.
Volkswagen also makes a version of the CC available with its direct-injection-turbocharged 2-liter four cylinder engine, at a price more than 10 grand lower than the VR6 model. The base 2-liter CC makes it to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds when equipped with the automatic, and gets a few miles per gallon better fuel economy. The six-speed automatic, with Volkswagen's TipTronic manual gear selection, is used with both engines, although the VR6 gets different gear ratios appropriate to its horsepower and torque. With the 2-liter turbo CC, you can also opt for a six-speed manual transmission, but the navigation system isn't available with the manual (for no particular reason we can see).
Wheel-mounted paddles let you choose the six-speed automatic's gear.
The automatic with the V-6 shifts smoothly, and, as we mentioned above, has sport and manual modes; the latter is shiftable with the stick or with the paddles. One thing we like about this transmission is you can take it out of manual mode by holding down the plus paddle shifter, a feature surprisingly rare on these types of automatics. The car's electric power steering is an advanced bit of tech that not only improves the car's mileage, but can be more easily programmed than a hydraulic power-steering unit. In the CC, Volkswagen did a good job of making the steering light at low speeds and improving the road-feel at speed.
The engine impresses further by getting the car a ULEV II rating from the California Air Resources Board, a good achievement considering its number of cylinders and displacement.
Our 2009 Volkswagen CC VR6 Sport had a base price of $38,300, with the navigation package adding $2,640, bringing the total up to $40,940. Bluetooth would have added another $275. By contrast, the CC with a manual transmission and 2-liter turbo goes for a base price of $26,790. There is also an all-wheel-drive version of the CC VR6 with a base price of $39,300. For a similar price as our CC VR6 Sport, you can get the Cadillac CTS, the Infiniti G35, and the Mercedes-Benz C300--all good choices with comparable tech. With these choices, brand prestige overwhelms the Volkswagen.
There was a lot we liked about the Volkswagen CC, most notably its exterior design, which earned it a high rating in that category. Likewise, it performed very well, offering a good combination of power and economy, but we docked it for the suspension, which could deliver a rough ride on poor roads. Cabin tech was mixed; we wanted to like it, but the navigation and audio systems showed some quirks that might make the car tough to use on a daily basis.