A couple of years ago, Volkswagen started remaking itself in the U.S., creating a cohesive design language and trying to capture new segments of the market. The new Jetta and Beetle models are prime examples of this strategy.
One of Volkswagen's challenges has been combating the perception that its cars are expensive. The 2013 CC has a hard time supporting this mission.
Volkswagen offers a lot of variations in the CC, with the base model starting just over $30,000. Don't expect much tech or available options at that level. CNET tested a Lux trim model, which goes for $35,355 and comes standard with navigation, iPod integration, and a Bluetooth phone system. Volkswagen also offers a CC with a V-6 and more tech features, which pushes the price up toward $40,000.
As a front-wheel-drive midsize sedan, the CC immediately invites comparisons with the Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, and Hyundai Sonata. Looking at the direct injection, turbocharged 2-liter engine and six-speed dual-clutch transmission of the Lux model pushes it a little higher in the automotive spectrum, around the level of the Kia Optima Turbo.
So the question becomes, why does the 2013 Volkswagen CC cost more than five grand more than the competition?
Volkswagen insists the CC is the most affordable four-door sport coupe available, putting it in a class with the Mercedes-Benz CLS, Audi A7, and BMW 6-series Gran Coupe. The CC does have a very attractive design, with a gently sloping roof stretching back to the trunk lid. For the 2013 model year, it picks up Volkswagen design language, such as a cross-hatched three-bar grille and LED parking lights arranged in a hook pattern.
But its tonier coupe competition also boasts rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, more power, and much more tech.
The CC's navigation system only covers the basics, lacking advanced features such as integrated traffic data.
Despite the standard tech features in the CC, the cabin feels pretty sparse. The navigation system in the four-cylinder Lux model is Volkswagen's RNS 315 head unit. With maps stored in flash memory, this system works well enough for basic route guidance, but is also the system that can be had in the much less-expensive Jetta.
Volkswagen has a more capable navigation system, the RNS 510 integrating traffic data, and it does include this system in the top trim level, V-6 CC. But given the price tag of the Lux trim CC, the lack of traffic data really hurts it compared with the competition.
This head unit includes a good set of audio sources, such as Bluetooth audio streaming and even an SD card slot. Buried inconveniently in the glove box is what Volkswagen calls its Media Device Interface, a proprietary port that can take adapter cables for iPod, USB port, and auxiliary port.
The system works very well with an iPod, although it quickly becomes tedious to reach all the way into the glove box to plug it in. The onscreen interface for browsing an iPod music library looks good, and gives easy access to lists of artists, albums, and songs. The dial below the LCD works best for scrolling long lists from the library, and the touch screen makes it easy to quickly select music when it appears on the screen.
This interface works well for browsing a connected iPod's music library.
The car also has voice command, but it controls neither the stereo nor the navigation system. Voice command only covers the CC's Bluetooth phone system, which is the most advanced cabin tech feature in the car. This system makes a paired phone's contact list available on the screen, while the voice command system places calls based on the names on the contact list. It works well, but most other automakers have hit this level of functionality by now.
Particularly disappointing in the CC is the complete lack of driver assistance features. No blind-spot detection, adaptive cruise control, or lane-departure warning is included or available. The car does not even have a rearview camera. Cars that cost much less offer at least some of these features.
After trying out the cabin tech, the only place left for the CC to prove its worth was on the road, and it proved a very good driver during my time with the car. It showed a few quirks because of its dual-clutch transmission, which Volkswagen calls a Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG), and electric power steering, but these were not negative traits.
Unlike a torque converter automatic transmission, the CC is not prone to creep. I had to give it some throttle to get it to move. This clutch-based transmission grabs gears with more assurance, and is more efficient than a traditional automatic transmission.
This shifter operates a six-speed transmission with two computer-controlled clutches.
Volkswagen also fits the CC with an electronic parking brake, enabling a hill-hold feature. Parallel parking on a steep San Francisco hill, rain adding a sheet of water to the asphalt, this feature proved crucial. Rather than the car rolling forward into the bumper of the car ahead, I was able to precisely park, making no contact.
The electrically boosted nature of the power steering is also immediately apparent. With the car stopped, the wheel turns with a very linear feeling. There is also a slight whirring sound, barely audible in the cabin.
Volkswagen pioneered combining direct injection and turbochargers in passenger cars, and the CC benefits from this technology. Its 2-liter four-cylinder is a very efficient engine, but could use further development. Although Volkswagen had a long lead, other companies are catching up. BMW recently came out with its own direct injection, turbocharged 2-liter, making 40 more horsepower than the CC's 200. Likewise, where the CC gets 207 pound-feet of torque, BMW's engine cranks out 255.
And Volkswagen has not traded lower power for better fuel economy. The CC gets an EPA-rated 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. I saw mid-20s on the trip computer during freeway cruising, but the car's average ended up at 22.3 mpg in CNET's hands. BMW's 328i, with its 2-liter engine, pulled an average of 30 mpg.
The CC's front-wheel drive does not contribute to Volkswagen using the "sport coupe" label, but the DSG and suspension tuning do. Thanks in part to the DSG's ability to make good use of the available torque, the CC takes off reasonably fast, then the turbo piles on more acceleration. It won't chirp the front tires, but the acceleration is enough for comfortable freeway merging.
The instrument cluster holds a monochrome LCD, showing route guidance along with audio, phone, and trip information.
Curving mountain roads do not feel like the CC's element, but it handles them well enough. In the turns, the CC showed minimal roll, but at higher speeds it tended to understeer.
The DSG offers Sport and Manual shift modes. I am not crazy about how Volkswagen sets up the gate, with the Manual mode a push to the right of Drive, and Sport below the Drive position. Driving in Sport mode, I am more likely to want to move to Manual gear selection. But in the CC that involves going into Drive, then over.
Using Manual gear selection, there is much less lag during gear changes than with a torque converter transmission. It snaps quickly into each gear with a push up or down on the shifter.
Sport mode was good, but not overly aggressive. The DSG seems designed to respond to the throttle rather than the brake. Hitting the brakes does not result in a series of quick downshifts, but keeping pressure on the gas pedal puts the car in an aggressive gear.
In city and freeway cruising, the CC proved comfortable, the suspension doing an excellent job of soaking up the bumps. The DSG had no trouble getting the car in the right gear for each situation, downshifting for a hill climb or finding a comfortably high gear for steady speeds. There was some turbo lag when I hammered the gas, but during normal starts it was not particularly noticeable.
The 2013 Volkswagen CC's main shortcoming is in its cabin tech. The navigation system in particular is very short on features, and Volkswagen includes no connected services, not even traffic data. As for driver assistance features, the car could at least use a backup camera.
More impressive is the engine and transmission. Direct injection and turbocharging have been proven to work well together for improved efficiency, although Volkswagen could get more out of this combination, as other automakers have. The DSG remains an excellent transmission, delivering manual efficiency with automatic convenience.
The CC's design is also quite good. The car has a very pleasing look, and brings in Volkswagen's signature design cues. Likewise, the cabin tech interface looks good, and proves very functional.
|Model||2013 Volkswagen CC|
|Power train||Turbocharged direct injection 2-liter four-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||22 mpg city/31 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||22.3 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard with phonebook support|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth audio, SD card, USB drive, Mini-USB, auxiliary audio input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Eight-speaker system|
|Price as tested||$36,175|