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When the 2015 Volkswagen CC arrived in the CNET garage, I mentally prepped myself for yet another midsize sedan review, admittedly not my favorite type of car but a major segment of the market. In the driver's seat of the CC, which is actually rated as a compact, I was surprised to see a six-speed manual stick on the center console. An odd choice for a segment where automatics dominate in greater number than first time novel writers at a Starbucks.
However, the reason for the manual transmission became clear when I noticed the car's R-Line badges, the trim level promising amped-up performance. You can also opt for an automatic, which for the CC means Volkswagen's quick-shifting DSG, a dual-clutch automated manual.
Regardless of trim, the CC outshines its siblings in the Volkswagen lineup for looks, showing off a curvaceous roofline flowing back toward the trunk lid. The R-Line gets a more aggressive lower fascia complete with big air ducts that are likely overkill for the 2-liter four-cylinder engine under the hood. The grille shows more height than Volkswagen's most recent corporate styling, as seen on the Golf, and still retains the hook-shaped LED parking light rings the company seems to be phasing out.
With a base price of $32,995 in the US, Volkswagen attempts to put the CC up against models such as the Acura TLX and the Infiniti Q50 . The CC R-Line model I got into hit $35,140 with destination. UK buyers are looking at £25,005 for a base CC, while Australian buyers can look to pay about $63,100 for a base model with a diesel engine, but no R-Line availability.
One thing confused me when looking over Volkswagen's model line-up: The CC specs out smaller than the Passat all around, both cars are four-door sedans, and the CC costs substantially more, with a $10,000 difference in base prices. What did the CC have, beyond superior styling, to justify the price jump?
Under the hood, the CC boasts a 2-liter four-cylinder engine using direct injection and turbocharging, technologies that Volkswagen has been refining for about 15 years. Output comes to 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque, while the latest Passat gets by with a 1.8-liter engine only making 170 horsepower. That puts the CC up on power, even when taking into account the CC's 172 pounds of extra weight.
OK, more power is good, but 200 horses hardly puts the CC in Hellcat range. Dropping the clutch off the line, I could make the traction control light flash while the front tires squealed. And I was impressed that second gear let the CC hit 40 mph before redline. But I wasn't having the kind of fun that a hot hatch would afford. This engine felt like a typical compromise between reasonable power and good fuel efficiency.
Likewise, the steering and suspension didn't feel sports-car-sharp. The wheel turned very easily, its electric steering actuator minimizing effort and feedback. Volkswagen's specs describe a "sport suspension" with stabilizer bars for the CC, but the first fast corner I put it through made the body roll hard to the outside. The only saving grace came from the vehicle stability program, which made the car rotate a little through the turns, counteracting the roll.
Far from what I might assume an R-Line would be, I was instead being treated to a car tuned for comfortable suburban driving. Dampers neatly absorbed vibration caused by rough sections of road and the light steering made it easy to one-hand a hard right turn into a parking lot.
Although I usually enjoy the engagement offered by a manual transmission, this six speed felt sloppy. The linkage didn't offer the precision I felt from the six-speed manual in the BMW M235i I tested recently. Vagueness in the pattern left me trying to figure out if I had it in 3rd or 5th. Worse, the lack of a hill-hold feature in the CC, coupled with a switch-activated electronic parking brake, added a little old-school roll-back to hill-starts.
Given that performance, the DSG transmission would be a better option.
The front seats in the CC weren't quite sport-bolstered but I appreciated that both had electric power adjustment. Too bad there wasn't a memory function. The instrument cluster, with its dignified clean-looking analog gauges, added a touch of class to the cabin, if not tech. Generally, however, the materials and design did not elevate the CC above the Passat.
In the center dashboard sat Volkswagen's RNS 315 infotainment system, a basic head unit the company has been fitting into its models for a good five years now. Navigation, phone and audio functions appear on a tiny touchscreen in this system. I've always liked the menu structure, which uses a semi-circular design, but it's not to everyone's taste. Very limited voice controls only let me control the hands-free phone system and pause or play music, if I happened to be listening to locally stored media. There were no voice commands for entering destinations in navigation.
And while navigation offered acceptable route guidance, the lack of a live traffic feature meant no automatic detours around jams. Also missing from this system is online destination search, or any sort of app integration at all. However, Volkswagen does offer its Car-Net telematics service, which includes an app and features roadside assistance and automatic crash notification.
When I first got into the CC, I pulled out my iPhone cable and opened the center console, then remembered that Volkswagen vehicles don't have USB ports. Instead, a proprietary port mounted in the console held an adapter cable with a 30-pin iOS plug, a type of plug that hasn't been supported by any Apple products for almost three years. Volkswagen does offer an adapter cable for Apple's Lightning connector, but the CC ships with the older one.
Of course, the stereo supports Bluetooth streaming, good for Android and iOS devices. The touchscreen shows song information and skip track controls, but no ability to browse a paired device's music library. Continuing its quirkiness, the CC's head unit includes an SD card slot for digital tracks, something found in few competitor vehicles.
This RNS 315 head unit comes standard in the CC R-Line, while Volkswagen puts its more capable RNS 510 head unit, adding live traffic and a larger screen, in the more expensive Executive trim CC. High trim Passats also get the RNS 510 system, so in cabin electronics the CC doesn't really justify itself as a more premium model.
Despite the 2015 Volkswagen CC being the best-looking sedan in the lineup, its driveline, handling and cabin content don't justify its upscale segment ambitions. Compare it to a high-trim Ford Fusion , a sedan with comparable exterior beauty, and the CC's charm quickly pales.
That's not to say the CC is an inferior car. Its driving character is nice and comfortable. The engine offers good response and it achieved fuel economy in the mid-20s during my time with it. The manual transmission was a bit disappointing, but the optional DSG automated manual is saving grace. More telling is the fact the cabin electronics mirror what Volkswagen offers in its much less expensive cars, suggesting the CC is trying to get by on looks alone.
|Model||2015 Volkswagen CC|
|Powertrain||Turbocharged direct injection 2-liter four cylinder engine, six speed manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||21 mpg city/32 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||25.7 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, SD card, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Eight-speaker system|
|Driver assistance||Rear-view camera|
|Price as tested||$35,140|