2010 Volkswagen Passat R36

The R36 goes that one step further than the Passat CC in truly changing the image of the humble Passat for good.

The 2010 Volkswagen Passat R36 is a speedier version of its more sedate base model.
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"I have opinions of my own, strong opinions, but I don't always agree with them." So said George H W Bush when he was president of the United States, proving that verbal gaffes run in the family. On the other hand, I like to think that I stand by my opinions - for example, I made it perfectly clear in my Lexus GX 460 review in February that this was not a car to be driven at maniacal speed. In light of the Consumer Report test, which gave the car a "Do Not Buy" rating after it found the car to have violent oversteer in tight cornering and braking, I think my opinion remains valid.

Then just a few weeks ago, I took the Volkswagen Passat CC V6 for a spin. Aside from oddly shaped wing mirrors that put form over function, I was singing the praises of the car, especially the excellent gearbox and boy racer fun that was to be had. And I stand by that opinion, except I've just climbed out of the Passat R36 and I had even more fun. You see, the R-versions of Volkswagens, such as the Golf R32, the new Golf-R and the Scirocco-R, are like the naughty but always loveable little brothers of their more serious base models.

The R36 goes that one step further than the Passat CC in truly changing the image of the humble Passat for good. The 300hp inline six-cylinder engine powers the car to a 0-to-100kph sprint in just 5.6 seconds, making it the fastest Vee-Dub on the road, leaving the sexy boy-racer hatch, the Golf GTI, for dead with its relatively sluggardly 6.9-second dash. The six-speed, dual-clutch gearbox shifts in manual or automatic mode faster than any human being could manage with a clutch pedal; and with the option of paddles or shifting on the floor, it makes all the right noises when you change cogs.

The twin exhausts emanate a lovely sound to rival a muscle car when you put your foot down on the open road. Similarly, when you plod along in traffic, you can still hear the low grumble of a car that wants to remind you that it's far happier in a world with no red lights or stop signs. Just like a muscle car. Except better. Jeremy Clarkson once wrote that, whenever he drives a muscle car, it "feel and it handles like it's towing a fully-laden skip". He went on to say that muscle cars are "built primarily not to go round corners".

He is dead right - a muscle car will make short work of the dull straight line between Abu Dhabi and Dubai - as did the R36 - but put the muscle car on a winding road and it is about as agile as a breeze block on castors. The R36, however, is another story on the bends. After a fairly pin-straight cruise to Al Ain, Jebel Hafeet's bends awaited, and the all-wheel drive combined with utilising the manual mode made it a shedload of fun on the way up and down.

My passenger was not amused when I overtook a van on a curve, but don't worry - it wasn't a blind curve. I simply could not creep up one of the most fun roads in the UAE staring at the exhaust pipe of a van. He could stare at my twin exhausts instead. Briefly. Before I disappeared up the bends and out of sight. As well as being a real driver's car, the R36 looks great, too - I borrowed a bright blue beast, so much more interesting than the glut of white and silver cars out there. The blue looked great with the shiny chrome exhaust pipes, matte chrome radiator grille, bi-xenon headlights and rear, red LED lights. Cheeky bright blue brake calipers peeking out from behind the sleek alloy wheels complete the eye-catching exterior (I'm a sucker for coloured brake calipers; some people find this obsession weird, but I don't care - it's another opinion I'm standing by).

Inside, the suede-and-leather seats were a stylised version of a racing seat without being quite as actively uncomfortable (take note, Renault, with the chiropractor's special in the F1 Megane). Both driver and passenger feel safely ensconced without developing lumbago on a long trip. As I've come to expect from new VWs, the interface for the sat nav, AC and entertainment was very user-friendly. If I am paying more for a VW over, say a Toyota or Chevy, I want to pay for easy technology. Nobody needs a sat nav that would confound Stephen Hawking.

Indeed, like the Passat CC, the R36 is pretty hard to fault. There are only two criticisms I could really level at the R36. The first is the thirsty fuel consumption - and it costs Dh95 to fill the tank, which is still far cheaper than it would be to fill in its native Germany but may put a pennywise consumer off. The official combined fuel consumption spec is 9.8L per 100km, but the average fuel consumption reading I got on the little screen next to the speedo seldom dropped below 10L per 100 klicks. Still, the price of petrol in the UAE has only gone up from dirt cheap to not-quite-as-dirt-cheap and, frankly, it wouldn't turn me off buying one here in Abu Dhabi.

My other slightly obscure quibble is very funky shiny panelling on the dash. It looks really cool and dazzled me like a magpie, but it reflects in the driver's door window and creates a silver blade of light right across the wing mirror. It is a little bit distracting, although the kind of quirk you'd probably just get used to after a while. Especially because this car is just so much fun to play with. That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it. glewis@thenational.ae