– Ann Arbor, Michigan

It’s not uncommon for carmakers to roll out special editions toward the end of a model’s lifecycle. And it’s not uncommon for reviewers to be cynical of these cars, which typically add little substance beside some new wheels or different trim pieces. The 2018 Volkswagen Passat GT is different, however, because it actually adds some more driving enjoyment into the mix.

The GT sits 0.6-inch lower than normal on stiffened springs and re-tuned dampers, and is one of only two Passat trim levels to wear 19-inch wheels. Instead of the base 174-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo engine, it uses the optional 3.6-liter V6 that delivers 280 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque. A new, louder sports exhaust allows that engine to get a little more vocal. And while the brakes have not been upgraded, they at least look the part with red-painted calipers front and back.

In fact, the whole car looks the part of a slightly sportier Passat, with styling cues that draw inspiration from the GTI. Note the honeycomb grille, the red striping on the new front fascia, the enlarged air intakes with gloss-black trimming, the “Tornado” 19-inch wheels, black trunk spoiler, black roof, blacked-out mirrors, and blacked-out window trim. The inside has piano-black trim, carbon fiber-look pieces, a black headliner and pillars, and “Moonrock Gray” inserts for the black leatherette seats. There is not a single “Passat” badge anywhere on the outside; the only one is on the dashboard above the radio.

2018 Volkswagen Passat GT
2018 Volkswagen Passat GT
2018 Volkswagen Passat GT
2018 Volkswagen Passat GT

Does the GT have the driving verve to match those looks? It’s certainly quick, with the V6 dishing out power easily and sharply responding to throttle inputs. That swiftness is aided by the dual-clutch gearbox, which delivers snappy shifts whether in Sport or manually actuated by the plastic paddle shifters. It purrs and growls, thanks to the new exhaust, which is notably throatier than a normal Passat. But it’s not too loud; a layperson passenger would not be put off in normal driving.

Though the steering is overly light in terms of both effort and feedback, the new suspension tune is judged just about right for a car like this: stable and confident, with little body roll, yet not so stiff as to feel severe on rough roads. The Passat GT accurately and easily traces a line through a corner without fuss and with lots of speed. As midsize sedans go, this one’s pretty enjoyable to drive swiftly.

Moreover, it still drives nicely when you’re acting like a normal Passat owner: quiet on the highway, supple over bumps, and with gear changes that are mostly unnoticeable in urban driving.

In terms of equipment, the GT builds upon the bones of the existing Passat R-Line (which has the standard 2.0-liter engine). Highlights include a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, heated seats and mirrors, a power driver’s seat, push-button start, a touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, blind spot and rear cross-traffic warnings, and pre-collision braking.

Starting from $29,145 and with no available option packs, the GT also makes getting into a V6-powered Passat much more affordable. Otherwise, the engine is offered only on the $34,650 SEL Premium V6 trim level (which does, to be fair, add more equipment.)

The Passat GT was created by the engineering team on site at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as a way for the group to flex and test its abilities in creating new trim packages. Though this model will be limited to the 2018 model year, Steven Warrick, Passat Product Manager, hints that the experience with this car could make it easier to justify more special-edition cars in the future.

It’s hard to imagine the Passat GT will steal away any enthusiast buyers from the Golf GTI. But it’s appealing because it genuinely improves on the fun-to-drive quotient where so often special-edition packages like this consist only of visual tweaks. It also still has all the virtues – roomy trunk, commodious back seat – of a standard Passat. So for the family man with a need for speed, the Passat GT could very well be the answer.

Photos: Jake Holmes / Motor1.com

Gallery: 2018 Volkswagen Passat GT: First Drive

Photo by: Jake Holmes

2018 Volkswagen Passat GT

Engine 3.6-Liter V6
Output 280 Horsepower / 258 Pound-Feet
Transmission 6-Speed Dual-Clutch
Drive Type Front-Wheel Drive
Weight 3,571 Pounds
Efficiency 19 City / 28 Highway / 22 Combined
Seating Capacity 5
Cargo Volume 15.9 Cubic Feet
On Sale April 2018
Base Price $29,145
As-Tested Price $29,995
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