Some of the fads and fashions in the motor industry leave us just a little bemused. And none more so than the fascination with so-called four-door coupés. The name itself is an anomaly: by definition, a coupé is a two-door. And a sedan should have four doors. So, what exactly is a four-door coupé?
Mercedes-Benz started the trend with the rather ungainly and unforgivably impractical CLS – a large car with a banana-like silhouette and rear headroom notable only by its absence. Even the late He Pingping would have struggled to sit comfortably at the back.
But it seems like the folk in Stuttgart got something right. Or perhaps the CLS was too flawed to ignore. Either way, it has inspired a growing number of four-door coupé designs, even if not all of them could be classed as direct rivals.
For instance, both the blunt, but competent Porsche Panamera and the delightfully impractical Aston Martin Rapide belong to the four-door coupé class, but are also variations on a very real sports car theme. And then there’s the Volkswagen CC.
The sleek sedan from Wolfsburg doesn’t pretend to be a sports car, although the 3,6-litre V6-powered cruiser is no slouch. Nor does it have the nose-in-the-air car pretensions of the Mercedes.
Instead, it’s simply a more handsome, more polished version of a car better known as the drab, but spacious and reliable Passat. The CC (short for Coupé and Comfort) even boasts Passat nomenclature in markets like Germany, where the nameplate has more positive connotations.
By comparison, South Africans aren’t nearly as enamoured of the generously proportioned, but ultimately bland Passat as their European counterparts. They’d rather spend more money on something smaller, but more prestigious, such as the Audi A4 or Mercedes-Benz C-class.
That’s exactly why Volkswagen here is coy about the CC’s Passat heritage. And frankly, the CC’s sleek and tailored shape is a far cry from its mass-market relative.
There’s discreet brightwork to emphasise its smooth lines and wind-cheating profile, while distinctive wheels and different lights ensure a more compelling presence too. Add the arced roofline, soft-tailed rear and striking wheels, and the result is a visually arresting machine, and a real crowd-pleaser at that.
Simply put, the CC is the aristocrat of the Volkswagen family – and it’s confirmed by the cabin’s lavish appointments. The V6-powered flagship’s upmarket interior is clean and elegant, with ample space.
That’s especially true for rear occupants, who can stretch out in individually sculpted seats – a feature that adds to the car’s overall appeal and limousine-style status.
The aesthetic treatment is a little underwhelming, with the occasional metallic accent providing some relief from an otherwise dour and monochromatic approach. Volkswagen will argue that the emphasis is on understated sophistication, but we would have welcomed a little more pizzazz.
Nonetheless, there’s no denying that the CC’s cabin is a comfortable and luxurious place, with all the bells and whistles the discerning motorist could desire. Besides, the execution is absolutely top class, with the same reassuring solidity and premium feel usually associated with top-end brands.
The standard equipment list is comprehensive, with only the optional hard drive-based satellite navigation system a significant item on the added-cost options list. Electric everything, dual-zone climate control, multi-speaker sound … the CC has it all. While the CC is, therefore, clearly positioned as a luxurious, four-seat tourer, the presence of that big V6 also suggests a level of performance potential a little at odds with its discreet presence.
The 3,6-litre power unit under that long, sleek bonnet delivers more muscle and twist than expected, accompanied by a particularly promising soundtrack.
Maximum power comes to 220kW at 6 600rpm, while torque is pegged at 350Nm, available in a broad rev range from 2 400rpm to 5 000rpm. A six-speed dual-clutch DSG auto gearbox is the only choice.
But there’s more to the V6 than ample output. It’s also impressively frugal in fuel consumption terms, thanks to its efficient, direct-injection design, and the presence of the DSG transmission, which effectively contains drivetrain losses while affording lightning fast cog swaps.
The gearbox also promises welcome driver involvement, but we missed the shift paddles behind the steering wheel which would have identified the big VW as a true driver’s car – especially considering the performance potential on offer.
While the engine goes about its business unobtrusively during the normal commute, with only the crisp exhaust note as a reminder of the muscle available, it emits a glorious, throaty roar when exercised, adding further zest to the driving experience.
That aural delight is accompanied by real-world performance that’s anything but shoddy: the zero-to-100km/h sprint requires only 5,6 seconds, while top speed is predictably limited to 250km/h. These figures place the CC very firmly in the sports sedan (or is that coupé?) category.
Given its size and premium positioning, you’d expect the CC to place the emphasis on smooth, unfussed and rapid progress. But hurry the big four-door along, and you’re rewarded with a composed and communicative chassis that remains fairly neutral under duress, and doesn’t suffer the vagaries of excessive body roll. Lots of grip from the 4Motion all-wheel drive system also helps.
Admittedly, the CC is not a small car, but it is quite wieldy, thanks to steering that is positive and fairly accurate, with reassuring feedback. It’s a car that seems to shrink when driven with enthusiasm. Revert to cruise mode, and the refinement levels make for a smooth, unfussed ride.
Of course, such sophistication is what typical CC buyers will be demanding most, allowing them to savour every note delivered by the car’s superb sound system and to make the fullest use of all the luxuries on offer.
Convenience is a consistent theme throughout, dictating ergonomically efficient placement of switchgear, so the overall driving experience is always intuitive and enjoyable. In fact, given that this is a Volkswagen, the CC continuously exceeds expectations.
The Volkswagen CC proves that the concept of a four-door coupé is feasible, even if that description is more an aesthetic reference than a practical one.
In this case, the CC elevates the brand to the luxury arena, yet retains the attractions at the very core of every Volkswagen – value, quality and versatility. Most of all, it’s a satisfying car to drive – even if most owners will never realise it.
By Deon Schoeman
Watch a video clip of the VW Passat CC as road-tested by RPM TV.
Volkswagen CC 3.6 V6 4Motion
3 597 cc V6, DOHC per bank
Six-speed DSG auto
220 kW @ 6 600 rpm
350 Nm @ 2 400 rpm
250 km/h (governed)
11,2 l/100 km (tested)
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