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null 1998 Volkswagen Passat

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Some people are fanatical about Volkswagens. They cherish their ancient Beetles while awaiting a People's Car revival later this year, buy Golfs and Jettas when they need new cars, bemoan the loss of the practical, roomy vans that were once a company mainstay. Vocal as they can be, however, VW enthusiasts are not a numerous bunch. There's another, larger group whose members wouldn't recognize a current VW if it slid down their chimneys wrapped in a neat bow. The latter are the potential customers the company is targeting with a complete reworking of its midsize Passat sedan. In its quest to generate sales, VW has taken two major steps. The first, and most obvious, is a move away from the anonymous styling characteristic of past Passats. Of equal or greater importance is the use of components shared with corporate sibling Audi. Volkswagen's own hardware is plenty good, so this borrowing of powertrains and chassis platforms might seem unnecessary to aficionados. And critics may question whether this cross-pollination could lead to a loss of brand identity, making this Volkswagen too much like an Audi. So we have two questions to ponder on an initial test drive: Is the latest Passat good enough to attract the attention of a wider range of buyers who might otherwise opt for, among others, a Honda Accord, Toyota Camry or Nissan Maxima? And, given the origins of its major elements, will it keep faithful Volkswagen fans happy?

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