The Volkswagen Passat of the fourth (or sometimes referred to as the fifth) generation (B5 platform) was released in Europe in 1996 and North America in 1998. This model featured a completely redesigned exterior from the ground up and carried on Volkswagen's tradition of longitudinally mounting the engine with front wheel drive.
The Mk 4 Passat was revolutionary for its class; not only did it raise Volkswagen upmarket to slot in between mainstream and premium cars, but it brought forth an unprecedented level of interior quality and luxury, which was on par with its sister Audi A4. This level of sophistication was reflected in the Passat's £16,000 starting price in the UK, £1,000 more than the Ford Mondeo, but worth the cost for the upmarket feel. The release of this car necessitated mainstream rivals to raise their game significantly or else face losing sales.
The Passat also had a bold new styling, first seen in the Concept 1 concept car, which would go on to influence the designs of the subsequent Volkswagen models such as the Mk IV Golf, Bora and Mk IV Polo. Additionally, the car delivered excellent ride quality comparable to that of Mercedes-Benz and BMW, though its handling was not quite on par with models like the Mk I Ford Mondeo or Peugeot 406 released in 1995. Nevertheless, this Passat had an abundant equipment list including power windows, air conditioning, CD player, power mirrors, power sunroof, leather upholstery, 4-link front suspension and two transmission options: 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic. All-wheel drive was also introduced as an option, using an expensive Torsen center differential with a 50:50 power distribution under normal conditions for better traction control.
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