Set the time machine for the late '70s. Volkswagen is searching for a way to move beyond its cherished air-cooled Beetle. While the Golf and Rabbit were making strides in converting a dubious public, a larger sedan was needed to flesh out the company resume. North America saw cars like the Quantum, Dasher and Fox-none of which found much traction with U.S. consumers.

The Passat (named after an Atlantic wind) aimed to change all that. As Volkswagen's most expensive car at the time, the Passat was well equipped and featured several powerful motors, including the supercharged G60 (Euro-spec) and the vaunted VR6.

In many ways, the first-gen Passat was ahead of its time. Possessing a bullet-like friction coefficient of 0.28 and a cavernous interior with 40/60 fold-down rear seats, it was a utilitarian sedan, capable of multiple roles.

Several generations later, we find the Passat has morphed into the proverbial swan. The new CC, or Concept Coupe, is beautiful, its body shaped with knifed-edged muscle. Its powerplants feature VW's latest generation of FSI stratified fuel injection, making them both powerful and efficient. And the CC's cabin is drop-dead gorgeous with soft leather, brushed metals and luxurious synthetic materials.

Hard to believe this is the same car, ain't it? That may be the Passat CC's sole dilemma. It's almost too good.

Volkswagen built another car too good for its own health. It was called the Phaeton. Like a misunderstood genius, its virtues were appreciated only by a few. And that was a shame. Never had Volkswagen put so much technology into a vehicle; so much love, if you will.

Here's a chance to revisit that car. Think of the Passat CC as a young Phaeton, an elegant sedan cut from sturdy stock.

Though they share much of the same DNA, the CC and the standard-or 'classic'-Passat have distinct differences. The 106.7-inch wheelbase remains, but the CC is longer by six-tenths of an inch at both ends, which helps make the roof look even lower than the two inches it already is. At its highest point, the CC is only 56 inches tall, with a stance four-tenths of an inch wider in the front track and six-tenths wider at the rear. The result is a shape unlike anything previously seen from Volkswagen. If a CC flew by at 90 mph, it could easily be mistaken for a Mercedes-Benz. Deliberate or a happy accident? VW isn't saying.

North America will get two different flavors: the spirited 2.0T or the venerable 3.6-liter VR6 fitted with VW's 4Motion system and six-speed Tiptronic gearbox. At the press drive, a TDI variant caught my eye, a lower-pressure turbo unit in a striking metallic green.

Like this super-efficient force-fed diesel, Europeans will get several high-tech/luxury options that the States will not, including Lane Assist (senses when the car drifts out of the lane and steers it back), Park Assist (automatic parking), Active Climate Seats (perforated seats that heat and cool), and Adaptive Cruise Control (monitors and adjusts the gap between the car ahead). We're on the list to get Adaptive Chassis Control (adjusts the suspension damping and steering ratio for sport, comfort, or normal driving), while a back-up camera (which hides behind the VW logo in the rear) will be an available option at launch.

Though not as powerful as some, this TDI CC is a solid performer, capable of a sustained 130 mph on the autobahn. Also less nimble than the much smaller GTI, the CC still behaves beautifully, combining remarkable smoothness with an underlying sportiness. I threw the Passat onto 360-degree off-ramps with abandon, listening to its tires shriek with smoky joy. The car held the line admirably while I steered with my right foot, a maneuver I doubt many Passat owners will re-enact. That's too bad, because this CC seemed to enjoy a bit of naughtiness.

Invariably, it will be said that Volkswagen is overstepping its 'People's Car' boundaries, encroaching into areas where Audi has long held sway. And sitting in the new Passat CC is a distinctly Audi-like experience. Is that a bad thing? No, not of itself. But it certainly could be for the Mercedes-Benz CLS.

2009 Volkswagen Passat CC

*Layout
Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive/all-wheel drive

*Engines
2.0-liter inline four, dohc 16-valve, turbocharged. 3.6-liter V6, dohc, 24-valve

*Transmission
Six-speed manual/six-speed automatic
Length/width/height (in.): 188.9/73.1/56.0
Wheelbase: 106.7 in.
Curb weight: 3,400 to 3,900 lb

*Performance
2.0T: 200 hp (est.)/207 lb-ft (est.)
3.6 V6: 280 hp (est)/265 lb-ft (est.)
0-60 mph: 6.6 to 7.4 sec (est.)
Top speed: 130 mph (limited)

*What We Like
Looks, luxe and lope

*What We Don't
Ideas above its station?

*Price Tag
$27,000 -$40,000 (est)

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