Every car enthusiast has a place in their heart for their first vehicle. Even if that place is filled with hate, remorse or longing, it's there. My first car was a 1991 Dark Teal Metallic Volkswagen Passat 16-valve with a personalized plate that said FRVNUGN. You remember the ad campaign. There are days when I still miss that car.

As much as I hated to see our long-term Jetta go, especially after how good it had become with a little aftermarket help, I looked forward to the arrival of our new Passat. I didn't know what we were getting. I expected a 2.0T with a few options, something sedate. I was wrong.

Our newest VW long-termer comes at the top of its game. A 3.6-liter, 4Motion, fully loaded masterpiece. Not only do we have just about every option, we also have the amazing Hi-Def body kit. Straight out of the VW accessories catalog, this kit can be fitted at the port or by the dealer. It changes the look and attitude completely.

The beauty of this kit, compared to aftermarket, is that it fits exactly like stock. So not only does it look like it came from the factory this way, it will hold up just like factory parts. Ours was installed by our local dealer. The center sections, normally a flat grey color, are painted in semi-gloss black. The look is aggressive yet stealthy, turning a fairly subdued family car into a truly handsome sports sedan. The Hi-Def kit includes front and rear bumpers, side sill extensions, sport exhaust tips and lip spoiler. The price may seem a little steep initially, but remember, these are true factory quality and guaranteed polyurethane components.

We've had several compliments from people who had no idea VW was building anything like this. It's amusing to be asked if the car is a new Mercedes when they're staring at a five-inch VW badge in the grille. VW enthusiasts seem equally enamored. At a recent gathering, this car garnered more looks than any other sedan present. People feel that this is exactly the direction VW should be taking. Understated, yet aggressive, something that really speaks to performance enthusiasts, but still looks driveable.

The stock interior looks as good as the reworked exterior. Black leather with brushed aluminum trim makes spending time inside a real pleasure. I had all but lost hope in VW's seats in non-sport models, but these are amazing. Good for long drives as well as spirited driving. The nav system is intuitive and the stereo system with its iPod dock is about as much as you can ask from factory equipment.

I've used our new car in just about every condition-from all-day drives to blasts through local canyons- and I haven't been disappointed at all. Around town, the weight and size make themselves felt. But that heft is appreciated on long hauls. At first, I wasn't looking forward hustling it around the twisties. I had my opportunity when I took the Passat up to a canyon for a photo shoot.

I got into a smooth rhythm, twisting into turns in a light motion with just a touch of trail braking, telling the car where to go and letting it settle into a line. It turns in well, but understeer soon has the car hunting urgently for the road's outside edge. Even with all-wheel drive, it struggles to hold a line. Frustrated by having to tip-toe out of corners, I decided to treat it like my older, lighter Passat.

Brake hard for a turn, back on the throttle, a quick lift, then flick the car into the turn, giving it a big shove toward a late apex. After a few corners, I was pitching the thing like a 2500-pound sports car. This technique doesn't result in wild sideways slides, but neutral drifts can be attained. You just need to be a little assertive rather than trying to persuade it.

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