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2009 Volkswagen CC

I admit it. I am as guilty as anyone else. On first glance I dismissed the “coupe-like” Volkswagen CC sedan as just a cheap copy of the haute couture Mercedes-Benz CLS. I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge.

Yes, on paper and in person, the CC comes across as little more than a chop-top version of the VW Passat on which it is based; two inches shorter and not much longer or wider than its donor car. But it turns out that the smaller whole is much greater than the subtraction of its parts.

As is so often the case, photos do not fully capture the subtle grace of the CC’s design. Park it next to a Passat and you will spend the rest of the afternoon doing double-takes, trying to figure out how it could possibly look so much more dramatic given the nearly identical dimensions of the two. It’s not just the sloping roof, or the jutting front end, or even the deep character line carved into the side, but the harmony in which all of the elements have been brought together.

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Pull into a gas station, or even the parking lot of a LensCrafters that just ran out of stock, and people will come by to ogle and ask questions. It’s not a remarkably beautiful car, but it cuts such an uncommon profile that onlookers will gladly invade your personal space to find out what it is. They have no choice.

VW took the interesting tack of not putting the name of the car anywhere on it, probably because most people would see the letters "CC" as some sort of unintelligible model designation or feature that they could care less about anyway. Even when you do tell them what it is, they don’t usually get it on the first try.

You would expect a car that appears to be a slave to fashion like this one does to be seriously compromised from a standpoint of practicality, and you would be mostly wrong. This is a VW, of course, and try as I imagine the designers in Wolfsburg might, clearly the engineers hold the keys in that kingdom.

Passenger volume is down 3 cubic feet, and you lose an inch on headroom, but what is left is so useable, you hardly miss any of it. I’m 6’ 1” tall and the only time that I can recall having any trouble with the car was when I was trying to install my son’s child seat and couldn’t quite get my head into the sloping rear door while fiddling with the upper tether.

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On the other hand, when I sat back there myself I was quite comfortable, finding plenty of legroom and much more airspace than the CLS provides its rear seat passengers. The CC may be part of the growing “four door coupe” segment, but the accommodations are solidly those of a four door sedan.

They are, however, also strictly four-seat. The CC is available only with four buckets, the hump reserved for arms being rested and cups held. This is very much in line with the business class image the car tries to exude, but they do fold down, expanding a surprisingly large trunk into the passenger compartment for all those bags of TARP money executives carry around these days.

The leather seats in the loaded version I tested are catcher’s mitt deep front and rear, and sharp to look at, really helping to dress up the interior. Overall, the not-so-confines are very similar to what you get in the Passat, but with subtle differences to the instruments and trim that have the same transformative effect that the changes to the outside of the CC do. The chrome trim shines particularly well during the day thanks to a panoramic tilting sunroof that covers the entire front seating area and beyond, providing ample lighting.

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To find out if looks are everything to the CC, I attempted to reenact the last long trip I took in a Passat, driving from Paris to Albertville in the French alps for some skiing in the mountains surrounding the town that served as venues for the 1992 Winter Olympics. The best I could come up with was a road trip from Manhattan to Lake Placid, N.Y., home to the 1932 and 1980 Games, and much closer to Lake Champlain than Champagne.

Like the Alpine soiree, the first 4 hours of the trip were basically a long, boring superhighway run, which the CC absolutely devoured. The ride is firm, but comfortable, and with a 280 horsepower 3.6 liter V-6 underfoot, the VW barely broke a sweat. The slick body seems to provide more than just form, as it slices through the air with virtually no wind noise, all the better to hear the quiet and soothing thrum of the engine.

Combined with 4Motion all-wheel drive and a six speed automatic, the V-6 is rated at 17 mpg city/25 highway, and I did slightly better than that on this particular run. Opt for the 200 horsepower 2-liter turbo 4-cylinder with a manual and front-wheel drive and those figures increase to 21/31.

Approaching the destination, the route switches to a two-lane state road and tangles its way through the mountains of Adirondack Park. It’s not particularly treacherous, unless you are driving near midnight with a steady snowfall and temperatures approaching zero like I was. That’s zero Fahrenheit, not Celsius - or Farfegnugen for that matter.

The all-wheel drive did the trick even without snow tires, the all-season Continentals never missing a beat on pure white roads, helping me to avoid the same fate as my last quest for gold. That one ended halfway up the mountain of the Meribel ski resort, literally 10 yards (or was it meters?) from my chalet, as the front-wheel drive Passat finally met its match on a particularly steep uphill section of icy packed snow.

Drive the CC quickly and you'll find that 4Motion is also an asset on dry roads. Just as you get to the point where you would expect the front end to give way, a shuffle of the torque keeps the car perfectly balanced through fast curves. On an empty, snow-covered parking lot you can even get the back end to kick around like a rear-drive car. It’s fun, sure, but also lends a feeling of confidence and control. An adaptive front lighting system which turns the headlights with the car is also helpful in said parking lots.

Aside from that, notable gadgetry is at a minimum. There is a $2,640 optional touch screen navigation system that has live traffic and Sirius satellite radio, but is otherwise pretty run of the mill. Pulling out of spaces is aided by a backup camera projected on the multimedia display, but you don’t really need it because, despite the sloping roofline, visibility is good all around. That said, if parallel parking is your game, there is a cool overlay that shows you if you’ll fit in a space before you waste your time trying, though the CC won’t actually steer you in.

For $42,630 as tested, you might wish that it did. That’s quite a premium over the $27,100 it costs to get in the door of a stripped turbo, but, given the level of equipment, is on par with a lot of the luxury offerings from Japan and Germany.

The problem is that Volkswagen is not a luxury brand, and the last time it tried to be it failed miserably with the $100,000 Phaeton, an excellent sedan that couldn’t overcome its “people’s car” roots in high society. If such things are concern of yours, you’ll need to hope that the CC impresses on its own merits. Given the chance, it does.

It also makes one wonder why the Passat still exists, except to target buyers who are cross-shopping the dullest-looking cars on the road. Considering how little it gives up in the transformation from four-door to less-stodgy four-door, if VW offered a rear bench seat in the CC it would likely make the Passat irrelevant.

It might anyway.

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2009 Volkswagen CC VR6 4Motion

Base Price: $39,300

As Tested: $42,630

Type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, 4 passenger, 4-door sedan

Engine: 3.6L V-6

Power: 280 hp, 265 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

MPG: 17 city/25 highway

What do you think of the CC?

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