How do you cram eight cylinders into a six-cylinder compartment? If you’re Volkswagen, you create a new category of powerplants: The W8 is shorter overall than conventional V8 engines.

With the engine, the Passat now wrestles with upscale models from Audi, BMW, and others. It delivers 270 horsepower at 6,000 rpm with a smoothness that no six-cylinder can match. Fully equipped prices of $38,450 (sedan) and $39,250 (wagon) undercut most competitive V8 models by 10 grand.

Our test drive in California revealed a Passat of impeccable refinement, with shrewd chassis tuning, good balance, and ample punch out of the turns. And with VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive, this is a car you can push to the ragged edge with little fear of dire consequences.

–Don Sherman

20 points per category, 100 possible in total

Engine & drivetrain: 15
Suspension: 12
Safety: 13
Electronics: 10
Materials: 11

NOTE: 50 points out of 100 is the baseline score for the expected technology in this vehicle class.