The car industry and the publications that serve it like order. They like to place things into categories and through doing so, exert some illusion of control over the marketplace. The BMW 3-series competes with the Audi A4. The Honda Accord competes with the Toyota Camry. Vehicles are priced to be a few dollars higher or lower than the competition and offer a few percentage points more of some variable or a few less. All this makes for easy Powerpoint presentations, unchallenged marketing departments and easily defined cars; we all know that an Accord is like a Camry, but with a nicer interior and a better driving experience. It's a nice, comfy way to do business. Then a car like the 2009 Volkswagen CC comes along, refuses to play by the rules and screws everything up. How? By offering more than a Mercedes CLS for less than half the price.
That price is causing controversy. Not for how cheap it is, but how expensive. The CC starts at just $26,790 when equipped with a 2.0-liter turbo four and a six-speed manual. But the Passat, which the CC is based on, comes in at just $23,990. So to some, the CC is asking you to pay more for less; it only has four seats to the Passat's five. The thing about the CC is that it doesn't deserve to be compared to the Passat, but instead to vehicles that cost much much more. Why? It offers a driving experience that's at least equivalent to most entry- to mid-size luxury cars (there's those damn categories again), classier looks, a larger interior, greater economy and doesn't suffer from the image problems of it's snobbier rivals. The European luxury driving experience has come to be defined by two characteristics: sporting ability combined with cosseting quality. The driver of a BMW, Audi or Mercedes expects to be able to drive quickly everywhere from the highway to a winding mountain road, but doesn't want to pay a comfort penalty for that ability. They want supportive seats, isolation from external noise and a comfortable ride. Recently, much of the involvement that always came hand-in-hand with speed has been sacrificed in the drive to make cars ever more capable and safer. The CC is no different. It's as competent as an Audi A4, which is to say more fun than any Mercedes, but a little less involving than a BMW. One area where it distinguishes itself is in ride quality, which manages near total isolation without compromising handling ability. The interior, too, leaves you thinking more high-end than entry-level. The fit and finish is top notch. Every button and lever is well-damped. Attractive accent lighting makes things look nice at night. Everything is as it seems; the chrome is actual chromed metal, the brushed aluminum actual aluminum and not a cheap plastic imitation. Wood is, thankfully, totally absent. The two-tone black and beige seen here is the most successful interior color scheme, accentuating both the attractive shape of the dash and the seats which, in the rear, are the CC's defining characteristic. There are two supportive buckets separated by a console. That arrangement means that sitting in back is as appealing as sitting up front, but it also means the car sacrifices the ability to carry five people. The sloping roof, a characteristic of these four-door coupes, does impinge a bit on headroom, but I'm 6'2" and could sit back there all day without an issue. So we've covered what the CC does as well as its more expensive alternatives; now let's talk about what it does better. For one, when equipped with that base engine (there's also a 3.6-liter V6 with 280 HP) it's capable of returning 31 MPG on the highway while still managing the 0-to-60 sprint in 6.7 seconds. That back seat? Not only does it have more space than the A4 (or 3-series or C-class) that it drives like - I could cross my legs - but it has more headroom than a CLS, in which the ceiling flattens my beautiful hair. Then there's the looks. While not as striking as the Audi A4 or A5, the CC is a hell of a lot less awkward than the CLS or any current BMW. It's understated - there's not even a CC badge -and handsome, but utterly unassuming. People don't know what to make of it. One on hand, there's the VW badge, which means it's a cheap car, but on the other its shape is well proportioned and evokes quality. It looks expensive. Probably the best thing about the CC isn't the way that it drives or how nice the interior is, but its price. At $26,970 you get a car equipped with everything necessary to take on rivals costing twice as much, but also the economy of cars costing a little less. We're not sure what category it fits in other than this one: cars that we can wholeheartedly recommend buying.