Electrical problems: 1) hazard lights controller malfunction; 2) power window motor failures; 3) car lighter power source not operational after two years.
Mechanical problems: 1) defective charcoal canister led to engine choking after fueling - component should act as a vapor pressure relief, but was allowing liquid to enter system; 2) recall on front steering tie rods - items fixed free of charge 3) After 105K miles the nipple on the turbo relief valve failed (minor repair, but important to maintain turbo). 4) Absurd replacement of underneath plastic cover - quick oil change vendors did not have the disposable plastic replacements and led to cover dragging and causing me to replace at cost of $350. I did not replace it the second time (not really needed unless under snow conditions or flooding conditions); 5) Cabin filter needs replacement - gives bad odor at 90K miles; 6) Air condition not as cool after 70K miles and putting freon has not helped; 7) the key-less entry controller does not last and costs $40 from the dealer (about $20 on ebay). 8) Poor cup holders
Maintenance costs: I have not totaled all expenses, but a quick rough estimate maintenance cost has been approximately $800 - $1000 a year for the last 4 years of ownership.
The above things are what I have experienced from my car in the negative sense. On the other hand:
Electrical Benefits: Cool looking dash, windows open and close with key, great sound system.
Mechanical Benefits: Great handling, smooth ride, excellent comfort on long drives, and fun to drive, nice performance from the 1.8 Turbo, great anti-lock breaking and handling saved me from one major accident.
When compared to my 2002 Ford Taurus company car, I still prefer the Passat. The Taurus did not give the comfort, the enjoyment, or the security that the Passat gives.
My advice if you want to own a Passat is to buy a used Passat from one of the dissatisfied owners, find a good local VW specialist, and maintain your car. From an engineering standpoint, the VW Passat outclasses many of the cars from the ‘99 vintage, but it is very apparent that VW has to learn a lot and I hope they have since about service, ergonomics, communication, and reduced maintenance costs.
All and all, I might buy another VW Passat at the right price. After finding a VW mechanic at $65 an hour I am a lot happier. VW service charges $90 and hour. Ford charges $85 an hour so you don’t save much there and believe me my ‘02 Ford Taurus pays lots of visits to the dealership, but their service is better. Even with 105K miles I still love driving my Passat and it is still "fun to drive". Keep up with the maintenance and the car will last. Another piece of advice, if you like to change cars frequently then this might not be the best car for you, but if you like keeping a car for a while, then take care of your VW and it will take care of you.