*NOTE* This is a 2001.5 model year Passat, which is essentially the same as a 2002. It has the chrome detailing and 170hp 1.8T engine.
This car has had no major mechanical or electrical problems. It had some minor cosmetic issues while still under warranty: the sun roof wasn't quite seated correctly and it left marks on the velour, and the front moulding over the windshield was loose). These were corrected quickly and the damaged sun-roof interior replaced by the dealer under warranty.
My only major complaint about the vehicle is the velour interior; velour that is this "sticky" should never find its way to where it will come in contact with any clothes at all. Everything sticks to it - sweater fuzz, polar fleece fuzz, hair, etc. I will either trade up or reupholster after another year or two. I have the beige velour; perhaps the gray velour is more forgiving.
I was surprised and dismayed to find the many poor reviews of this vehicle on CarSurvey. I have had no maintenance costs to date, although I do anticipate that in the US german car repairs will cost at least 2x more than US or Japanese cars.
I have driven it through the mountains in snowy conditions (Lake Tahoe area) ; I have driven it for over 12 hours continuously (from San Francisco to Salt Lake). The anti-slip regulation on the drive train is fantastic - it got me out of some situations in Tahoe that would have required AWD or some serious pushing otherwise.
I bought the car because I wanted something sporty, but still large enough to cart my friends around. I have driven many Jettas, Bugs, and Passats (a former employer ran a business around these vehicles, and I drove over 30). I would have chosen the Jetta, but it wouldn't fit 4 friends easily. So, yes, I am 24 and single with a "family sedan," but it's about as sporty as you can get for the size short of spending $40k on a 5-series!
Performance? I love it. It handles extremely well, although it does have more body roll than the 3-series BMW. The steering is great, and the engine really gives me punch as long as I remember to downshift (this is why I drive a manua!)
The interior is reasonably quiet at 90-100mph, and at 80mph it is very quiet; again, not as quiet as the BMW or Acura TL-S. I love the sunroof, which gives great ventilation without much noise or discomfort when the back windows are open.
Maybe next time I will buy an A4, but this was $10k cheaper and is _almost_ as fun as the A4s I've driven. Why pay for the 4 circles?