The red-ringed circular “120” icon disappeared from the 2019 VW Passat’s navigation screen. Glancing to the side of the Autobahn, I saw a circular sign with slashes through it. Moving to the leftmost lane, I downshifted from sixth gear to fourth and pinned the Passat’s throttle wide open. My friend Mark grabbed his iPhone for the inevitable photo op that was soon to come.
Mark and I were on Germany’s Autobahn highway network, headed from Stuttgart to the famous Nurburgring racetrack. We came to Germany with a group of DC-area friends, set to explore Stuttgart and Munich, culminating in a few days’ celebration at Oktoberfest. But, being in the same country as the Nurburgring meant we simply had to visit and turn some laps. And to do that, we had to rent a car.
The Nurburgring: 2019 VW Passat Estate
The “BMW 128i or Similar” I had reserved through Enterprise gave way to a 2019 Volkswagen Passat Estate. The long gray wagon was equipped with a 2.0 liter turbodiesel engine making about 150 horsepower, mated to a six-speed manual transmission. It was decidedly not fast, but was pleasant to drive at “normal” highway speeds of 120 kph or so.
I had read up on Autobahn behaviors and German driving laws before our trip, and knew the “slash” sign meant “go for it.” Keep right unless overtaking, watch for cars approaching at a faster pace, and watch for others pulling out in front of you. Pretty simple.
The experience was still quite unnerving when I reached the first unrestricted section of Autobahn. “I guess we just… go for it” I said to Mark as I flicked on my left turn signal and pulled out.
The speed built slowly in the Passat as I ran fourth gear to redline and upshifted. Traffic was light on the way to the ‘Ring and we had room to “let ‘er eat” as fast as I dared go. With only a rudimentary grasp of how fast kilometers-per-hour translated to miles, we were guessing the top speed and a bit amazed at how willing the Passat was to bury the speedometer needle. It climbed past 180 kph easily enough. Slightly slower, it crested 200. I upshifted to sixth and kept my foot down.
Speeds continued to climb as Mark readied the camera. We saw 210 kph on the digital readout between the large, round gauges. More, more, more! Finally, the Passat made it to its practical top speed of 218 kph, about 136 mph. It wasn’t struggling in the least, although aerodynamics were definitely working against us at such a speed.
Eventually, another “120” sign came into view and I clamped down on the brakes. My desire to get a German speeding ticket for breaking ze rules! was low, so our speed hovered just a few kilos over the speed limit at most, as conversation continued alongside the search for the next unrestricted section of road.
I repeated the “downshift, hammer down, top speed” dance as much as I could for the rest of our journey. It never got old. We arrived to the Nurburging, picked up our rental Suzuki Swift track cars from Rent4Ring, and had a massively enjoyable evening (more to come on this in a later post).
The following morning, Mark took the wheel to get us to Munich. We were both more comfortable with the Autobahn’s flow and going so fast around other drivers. Thankfully, everyone seemed pretty attentive behind the wheel – except for the driver of one BMW X5. Mark, too, got the Passat’s speedometer up to the 200 kph range. We stopped for a final restroom-and-diesel break (fun fact: you pay to pee on the Autobahn) and I drove us into downtown Munich to deliver the Passat back to Enterprise.
Castle Neuschwanstein: 2019 VW Multivan
Our friend Alvin had blocked one day for a drive to Castle Neuschwanstein, the famous castle that inspired those of Disney movies. He left me in charge of renting a car for the day trip, as I was the biggest gearhead on the trip. Unfortunately, the choices to haul six people didn’t offer up much in the way of “fun.” I booked a midsize Volkswagen Sharan minivan, and Sixt upgraded us to the larger Volkswagen Multivan when I arrived to pick up the keys.
The black Multivan was powered by the same 2.0 liter TDI as our earlier Passat, but paired to a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission. The quick-shifting transmission was odd to feel working away in a large van, but it worked quite well. Alvin helped navigate our full van out of downtown Munich, and we set off to Neuschwanstein.
With only a short period of Autobahn time before we hit back roads to the castle, I asked the guys if they were comfortable with some top-speed runs in the van. Everyone encouraged some light tomfoolery, and at the first “unrestricted” sign, I pulled out to the left and buried the right-most pedal into the carpet.
Surprisingly, the van was able to achieve some pretty honest speed with enough room to run, achieving 210 kph or so multiple times. The upright driving position and boxy profile didn’t lend itself to as much confidence at speed, but it was doing it!
On the ride home from Neuschwanstein, I heard some giggling from the third row, where Alvin was seated. I turned Shania Twain down and asked what was up. “Nothing, I just love how you’re driving this van like a tank in the left lane, making all these hatchbacks move over because they’re going too slow!”
Hey, the law said I could go fast and I only had a few chances on this trip, I was going to have that poor Multivan topped out as much as I could.
With several toppings-out under my belt, I topped off the tank of the Multivan with some fresh diesel and returned it to the Munich train station. With Oktoberfest looming the following morning, our time driving through parts of Germany had come to a close for this trip.
Between the Passat and Multivan, Mark and I had collectively driven 1,100 kilometers, many of them flat out on the Autobahn. We encountered one driver staring at their phone in a BMW X5, and another driver going unreasonably slow in the left-most lane in a BMW E36 touring (the one time I passed on the right, after several kilometers of high-beam flashes and horn honks). Everyone else was very aware and made sharing the roads easy.
Until next time… prost!