New & Used Volkswagen Passat: In Depth
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Volkswagen Passat is a mid-size sedan in the Volkswagen lineup that trends toward the larger side of its class. The current generation is only available as a four-door sedan, despite other body styles being available in the past. Several drivetrain choices are available, including a gas V-6, inline 5-cylinder, and an inline-four turbo diesel. The Passat is produced at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and it competes with best sellers like the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, and the Honda Accord.
See our 2014 VW Passat review for pricing with options, specifications, and fuel economy ratings
In the U.S., the Passat's lineage goes all the way back to the Dasher sedans and hatchbacks of the 1970s and the Quantum models of the 1980s—the latter which were, notably, offered with so-called Syncro all-wheel drive.
While Passat had been a model name used elsewhere, the Passat finally began to pick up pace in the U.S. with the launch of the third-generation (or first-gen for Americans) Passat, which had the same name here. The lack of a normal grille in front was a unique design point, while otherwise these models had a pretty low hood and large greenhouse, making them very space-efficient for their size; ride quality was good, too, though their interiors didn't feel any plusher than those of the cheaper Jetta. Most of this generation had barely adequate 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines, though diesels and VW's narrow-angle VR6 engine were offered.
The next complete redesign the Passat got, in 1998, was revolutionary. VW switched its mid-size sedan to the same platform as the Audi A4, and everything from its ride to its driving manners felt much more upscale and sophisticated—either compared to the previous Passat or to other U.S. rivals like the Camry, Accord, and Taurus. Most Passat models from this era included either a 170-horsepower, 1.8-liter (1.8T) turbo four-cylinder or a 190-hp Audi-derived V-6. Between these two engines, there's surprisingly little difference in acceleration (and it makes the Passat feel more nimble), though the V-6 makes it feel like a luxury car. A short-lived Passat W8 model (2003-2004) featured a special 270-hp narrow-angle eight-cylinder engine, but its $40k+ price tag, heft, and thirst just didn't add up to much appeal. Throughout this generation, 4Motion all-wheel drive was available on most of the model line, too.
For 2006, the Passat changed for the better for Americans, becoming a little roomier and more comfortable, though they bypassed some of the sportier driving feel of their predecessors for refinement and more features for the money. Most of these Passats, which weren't significantly changed through 2010, came with an excellent 200-hp, 2.0-liter (2.0T) four-cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic transmission (though a six-speed manual was also on offer). A 280-hp, 3.6-liter VR6 engine was offered from 2006-2008, and was required for 4Motion, but it was never a popular choice because it was so much more expensive. Across the board, this generation of Passat came with a long list of standard features, including standard side-curtain bags, and rear thorax bags were an unusual option. Here at The Car Connection, we found this Passat to be one of the quietest cars in this class, with a roomy backseat and nice interior materials. But a requirement for premium fuel might make these models less appealing as used cars.
In mid-2011, a new 2012 Volkswagen Passat was unveiled. With a somewhat larger body style and cost-cut, Americanized packaging, the new made-in-the-U.S. Passat gets a massive rear seat and a noticeable downgrade in refinement. But with a more attractive price of around $25k, we've found the new Passat to be particularly attractive—especially considering its 43-mpg highway rating. The Passat does have impressive handling, but its base five-cylinder engine is dull and somehow not as responsive as base engines in rivals like the Ford Fusion or Hyundai Sonata; further—although a new 170-hp, 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is being introduced as the base engine looking ahead to 2015 (it was introduced in a single model for 2015).
The current turbodiesel version has good power and exceptional fuel economy, while the V-6 is geared to the few buyers who really want more luxury features in a family sedan. We had a 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI for an extended Six Month Road Test and found it to be an excellent long-distance cruiser—one with real-world highway mileage well into the 40s.
Otherwise the Passat has changed very little over the past several model years. In the current Passat, those those coming from former versions of this sedan (or even Honda Accords) will be troubled by the swaths of grainy plastic, and there's more wind and road noise than we expect. Another thing we've noted of it is the very limited number of build combinations. For instance, you can't get a cloth interior with the TDI engine or VR6, the Bluetooth interface is very basic and lacks voice control. A USB connector is also lacking on the base car -- although VW did add a rearview camera system for 2013. On the 2014 Passat, a Technology Package is more widely available and permits adding the backup camera and touch-screen audio at an affordable price.