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2012 Volkswagen Passat Six-Month Road Test: A First Look At Quality

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2012 Volkswagen Passat Six-Month Road Test, Durham, North Carolina

2012 Volkswagen Passat Six-Month Road Test, Durham, North Carolina

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Our Six-Month Road Test of the 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI rolls on, and as it approaches a full thousand miles and a fully broken-in powertrain, we've taken a closer look at how our particular Passat measures up from a customer perspective in one critical way--initial quality.

Picking up a brand-new car from the showroom is one of those experiences that people don't soon forget. It's either because of the excitement, or the dread of a new big payment, or more likely both. Some buyers, we think, are a little too blase about the actual delivery of the car they'll be driving for the next two to 20 years.

For my own cars, I've always taken a half-hour or so at the dealer to crawl in, out, and around a new car, to check every panel and spec-sheet box to make sure I'm getting what was promised, in perfect condition. You'd be surprised at what gets passed off, or is attempted: my last brand-new car was almost used, when a car dealer tried to swap in an identically trimmed vehicle with 800-plus miles on the clock instead of the 10-mile vehicle and VIN I'd specified on the sales contract.

So when the Passat arrived, and in the course of this weekend's first long road trip in the big four-door, I've been poking and prodding it for its first full physical. I'm happy to report only one slight imperfection at all--a slightly misaligned steering wheel rotated about one degree counterclockwise, a simple fix at the first service call that doesn't seem to affect alignment at all. The Passat's paint job seems flawless; the plastic trim pieces in its simply laid-out cabin fit together well, with the only noticeable gaps at the point where the dash meets the A-pillars. The vinyl seats are stitched to look like leather, and it's one simulation that's good enough to pass for real.

So far, I've encountered two things that an initial-quality survey like the J. D. Power IQS might eventually count against the Passat when real owners report back after 90 days of ownership. In our first review of the 2012 Passat, we noted wind noise as an issue, more so than in previous Passats and more than in some other mid-size four-doors (though less than in, say, the Hyundai Sonata). It's still true in our Passat TDI: the American-made VW uses thinner glass than it might, to save weight and cost, and it lets in wind, tire, and drivetrain noise on the highway that can drone after hours-long stints at the wheel. It may even be more of an issue in the TDI, where a driving range so far of more than 700 miles on a tank has been possible.

The second issue? A brief outage of satellite radio, probably due in no part to the car and its antenna. There's a long stretch of Interstate 85 in southern Virginia, where the pine trees grow tall around the highway, blocking out all the sightlines to the southwest sky for almost 45 miles. For years, no cell signal could penetrate here, either. On the northbound drive, the satellite signal dropped out just past South Hill, Virginia--and wouldn't reconnect until I shut down the car more than two hours later, after exiting I-95 north of Richmond. The other media modes worked properly, and so did AT&T, ironically enough. Chalk this one up to one of the few pockets of still-unscathed forest on the east coast.

We're growing fonder of the Passat's long-range driving talents as the miles roll by. Now that the drivetrain's loosened up--we're already observing more than 37 miles per gallon--we'll report back with a full fuel-economy test. That's after the leg home next week, through some mountain switchbacks, some GoPro-friendly roads, a major new-car launch of a direct competitor to the Passat--and with any luck, a little less rain than this past weekend.

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