- Amazing rear-seat leg room
- TDI's hybrid-beating fuel economy
- Spare bodywork's minimalist details
- Steers and rides, for the most part, like the old Passat
- Five-cylinder's dull responses
- Plenty of grainy plastic inside
- Wind and road noise
- Features list is full of potholes
A massive rear seat and better-than-hybrid highway fuel economy mask the slight loss of refinement and nimble road feel in the 2012 Volkswagen Passat.
Volkswagen's set out to completely re-engineer its core products for America, in the hopes of grabbing some of the momentum that's vaulted South Korea's Hyundai and Kia into the heart of the mid-size sedan market. With the Jetta upsized and repositioned, it's now the Passat's turn.
German-engineered is a key phrase for the 2012 VW Passat, the company's first American-made vehicle since 1985. Issuing forth from a billion-dollar factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee, this Passat grows longer and wider, and reverts to some stalwart engines and suspension designs, so that it can be manufactured more simply, and more inexpensively--which should help VW bring the base price for the big new sedan down to about $20,000.
The Passat's certainly gained status in some important ways. The rear seat is tremendous, bigger than the bench in an Azera or an Avalon, with the kind of ease of entry and exit we're used to getting in a minivan. The trunk's also pretty vast. Road manners are as close to the outgoing Passat as they possibly can be, given the stretch in wheelbase--and the automaker's TDI diesel wows even hybrid drivers with an estimated 43-mpg highway fuel economy rating.
Like the Jetta, the Passat's taken a step back or two from some of the heights of VW's recent past. Its sheetmetal can read elegant and timeless--or in the wrong color or from the wrong angle, dull. The interior's better honed and more finely graded than the one in the Jetta, but only roughly the equal of the cabin in a Fusion or an Altima or a Legacy, and nothing like the outgoing Passat's tightly grained, rich-feeling environment. As it keeps options and models to a bare minimum, Volkswagen's omitted some features in some combinations we'd like to see, even as options. Want a base Passat TDI with cloth seats, satellite radio and a USB port? It doesn't exist.
With either of the tested engines, acceleration's mid-pack at best. We'd have no problems recommending a base Hyundai Sonata automatic for roughly $22,000, but the Passat's grumbly five-cylinder and its second-tier gas mileage make the TDI the better choice--and that means a base price of about $25,000 instead. For that price, you'll get a sedan with nearly 800 miles of driving in each tank of fuel, and limousine-like rear-seat room, with a dash of the handling brio you'd expect from a Volkswagen. If those attributes top your shopping list for a new family sedan, the Passat rules--knowing there are better values, better lookers and better straight-line performers out there, but none bigger.