2013 Volkswagen Passat Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
May 26, 2013

Marginally less refined than the last version, today's VW Passat hits important marks with excellent diesel fuel economy, superior passenger space and top safety scores.

The VW Passat was redesigned in 2012, and and it's a larger, more affordable car than Passats of the past. Where it once could hit the $40,000 mark with options, the Passat now competes with other mid-size sedans like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata.

It was time for a reboot, and reboot it did in a massive way. Today's Passat is bigger, less complex, and it's built in Tennessee, all in the name of bringing it closer in line with the mass market here, in terms of price and interior space and fuel economy. Now selling strongly, the Passat has added a new dimension to the VW reputation for engineering--this time, for engineering it into something more pocketbook-friendly.

It's grown longer and wider in the process, and that's a key virtue of the latest Passat that's immediately apparent in its look. It's pure Volkswagen, and tame by almost any standard, but attractive and refined in a way that some of the more bawdy four-doors are not. It's big but not bulky, especially at the front end where a delicately rendered grille might be its best detail. The cabin's pure throwback to the VWs of the 1980s, with a horizontal layout that leaves everything to the imagination, and makes the last Passat look like an orgy of curves. It's a bluntly appealing place to work, even if it's 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.

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Work is what the base five-cylinder engine has to do to win over fans. It's free of flair, and delivers its 170 understated horsepower in an unenthusiastic way through either a manual or automatic transmission to the front wheels. No worries--it's the turbodiesel you want anyway, as much for its eager off-the-line torque as for its 43-mpg highway rating with the manual, though we'd always opt for the dual-clutch automatic unless we lived, ate, and breathed hypermiling. There's a V-6 option with 280 horsepower and a more muscular attitude, but it seems opulent and indulgent in such a bare, restrained car.

Road manners are as close to the outgoing Passat as they possibly can be, given the stretch in wheelbase, with minor differences in steering feel in the TDI's partly electrified system, and due to tire sizes. Still, the Passat is a large car, so it's not nimble in the strictest sense of the word--it just carries its size well.

The Passat's gained its family-sedan status in one big way. 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. But it's also earned excellent safety scores, and adds a rearview camera on some models this year, addressing a real dearth of useful safety technology.

It remains shy of some infotainment and luxury features, either altogether or specifically on some models and combinations. Want a base Passat TDI with cloth seats, satellite radio and a USB port? It doesn't exist. The Passat S doesn't have rear-seat air vents. Only the V-6 SEL has an option for real leather seats, though the synthetic stuff on most other models does a tough, convincing job.

We're sold on the packaging, but when it comes to a specific Passat, the TDI is the hands-down choice. For about $25,000 base, you'll get a sedan with about 700 miles of driving in each tank of fuel, 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 may be better values, better lookers and better straight-line performers out there.

In 2015, Volkswagen admitted diesel engines in this model illegally cheated federal tests and polluted beyond allowable limits. As part of unprecedented settlements with federal and state governments, Volkswagen agreed to buyback from owners diesel-equipped models of this vehicle. To determine eligibility for all affected Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi models, Volkswagen set up VWDieselInfo.com for owners. (Owners of affected vehicles can enter their VIN numbers to see if their cars are eligible for buyback.)

7

2013 Volkswagen Passat

Styling

While other family sedans go for drama, the Passat keeps it clean and subdued.

Is it timeless, or plain? That's the decision left up to buyers when faced with the Volkswagen Passat and a slew of four-door sedans, everything along the spectrum from the latest Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima, to the Nissan Altima and Mazda6, to the truly conservative wing it shares with the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

It's a placid, calm look--intentionally so, since VW thinks some of the latest efforts are overstyled, and won't stand the test of time. Nothing in the lines or surfaces suggests anything suggestive, and in context, that can make the Passat read a little dull. We're becoming more and more warm to its jewel-like details, especially the finely drawn grille, and to the references to the old VW Quantum sedans, too. At the same time, there's a common outline shared with today's Chevy Impala, and some starkness that obviously hasn't impacted sales. It's at its least convincing around the rear doors, stretched for the extra rear-seat space (the design's also deployed in China, where the Passat is a chauffeur-driven car). We agree that this Passat's styling will still look good when other designs will look very specific to a time and date, but it does run counter to an inherent flashy meme that runs through truly great cars.

The cabin's design is divided on a north-south axis. Above the shoulder line, the Passat wears nicer, more tightly grained plastics; the harder, open-textured stuff lives below. There's an admirable straightforwardness in the controls, something Volkswagen's managed to preserve since the mid-1990s while sister brand Audi's gone totally off the function/form reservation. The dials are big and readable at a glance, with thin chrome bangles to set them off the dark backdrop. Woodgrain or metallic treatments panel the broad dash, and the ancillary controls have logical dials placed in logical places. Part of the new Passat's frugal, traditional take means there's little of the complexity of, say, the Sonata's dash to rein in, and none of the iPad homages we're seeing in some versions of the Taurus and Fusion. Here, it's all buttons and switches, right where you expect them to be, like a swig of automotive throwback Pepsi, circa 1994, right down to the handbrake on the center console.

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2013 Volkswagen Passat

Performance

The big Passat handles well; we say skip the five and the six, and take the turbodiesel four.

Volkswagen's Passat has its excellent turbodiesel powertrain to its credit, and very good urban and highway handling.

When it comes to its base powertrain, there's work to be done--and we're already hearing a turbo four will replace today's base engine, a 2.5-liter in-line five-cylinder. The current powertrain is flair-free, and doesn't hit the fuel-economy bests earned by other four-cylinder competitors. Throttle response is sluggish, power delivery's flat and unexciting and there's just as much vibration as in the turbodiesel. With the six-speed automatic transmission, VW says the in-line five can accelerate to 60 mpg in 8.7 seconds; a manual could drop it to 8.2 seconds, but probably wouldn't make it feel any more engaging. Highway fuel economy of 34 mpg lags the best in class by as much as 4 mpg.

The turbodiesel 2.0-liter four is the clear winner in the Passat lineup, even though it's somewhat slower to 60 mph than the five-cylinder. The diesel sounds light on horsepower on paper, but it's heavy on torque and strong in fuel economy. Horsepower totals just 140, but the powerplant turns in 236 pound-feet of torque, ample enough to accelerate to 60 mph in an estimated 9.3 seconds with the manual transmission, and 9.1 seconds with the dual-clutch automatic. Top speed is pegged at 118 mph. Objectively slower than the five-cylinder, the turbodiesel simply feels more lively in urban cruising; we've stitched together long driving loops of country roads and city dodge-ems and racked up thousands of miles in a long-term Passat TDI, and the turbodiesel pulls away more smartly from launch than the five-cylinder, with a more energetic feel than the acceleration numbers indicate. The dual-clutch is the way to go, too, though it won't eke out the absolute best fuel economy, and though it lacks paddles for shifting. Its gears are well spaced, it shifts quickly, and feels fluid in sporty driving.

At 43 mpg estimated for the EPA's highway cycle, the TDI's slightly slower straight-line performance seems like a fair trade-off, particularly when it's compared with the alternatives.

The 280-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 version arrived late in the 2012 model year, and we've driven it briefly to confirm our impression that its 0-60 mph time of 6.5 seconds, and top speed of 130 mph, are fine for those who need to spend more. On a sedan that frankly lacks all the full-tilt luxury items found on some other sedans, and that acquits itself so well with its high-economy model, the V-6 seems like an invisible extravagance.

The Passat's ride and handling are a cut above most of its competitors, with the possible exceptions of the Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion. With 16-inch wheels and hydraulic steering, the five-cylinder Passat sounds pedestrian but has the nuanced feel--a taut ride without too much stiffness--that distinguishes it from the still-learning Korean brands. It's compliant over small bumps, and stands out on interstate drives for its composure alongside the Altima. On the TDI, the steering goes electrohydraulic, which lends fuel-economy benefits and a slightly zippier steering feel. The TDI Passat had the best heft-to-accuracy ratio of its kind, up there with the all-electric steering in the Fusion and some versions of the new Chevy Malibu. In all, the Passat's eager turn-in and body control are better than cars half a foot shorter in wheelbase.

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2013 Volkswagen Passat

Comfort & Quality

Limousine-style rear-seat space and supportive front seats team up with a big trunk for exceptional space in the Passat.

With many family sedans holding steady at their current dimensions, or even shrinking in the case of the Chevy Malibu, the VW Passat grew larger last year in its quest to lure in more American buyers.

Today, the Passat is one of the largest mid-size sedans on sale. At 191.7 inches long, the Passat is also 72.2 inches wide, and rides on a 110.4-inch wheelbase. The Hyundai Sonata has a fractionally shorter wheelbase, but it's nearly two inches shorter overall. The current Honda Accord? It's about the same between the wheels, but about three inches longer overall.

The Passat's outsized dimensions play out in much more interior space than its predecessor ever had, and its generally upright styling makes more of that space available to passengers--it doesn't trap a lot under the glass, as the Sonata and Optima do.

Up front, the Passat sports cloth seats on base models. On most other versions, more sporty buckets are covered in synthetic leather-like material--we'd call it vinyl, but it's more sophisticated in appearance and durability than that. Still, a cloth option would be ideal for warm climates. The seats themselves are firm and bolstered in the right places to provide great support on long-distance drives, the kind of drives at which the TDI models excel. Non-power seats have a trio of levers and knobs for adjustments.

As wide as a Honda Accord, the Passat's interior offers plenty of knee and shoulder room, but the front seats are set in closer to the console than to the door panels. The seat travel is less than in some competitors, so by the measuring tape, leg room is on the shy side, at 38.3 inches, compared to the Sonata's 45.5 inches and the Accord's 41.4 inches.

In back, the Passat offers up the most space of any mid-size sedan, even more than the likes of the Hyundai Azera and the outgoing Toyota Avalon. A six-foot adult can ride behind another six-foot adult and cross leg over knee, there's so much leg room, and still have a couple of inches of space left to spare. For the record, the Passat's rear-seat leg room measures 42.4 inches; the Avalon and Azera are well behind at about 38 inches, while the Honda Accord is about a tenth of an inch longer. That said, the Passat's roof arcs downward right over the rear headrests, and very tall passengers will make contact with the headliner, even in cars without the optional sunroof.

Big cupholders hide under a flip-up lid next to the Passat's handbrake, and a bin ahead of the shift lever can hold cell phones and keyfobs. The glovebox and door pockets are fairly large, and the Passat's trunk is nearly the biggest in its class at 15.9 cubic feet. It's a cube larger than the trunk in the Accord, a half-cube shy of the one in the Sonata and almost three cubic feet smaller than in the Impala. The seatback releases on most Passats are pull-type knobs mounted inside the trunk, where they seem to make better sense, just as you'll find when loading up a Sonata.

One distinct area of improvement the Passat's engineers need to focus on is wind and road noise. The Passat's big cabin is louder than it needs to be; to be fair, the Sonata can present a fair amount of engine noise, but the Passat's wind ruffles over the mirrors, and over the B-pillar, of all places, stood out as unusual in the class. A thicker set of windows could clean up the noise profile nicely, since it doesn't seem to emanate from the car's wheel wells or the trunk area.

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2013 Volkswagen Passat

Safety

Great crash-test performance makes the Passat a good choice—although it's lacking some of the most advanced safety options seen in some rivals.

The Passat already has VW's reputation for engineering behind it, but with official safety scores and more standard safety equipment, it's an even easier choice for families this year.

All Passat sedans come with the mandatory safety and related equipment. That includes anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control; dual front, side and curtain airbags; and tire pressure monitors. A hill-holder feature is standard on vehicles outfitted with a manual transmission.

Both of the major reporting agencies give the current Passat excellent crash-test scores. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rates the sedan at five stars overall, with five stars for both front and side impacts and a four-star rating for rollover resistance. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has given the Passat its new Top Safety Pick+ designation, with top 'good' ratings in most areas except the new small overlap frontal test, where it gets an 'acceptable' rating.

For this, its second model year, the Passat still lacks the advanced tech features becoming more common on other family sedans--new assistants like front and rear parking sensors, and blind-spot monitors. It does add a standard rearview camera on Passat SEL sedans.

Visibility is one of the Passat's strongest safety attributes. The large glass areas, fold-down rear headrests and slim roof pillars give drivers a nearly panoramic view of the world around them.

7

2013 Volkswagen Passat

Features

Pared down for simplicity's sake, the Passat just doesn't offer all features to all drivers--or some features, at all.

Volkswagen developed this U.S.-built Passat with pricing in mind, and it's chosen its features with the same cost-consciousness. The standard features include the expected conveniences, but the Passat's options list is missing a lot of the things that other automakers have added in the quest to make their vehicles more distinctive. In some cases, the Passat's more ordinary features can't be had on certain models.

Three trim levels define the Passat range: S, SE, and SEL. On all versions, the list of standard features includes power windows, locks, and mirrors; 16-inch wheels; Bluetooth; automatic climate control; and cruise control.

Some of the upscale items that can nudge the Passat's pricetag higher include power front seats; woodgrain trim; pushbutton start; ambient lighting; and 17-inch or even 18-inch wheels.

Ordering the proper package is essential with the Passat, since Volkswagen has dramatically cut down on the number of variations and options offered on each model. Why? The complexity of the build process is reduced, which makes it less expensive to manufacture. Seat upholstery is one example: the only cloth seats in the lineup are found on the base Passat S. All other Passats come with a synthetic leather-look material, while real leather is an option only on the V-6 model. If you're trying to spec out a Passat TDI with leather seats, don't--it's not offered. Likewise, if you're looking for satellite radio or a USB port on the base car, you'll have to resort to a plug-in version from Best Buy, since VW omits that feature from base cars entirely.

On all Passats, an AM/FM/CD player is standard. The SE version adds a six-disc in-dash CD changer just when those changers themselves are being bypassed in favor of streaming audio in vehicles like the Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata, even the upcoming Toyota Camry. The V-6 Passat is the only one to have VW's new Fender-branded audio system.

As an option, the Passat bundles a five-inch LCD touchscreen along with a GPS system that has some confusing menu operations, but fairly clean map layouts. On the SEL, there's a 6.5-inch LCD touchscreen with a 30GB hard drive for GPS maps and for music files. Neither of the VW navigation systems have the fluid map rescaling and routing of the latest systems--but for 2013, the nav screen on SEL sedans displays output from a newly standard rearview camera.

VW's Bluetooth integration can throw new users for a loop, too. Most drivers are used to speaking a command or touching a screen to pair phones. On the Passat without navigation, the vehicle doesn't prompt you at all--you simply seek on your phone and connect with a blanket four-digit password. It's either fiendishly simple, or just fiendish, if you're used to driving the process with your voice or with a finger.

While we're on the subject of talking, the Passat offers no voice command control of systems like climate control and audio, as SYNC, UVO, Blue Link and Entune enable.

8

2013 Volkswagen Passat

Fuel Economy

The base and top engines aren't leaders, but the VW Passat's turbodiesel has excellent fuel economy.

The Passat underachieves on fuel economy, at least where gasoline is concerned. But it handily outstrips most of the competition, including some hybrids, when its stellar turbodiesel numbers are factored in.

The standard-issue, 170-horsepower, five-cylinder Passat doesn't quite match the benchmarks in the mid-size sedan segment. It's rated by the EPA at 22 miles per gallon city, 32 miles per gallon highway, for a combined rating of 26 mpg. That's the manual-transmission model; the automatic-equipped sedan has a highway rating of 31 mpg. Compared to the four-cylinder economy of the 2013 Nissan Altima--it's rated at 38 mpg--this Passat can't quite keep up the pace.

On the V-6 Passat, which comes only with an automatic transmission, the EPA pegs it at 20/28 mpg, or 23 mpg combined. It's a bit more competitive with the other top-line models in its class, but far off the mark of more powerful four-cylinder turbos like the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima.

The turbodiesel Passat TDI is where the fuel-economy action is. Offered with a five-speed manual or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic without shift paddles, the Passat TDI checks in with an EPA rating of 31/43 mpg for the manual, and 30/40 mpg for the dual-clutch; they're rated at 35 mpg and 34 mpg combined, respectively. Volkswagen says those figures make the Passat TDI the most fuel-efficient mid-size vehicle offered for sale in the U.S.

Diesel geeks will be interested to see the Passat TDI gets better fuel-economy numbers than the smaller, lighter Jetta TDI. In this case, VW says it's because it uses a urea-spray after-treatment on emissions, which allows it to operate the same engine more efficiently in the larger car. The smaller Jetta's nearly identical turbodiesel goes without the urea treatment, while still keeping its nitrogen-oxide emissions below newer, stricter limits.

In 2015, Volkswagen admitted diesel engines in this model illegally cheated federal tests and polluted beyond allowable limits. As part of unprecedented settlements with federal and state governments, Volkswagen agreed to buyback from owners diesel-equipped models of this vehicle. To determine eligibility for all affected Volkswagen, Porsche, and Audi models, Volkswagen set up VWDieselInfo.com for owners. (Owners of affected vehicles can enter their VIN numbers to see if their cars are eligible for buyback.)

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July 24, 2015
2013 Volkswagen Passat 4-Door Sedan 2.5L Automatic S w/Appearance *Ltd Avail*

ONE HAPPY FELLA

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My thoughts of a 2013 Passat, Well it starts with the body, a full body classic 4 door car look, Sweeping long lines from the rear quarter panel to the front hood, sweeping long and lean , Both side clean as... + More »
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May 16, 2015
2013 Volkswagen Passat 4-Door Sedan 2.0L DSG TDI SEL Premium

Luxury sedan at a standard sedan price with an ultra quiet ride that makes the clean diesel a joy to own

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The Passat TDI has an ultra quiet ride, without the expected diesel smell or noise. Although it doesn't have the turbo boost, it does reach cruising speed in a timely fashion. This car is designed for comfort... + More »
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April 28, 2015
2013 Volkswagen Passat 4-Door Sedan 2.5L Automatic SE PZEV

Great basic car little sluggish, but reliable and solidly built

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I really enjoy the interior space - there is excellent room in front as well as back seats. The vehicle like to shift early so it is very sluggish compared to others in its class. Fuel economy is fine. I... + More »
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