- Expansive rear seat
- Excellent turbodiesel fuel economy
- Minimalist styling that should endure
- Dull base engine
- Still some grainy plastic trim
- Road and wind noise are noticeable
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.
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.