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The 2014 Volkswagen Passat is the mid-size sedan that has taken VW more firmly into the mainstream of the U.S. market than many buyers realize. It became the company's first U.S.-built vehicle in a quarter of a century, and the Passat combines that distinctly U.S. virtue--lots of rear-seat room--with the allure of German technology and engineering to offer its strongest-ever entry in a tough and very competitive class.
The Passat faces off against the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry, among other mid-sized four-doors. It's a category where the difference between winners and losers is separated by a few critical factors: space, price, and safety. Now in its third model year, the VW Passat makes a good argument that growing out of its Euro roots into a new and genuinely larger size, and becoming selectively more American in the process, has made a car that can get beyond the company's traditional niche. For 2014, a new engine finishes off its transformation.
The familiar design of the Passat will reassure VW fans, getting them into the new and larger car. The look of today's model is pure VW, and a tame rendition at that. But the styling goes far in slimming down the Passat's bulk, particularly in its slim grille. Inside it's Volkswagen at its most cleanly rendered, with a layout of controls that's almost stark compared to the chaos of lines and surfaces found in some of its competition. There are some passages with less appealing finishes than VW sedans from the past, but they're still at least on par with the other base versions of the most popular family sedans.
VW's base Passat still totes a weary five-cylinder engine, but it's on the way out. The 170-hp five feels flat and colorless, and doesn't deliver acceleration or fuel economy to beat anything in its segment. Not so the new 1.8-liter turbo four that's being introduced gradually, in a single model this year. With the same power output and slightly more torque, the turbo four's peak torque shows up much earlier, and stays much longer--while it revs much more sweetly. It's our backup choice for those who can't quite come to grips with VW's slower but gold-star-efficient turbodiesel. The Passat TDI's eager off-the-line torque is paired with a 43-mpg EPA highway rating and an optional dual-clutch automatic for good urban drivability. 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 VW standard as they possibly can be, given the long wheelbase. Minor differences among models amount to the steering feel (the base car has an older hydraulic rack, all others have electric power steering) 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. Leather is more widely available now, though the synthetic stuff on most models does a 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 $26,000 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.
- Expansive rear seat
- Excellent turbodiesel fuel economy
- Minimalist styling that should endure
- Ride and handling a cut above
- Strong safety scores
Next: Interior / Exterior »
- Dull base engine
- Still some grainy plastic trim
- Road and wind noise are noticeable
- Gaps in the features and options lists