2015 Volkswagen Passat Review

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John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
July 6, 2015

The 2015 Volkswagen Passat provides a refreshing alternative to the usual mid-sizers, offering a huge interior and the segment's only diesel engine option.

The 2015 Volkswagen Passat is VW's shot into the very center of the competitive mid-size sedan market. After four years, the U.S.-built Passat still offers lots of interior space in a conservatively styled car aimed at such established sedan strongholds as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and Ford Fusion.

The difference between winners and also-rans in this hotly contested segment generally hinges on a handful of factors: space, safety, price. Starting in 2012, the Passat was expanded beyond its slim, tailored European sporty-sedan packaging into a new larger size, turning it into a far more "American" car that emerges into the mainstream.

For 2015, the Passat acquires a handful of changes that won't be visible on the surface. There are two brand-new engines that replace older and less fuel-efficient units, and an optional technology package that adds an upgraded audio and infotainment system to the rear-vision camera that's now been made standard on all trim levels (except the base Passat S). Those engines are a new and more efficient 2.0-liter TDI diesel, making the diesel Passat even more fuel efficient, and a smaller but turbocharged 1.8-liter gasoline four-cylinder. And there'll be more changes to come for the 2016 model year, including some freshened styling.

Review continues below

The familiar design of the Passat will reassure VW fans. The look of today's model is pure VW, although a tame rendition as a result of its general bigness and an obvious decision not to rock the boat. 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 parts of the interior with less appealing finishes than German-made VW sedans from the past, but they're at least on par with base versions of other popular family sedans. The interior's only real quirk is a steering wheel that's slightly off-center compared to the driver's seat. This is an artifact of a smaller architecture being stretched in width to create the commodious Americanized Passat, and it's one drivers can quickly learn to live with.

The Passat has clearly now entered the "family sedan" category, and it did that the old-fashioned way: The rear seat is huge. It's bigger than the bench in a Hyundai Azera or a Toyota Avalon, and it can be entered and exited with the the kind of ease we're used to getting in extended-wheelbase luxury cars. The trunk capacity also vast.

For 2015, the Passat's base engine becomes a likable new 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Introduced on certain models for 2014, the 1.8T now takes over completely for an old naturally aspirated base 2.5-liter. The new engine has the same power output (170 hp) and slightly more torque than the ancient 2.5-liter, but the turbo four's peak torque shows up earlier and stays longer--while it revs much more sweetly. It's our backup choice for those who aren't interested in VW's slower but gold-star-efficient turbodiesel, also entirely new for 2015.

The Passat TDI's eager off-the-line torque comes with fuel-economy ratings of 35 mpg combined if you get the manual gearbox--itself an unusual option in a mid-size sedan--or 34 mpg if you get the optional dual-clutch automatic for easier city driveability. Highway ratings for the two models are 44 and 42 mpg respectively, and they're only surpassed in the mid-size segment by hybrid-electric sedans. Finally, there's also a gasoline 3.6-liter V-6 option with 280 horsepower and a more muscular attitude, but it seems opulent and indulgent in such a restrained, value-conscious car.

The Passat's road manners are as close to the VW standard as they can be, given the long wheelbase and overall stretched proportions. Minor differences in feel among models are due to differing 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. All models have a very comfortable suspension that soaks up highway miles, cushy but not floaty with a perfect balance that allows it to handle well when you get into tighter turns.

The Passat has also earned excellent safety scores, both from the NHTSA and the IIHS, and it offers a rearview camera on some models. 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. With so many available trim levels, you have to make some compromises to get most of the options you want.

We're sold on the packaging, but when it comes to a specific Passat, the TDI is the hands-down winner. For about $26,000 base, you'll get a sedan with about 700 miles of driving range on a tank of fuel, limousine-like rear-seat room, and a dash of Volkswagen handling brio. If those attributes top your shopping list for a new family sedan, the Passat rules--even though 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

2015 Volkswagen Passat

Styling

Styling isn't the Passat's calling card, and that's a disadvantage against some best-selling rivals.

Call it conservative or just plain plain, but the VW Passat bucks the family-sedan trend of late to call attention. It's the polar opposite of designs from Kia, Hyundai, Ford, even Nissan--and much more in lockstep with the traditional themes that play out on the Accord and Camry. And don't forget, it's German.

The Passat's surfaces are clean, and it uses a minimum of details with relatively spare lines. Some of the cues are warmly rendered: the Passat bears more than a passing resemblance to the old VW Quantum, and its grille is very finely drawn, matching those on other current VWs. That kind of introspection doesn't help it snare attention, of course, especially when the silhouette reminds of an older Chevrolet Impala. The good news is that is will still appear contemporary in a dozen years, but there's also an opportunity cost to playing it safe—new cars have to sell when they're new, after all.

The cabin's straightforward design is mostly an asset, too. Part of the latest Passat's frugal, traditional take means there's little of the complexity of, say, the Sonata's dash, and none of the iPad homages we're seeing in some Ford products. Here, it's all buttons and switches, simple and right where you expect them to be, right down to the mechanical handbrake on the center console.

The interior is divided at a sort of vehicular equator. Above the shoulder line, the Passat wears nicer, more tightly grained plastics; the harder, open-textured stuff lives below. Woodgrain or metallic treatments panel the broad dash, and the ancillary controls have logical dials placed in logical places. The dials are big and readable at a glance, with thin chrome bangles to set them off the dark backdrop. 

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2015 Volkswagen Passat

Performance

Good grip and handling pair well with the Passat's strong turbocharged engines.

The VW Passat good handling in any form with a trio of well-sorted powertrains. For our money, we'd look only at the two highest-efficiency engines, ignoring the most expensive Passats in the process.

For 2015, the Passat finally gets rid of the old 2.5-liter five-cylinder that used to serve duty as the standard engine. It was an ancient engine with little character and an odd sound. The picture brightens considerably with the new 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that replaces it. It was introduced last year on a sole trim level and now migrates to the majority of the available specs. The turbo four has the same 170-hp rating as the in-line five, but finely tuned turbocharging and clever tech features like an integrated exhaust manifold bring its 184 pound-feet torque peak much lower. That torque peak is more a plateau, holding steady from below 2000 rpm to above 5000 rpm, completely unlike the lumpy five. VW quotes a 0-60 mph time for the manual turbo four Passat at 7.3 seconds, and it's clear from our experience that it delivers on that promise. The turbo four isn't just more capable, it's happier in its mission. It winds energetically and much more smoothly toward redline, and can be paired with paddle-shift controls for more direct control over the willing six-speed automatic. Gas mileage is much improved, and so is the car's whole demeanor.

The turbodiesel 2.0-liter four is the clear winner in the Passat lineup if you ask us. Horsepower totals just 140, but the powerplant makes 236 pound-feet of torque, ample enough to accelerate to 60 mph in an estimated 9.3 seconds with the manual transmission, or 9.1 seconds with the dual-clutch automatic. Top speed is pegged at 118 mph. Objectively slower, the turbodiesel feels more lively in urban cruising than its 0-60 mph times would have you believe, and its 43-mpg EPA highway rating is easily within reach. The manual six-speed here is a fair alternative to the dual-clutch transmission, which doesn't offer paddle controls. Its gears are well spaced, it shifts quickly, and feels fluid in sporty driving.

The 280-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 version sits at the top of the heap. 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 nice for those who need to spend more. On a sedan that frankly lacks all the full-tilt luxury items found on some other models, and that acquits itself so well with its fuel-efficient models, the V-6 seems like an invisible extravagance. The V-6 comes standard with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic that includes paddle-shift controls.

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. Steering is all-electric now that the inline-five and its hydraulic unit are gone, which lends fuel-economy benefits and a slightly zippier steering feel. The TDI Passat has the best heft-to-accuracy ratio of its kind, up there with the all-electric steering in the Fusion and some versions of the Chevy Malibu. In all, the Passat's eager turn-in and body control are better than cars half a foot shorter in wheelbase. The suspension is taut without being uncomfortable, and the ride benefits from the long wheelbase, soaking up the bumps especially well in highway cruising.

9

2015 Volkswagen Passat

Comfort & Quality

Back-seat headroom is somewhat slim for its size, but the Passat has vast shoulder and leg room.

The VW Passat bucks the trend of tight packaging for the sake of design or fuel economy, with this Americanized version yielding the biggest back seat in the segment. It still manages the fuel economy, while eschewing many of the design compromises to create a very livable and spacious cabin.

The Passat is one of the biggest cars in its class; in fact, it's just shy of meeting the EPA full-size interior volume cutoff. It's 191.7 inches long, with a 110.4-inch wheelbase, and 72.2 inches wide. That puts it a couple of inches longer than the Hyundai Sonata, and marginally shorter than the Honda Accord. The dimensions affect interior space in obvious ways, but there are more subtle benefits as well--such as the way the Passat's more vertical cabin doesn't lose interior space under the front and rear glass, as we see in the Korean sedans with their low, swoopy rooflines.

There's plenty of room in the Passat's front seats. Seat trim depends on the model--base cars are the only ones to include cloth upholstery, an item whose availability we'd like to see broadened across more trim levels. Most other versions come with sporty buckets covered in synthetic leather--yes, it's vinyl, but with excellent appearance and a supple feel--while the priciest models get leather trim and grippy fake suede inserts. These buckets have firm bolsters and lots of long-distance support; some have power adjustment, while those that don't make use of VW's fiddly system of manual levers and knobs, which, when worked, still yield a comfortable driving position.

The Passat's ample width provides plenty of knee and shoulder room, although there is less front-seat travel than in some of its competition. As a result, its official front leg room measurements read on the shy side: at 38.3 inches, it might seem small compared to the Sonata's 45.5 inches and the Accord's 41.4 inches, but the Passat's compact dash and upright styling open up plenty of usable space that isn't reflected in this standardized measurement. One quirk: The steering wheel is offset toward the center compared to the driver's seat, a legacy of the Passat's roots--it's a widened, improved version of a narrower architecture, and it would have been very costly to move the hard point for the steering column's mounting location. It doesn't take long to get used to, but it's something we notice every time we get into a Passat.

The Passat's cavernous rear seat offers up the most space of any mid-size sedan, even more than some size-larger four-doors. A six-foot adult can ride behind another of the same height and cross leg over knee, and still have a couple of inches of space left to spare. The Passat's rear-seat leg room measures 42.4 inches, while the Avalon and Azera are well behind at about 38 inches, and the Honda Accord is about a tenth of an inch longer than those two. That said, the Passat's roof arcs downward right over the rear headrests, so very tall folks can make contact with the headliner, even in cars without the optional sunroof. We should mention here that, like in many cars, the sunroof's mechanism requires a lower headliner for packaging purposes. 

Big cupholders hide under a flip-up lid next to the Passat's handbrake, and a bin ahead of the shift lever is sized to items like 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.

One area that could use improvement 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, stand out as unusual in the class. Acoustic glass might clean up the noise profile nicely, as it doesn't seem to emanate from the car's wheel wells or the trunk area.

9

2015 Volkswagen Passat

Safety

With a standard rearview camera and excellent crash-test scores, the VW Passat is a safety standout.

The Passat does well in crash testing, while its safety-feature set isn't quite on the cutting edge that many mid-size sedans have moved to.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) puts the Passat on its Top Safety Pick list, which means it achieves 'good' scores on all but the small front overlap test. The Passat gets an 'acceptable' rating on that one. Its lack of automatic braking capability keeps it from Top Safety Pick+ status.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the sedan an overall rating of five stars, with only a four-star rating for rollover resistance keeping it from a perfect score. (Most sedans are rated four stars in that mathematical test.) 

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.

Standard equipment on all Passats, apart from the usual airbags and stability control, includes a hill-holder function for manual-transmission models, and Bluetooth, which we consider a safety feature. A rearview camera is now standard on the Passat SE and higher trim levels, and optional on the Passat S and Wolfsburg models.

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. A new service, Car-Net, offers emergency services like those on GM's OnStar system, with stolen-car tracking, speed limits, and remote unlocking, all accessible via a smartphone app.

7

2015 Volkswagen Passat

Features

Volkswagen puts some desirable features in trim packages, but for 2015, some features--like a stand-alone USB port--aren't even available.

The U.S.-built, Americanized Passat bundles its features in with trim levels. This makes dealer inventory easier to track and makes prices more comparable to competitors, but it can be a pain if you want this feature from one trim and that one from another. Selecting a car can require compromise, just as it does with most of the competition from Japan.

You'll notice this most in the base Passat S, which comes with the 1.8-liter turbo engine and either a five-speed manual or a six-speed auto. It gets standard Bluetooth; an AM/FM/CD player; automatic headlights; 16-inch wheels; air conditioning; cruise control; and power windows, locks, and mirrors. A USB port, satellite radio, and non-cloth seats? They're not available on this model, which is priced right near the $21,500 sweet spot of the mid-size sedan market.

The Passat adds more features as it rolls through powertrain combinations and the SE and SEL trim levels--and VW has been adding some features back into the mix in these versions. For example, leather seating is now available on TDI models. There's also a special Wolfsburg Edition, sort of a value package in VW-speak, which bundles alloy wheels, heated front seats, a power driver seat, iPod connectivity, and satellite radio.

For 2015, a new Technology package is offered on the S and Wolfsburg trims that combines a rearview camera, an eight-speaker premium audio system, and satellite radio. (The rearview camera is standard on SE and higher trim levels.) Other options or features on upper trim levels include pushbutton start; woodgrain trim; ambient lighting; and 17-inch or 18-inch wheels.

A Passat Sport model is available only with the 1.8T and bundles mostly appearance items, such as 19-inch wheels, a rear spoiler, halogen headlights with corner illumination, and carbon-look interior trim.

The TDI is available in variations of the SE and SEL trim levels, while the V-6 is either an SE or SEL Premium.

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.

As an option, the Passat can be equipped with a five-inch LCD touchscreen that includes a navigation system with 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 from other manufacturers.

One item the Passat is lacking is voice command control of systems like climate control and audio, which are available with Ford's SYNC, Kia's UVO, Hyundai's Blue Link and Toyota's Entune. But VW has added Car-Net, a new OnStar-style service that includes smartphone access for functions like crash notification, speed alerts, service reminders, and roadside assistance. The hardware is standard on all models except the Passat S, and includes six months of free service.

VW's fast-pairing Bluetooth integration can throw new users for a loop. 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. Fortunately, you do it once and it's done.

8

2015 Volkswagen Passat

Fuel Economy

For its size and passenger capacity, the VW Passat delivers excellent fuel economy, in both gas and diesel forms.

Having completely ditched some ancient powertrains from its past, the 2015 Volkswagen Passat's new base 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine gets respectable fuel economy while also providing the torque needed for everyday driveability. It's rated at 28 mpg with either the manual or the automatic transmission--24 mpg city either way, and 34 or 35 mpg highway respectively.

Those figures put the Passat squarely in the ranks of cars like the Accord, Fusion, Sonata and Optima, if not quite up to the Altima's lofty number.

The V-6 Passat, which comes only with an automatic transmission, is EPA-rated at 23 mpg combined (20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway)  It's a bit more competitive with the other top-line models in its class, but far off the mark of the most powerful four-cylinder turbos like those found in the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima.

But factor in the stellar TDI turbodiesel numbers, and the 2015 Passat handily outstrips most of the competition, including some hybrids. Volkswagen says the Passat TDI the most fuel-efficient mid-size car on sale in America, and the numbers back up the claim: EPA ratings are 35 mpg combined (30 mpg city, 44 mpg highway) if you opt for the rare manual gearbox, or 34 mpg combined (30 mpg city, 42 mpg highway) with the six-speed sequential automatic.

And it should be noted that Volkswagen's TDI vehicles routinely overachieve on their EPA ratings, particularly in steady-speed highway cruising--so unlike hybrids, which can disappoint depending on driving style and ambient temperatures, real-world mileage for the Passat diesel may be better than the EPA tells you. Part of the Passat's excellent highway mileage can be attributed to its extremely tall final-drive ratio, which keeps the engine at very low revs while cruising at steady speeds.

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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The Car Connection Consumer Review

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April 27, 2016
For 2015 Volkswagen Passat

Nice car with obsolete technology.

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This is a good car mostly. It gets great mileage and handles really well. The radio, back-up camera and navigation are irritatingly slow.
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February 20, 2016
2015 Volkswagen Passat 4-Door Sedan 3.6L V6 DSG SEL Premium

You get more car fore the money......

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When I first brought my Passat it was Dec.26 2013 and it was a use 2012 Passat V6 SE I was just looking fore a good reliable car and I had my eye on this Cadillac CTS well as I was looking it over I guess... + More »
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November 12, 2015
2015 Volkswagen Passat 4-Door Sedan 1.8T Automatic Limited Edition PZEV

Great Car! Has a wind noise issue

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Bought this car brand new. Love it! Except for the wind noise in the back right window. Took it to the dealer they did some test and pretty much told me tough luck wait until a service bulletin to come out... + More »
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September 27, 2015
2015 Volkswagen Passat 4-Door Sedan 2.0L Manual TDI SE

Perfect replacement for my 79 Benz 300D

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I have two standard poodles that have for years been happy passengers in the back seat of my old Mercedes. I needed a new reliable diesel car to replace the room, performance and comfort and I found that in... + More »
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September 8, 2015
2015 Volkswagen Passat 4-Door Sedan 2.0L TDI DSG SEL Premium

DONT LET THE MPG'S SUCK YOU IN.........CAR IS HORRIBLE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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I purchased this car about 2 months ago. I have driven it a horrible 4000 miles and it has been in the shop twice now with no avail. VW customer care is worthless. The road noise and wind noise is horrendous... + More »
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August 7, 2015
2015 Volkswagen Passat 4-Door Sedan 2.0L TDI DSG SEL Premium

Everything I wanted or needed in new car. Style, features, size and above all fuel efficient.

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I have been lusting for a Passat TDI for years. Kids are now out of the house so we don't need full size SUV space. We have had only one week, but it is everything I had expected and hoped for. Not as quick as... + More »
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June 30, 2015
For 2015 Volkswagen Passat

Great Stuff

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Great car, the TDi is great! Roomy, economical, quick!
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June 15, 2015
For 2015 Volkswagen Passat

3 moths old and so far I love it.

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Bought the Sport model and thus far love everything about this car.
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May 30, 2015
2015 Volkswagen Passat 4-Door Sedan 2.0L Manual TDI SE

We get 49-53 mpg hiway and 44 around town.

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very nice car with good interior and trunk space. we paid $27,500 to get very good quality and economy.
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May 29, 2015
2015 Volkswagen Passat 4-Door Sedan 1.8T Automatic Limited Edition PZEV

Amazing fit, finish, performance and mpg.

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I took an Uber limo in NY, first time; it was a Lincoln MKZ. Getting into the Passat cabin has the same feel of elegance. Acceleration from a turbo 1.8 is impressive. I can go on and on. I drove a Fusion and... + More »
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