Volkswagen covers most of the important bases on its list of standard features, but the options list can feel overly light in the class--and patchy, even puzzling, in some cases.
The 2012 Passat is offered in three trims: S, SE and SEL. Each of them has standard automatic climate control; power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; 16-inch wheels; and Bluetooth.
Move up to higher trim levels and option packages, and the Passat can be trimmed with 17- or 18-inch wheels; a power driver and power passenger seat; ambient lighting; woodgrain trim; and pushbutton start.
In order to make the Passat less complex--and thus, less expensive--to manufacture, VW's limited the mixing and matching of options between those trim lines. So while a cloth interior comes standard on the Passat S, the SE and SEL sedans are upholstered in vinyl trim, with leather seating surfaces offered only on the V-6 edition as an option. If you want cloth seats on a TDI diesel or a V-6, you're out of luck. 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. 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 nicer Ford, Hyundai/Kia and Honda systems--they're more like the less expensive systems Nissan fits to the Altima, seemingly begrudgingly.
Also, the V-6 Passat is the only one to have VW's new Fender-branded audio system. And there's no voice command control of systems like climate control and audio, as SYNC, UVO, Blue Link and Entune enable.
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 2012 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.