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2012 Volkswagen Passat Comfort & Quality

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VW believes Americans still like big cars. So while the rest of the automotive world is at least paying lip service to downsizing, the Passat's growing up and out, beyond the boundaries of large-car standards into a size class it shares only with the Honda Accord.

By the numbers, the new Passat is 191.7 inches long, with a 110.4-inch wheelbase and an overall width of 72.2 inches. A current-generation Honda Accord checks in at 110.2 inches in wheelbase, and 194.9 inches overall length, while a Hyundai Sonata has a 110-inch wheelbase, and an overall length of 189.8 inches. Both of the latter sedans are almost exactly as wide as the Passat.

The 2012 VW Passat has limousine-like rear leg room; it could use more sound deadening to go with its supersized duds.

In the front, the Passat's stock vinyl seats were the only ones fitted to early prototypes--and they're good in the usual VW ways. They're firm and simply stitched (and molded), and good for hours-long road trips. Levers and knobs for adjustment can be swapped out for power adjustments on higher trim levels, but only base cars get cloth seats. No matter how fine the vinyl's grained and pleated, fabric seats are more functional, especially for drivers in the Sun Belt.

The cabin's now the same width as a Honda Accord or Chevy Impala, which opens up vast amounts of shoulder and knee room, though the chairs themselves are inset closer to the car's midline, instead of centered between the wide console and the door panels. There's a bit less leg room up front, too: the Passat's 38.3 inches of front leg room are helped by a more vertical dash and windshield, but it's still shy of the Sonata's 45.5 inches and the Accord's 41.4 inches.

The back seat of the Passat is the biggest in its price class, even larger than some of the sedan-plus cars like the Hyundai Azera and Toyota Avalon. There's so much leg room it's possible that a six-foot adult can ride behind another six-foot adult and cross leg over knee--and still have a couple of inches of space left to spare. It's a cavern back there, and it's the clearest signal that the Passat has a different mission in other countries, like in China, where it will be pitched as a chauffeur-driven car. 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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