Volkswagen developed this U.S.-built Passat with pricing in mind, and it's chosen its features with the same cost-consciousness. The standard features include the expected conveniences, but the Passat's options list is missing a lot of the things that other automakers have added in the quest to make their vehicles more distinctive. In some cases, the Passat's more ordinary features can't be had on certain models.
Three trim levels define the Passat range: S, SE, and SEL. On all versions, the list of standard features includes power windows, locks, and mirrors; 16-inch wheels; Bluetooth; automatic climate control; and cruise control.
Some of the upscale items that can nudge the Passat's pricetag higher include power front seats; woodgrain trim; pushbutton start; ambient lighting; and 17-inch or even 18-inch wheels.
Ordering the proper package is essential with the Passat, since Volkswagen has dramatically cut down on the number of variations and options offered on each model. Why? The complexity of the build process is reduced, which makes it less expensive to manufacture. Seat upholstery is one example: the only cloth seats in the lineup are found on the base Passat S. All other Passats come with a synthetic leather-look material, while real leather is an option only on the V-6 model. If you're trying to spec out a Passat TDI with leather seats, don't--it's not offered. 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. The V-6 Passat is the only one to have VW's new Fender-branded audio system.
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 latest systems--but for 2013, the nav screen on SEL sedans displays output from a newly standard rearview camera.
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 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.
While we're on the subject of talking, the Passat offers no voice command control of systems like climate control and audio, as SYNC, UVO, Blue Link and Entune enable.