The Passat is built in the U.S., and it's a philosophical change for VW in more than one way. When it comes to features, VW is bundled--even omitting--some features from some trim levels, to make prices more competitive with cars like the Sonata, Optima, Altima, and Accord.
You'll notice the sea change most in the base Passat S, which comes with the five-cylinder engine and either a manual five-speed or an automatic six-speed. It gets standard Bluetooth; an AM/FM/CD player; 16-inch wheels; air conditioning; cruise control; and power windows, locks, and mirrors. A USB port, satellite radio, non-cloth seats? They're not available on this version, 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 this year, which bundles alloy wheels, heated front seats, a power driver seat, iPod connectivity and satellite radio.
Other options or features on upper trim levels include pushbutton start; woodgrain trim; ambient lighting; and 17-inch or 18-inch wheels.
The new turbo four-cylinder will initially be available only in SEL trim, and equipped with navigation, Fender audio, leather seating surfaces, and power front seats.
VW Passat infotainment
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 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. The nav screen displays output from a rearview camera that's standard for 2014 on all versions except the Passat S.
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.
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. But it 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, along with six months of free service.