Some four-door family sedans have shrunk in the quest for fuel economy. The VW Passat has taken the opposite tack for its big American debut. It's larger than it ever was, when our Passats came from Germany, and the payoff is clear in its vast back seat and trunk.
By the numbers, the Passat is one of the biggest cars in its class, just shy of full-size interior volumes. It's 191.7 inches long, with a 110.4-inch wheelbase, and sits 72.2 inches wide. Compared to others in its class, the Passat measures up: it's a couple inches longer than the Sonata, marginally shorter than the Accord. Those numbers play out clearly in the amount of interior space in obvious ways, but in more subtle ways too--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.
All Passats have plenty of adult room in front, but depending on the model, come with different trim. Base cars are the only ones to have or even offer cloth upholstery, something we'd like to see spread across the lineup. Most other versions come with sporty buckets covered in synthetic leather--yes, it's vinyl, but with excellent appearance and a supple feel. These buckets have firm bolsters and lots of long-distance support; some have power adjustment, but when they don't, VW's fiddly system of levers and knobs can be spun and pulled for a good driving position. The steering wheel is offset toward the center, though, a legacy of the Passat's design--it's a widened, improved version of a previous architecture.
Since it's so wide, the Passat doesn't lack for shoulder or knee room--though there's more room on the outboard side, and though the Passat has less front-seat travel than 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 makes more of that space usable.
In back, the Passat offers up the most space of any mid-size sedan, even more than the likes of the Hyundai Azera and the outgoing Toyota Avalon. A six-foot adult can ride behind another six-foot adult and cross leg over knee, there's so much leg room, and still have a couple of inches of space left to spare. 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.