The U.S.-built, Americanized Passat bundles its features in with trim levels. This makes dealer inventory easier to track and makes prices more comparable to competitors, but it can be a pain if you want this feature from one trim and that one from another. Selecting a car can require compromise, just as it does with most of the competition from Japan.
You'll notice this most in the base Passat S, which comes with the 1.8-liter turbo engine and either a five-speed manual or a six-speed auto. It gets standard Bluetooth; an AM/FM/CD player; automatic headlights; 16-inch wheels; air conditioning; cruise control; and power windows, locks, and mirrors. A USB port, satellite radio, and non-cloth seats? They're not available on this model, 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, sort of a value package in VW-speak, which bundles alloy wheels, heated front seats, a power driver seat, iPod connectivity, and satellite radio.
For 2015, a new Technology package is offered on the S and Wolfsburg trims that combines a rearview camera, an eight-speaker premium audio system, and satellite radio. (The rearview camera is standard on SE and higher trim levels.) Other options or features on upper trim levels include pushbutton start; woodgrain trim; ambient lighting; and 17-inch or 18-inch wheels.
A Passat Sport model is available only with the 1.8T and bundles mostly appearance items, such as 19-inch wheels, a rear spoiler, halogen headlights with corner illumination, and carbon-look interior trim.
The TDI is available in variations of the SE and SEL trim levels, while the V-6 is either an SE or SEL Premium.
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 that includes a navigation system with 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 from other manufacturers.
One item the Passat is lacking is voice command control of systems like climate control and audio, which are available with Ford's SYNC, Kia's UVO, Hyundai's Blue Link and Toyota's Entune. But VW 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, and includes six months of free service.
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. Fortunately, you do it once and it's done.