Call it conservative or just plain plain, but the VW Passat bucks the family-sedan trend of late to call attention. It's the polar opposite of designs from Kia, Hyundai, Ford, even Nissan--and much more in lockstep with the traditional themes that play out on the Accord and Camry. And don't forget, it's German.
The Passat's surfaces are clean, and it uses a minimum of details with relatively spare lines. Some of the cues are warmly rendered: the Passat bears more than a passing resemblance to the old VW Quantum, and its grille is very finely drawn, matching those on other current VWs. That kind of introspection doesn't help it snare attention, of course, especially when the silhouette reminds of an older Chevrolet Impala. The good news is that is will still appear contemporary in a dozen years, but there's also an opportunity cost to playing it safe—new cars have to sell when they're new, after all.
The cabin's straightforward design is mostly an asset, too. Part of the latest Passat's frugal, traditional take means there's little of the complexity of, say, the Sonata's dash, and none of the iPad homages we're seeing in some Ford products. Here, it's all buttons and switches, simple and right where you expect them to be, right down to the mechanical handbrake on the center console.
The interior is divided at a sort of vehicular equator. Above the shoulder line, the Passat wears nicer, more tightly grained plastics; the harder, open-textured stuff lives below. Woodgrain or metallic treatments panel the broad dash, and the ancillary controls have logical dials placed in logical places. The dials are big and readable at a glance, with thin chrome bangles to set them off the dark backdrop.