2012 VW Passat Six-Month Road Test: Do You Really Need An SUV?

July 4, 2012
2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI Six-Month Road Test

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI Six-Month Road Test

A five-seat crossover vehicle sounds like the ideal solution to a family's needs, but won't a sedan do the same job nearly as well?

Every time we get in the HGM Six-Month Road Test Passat, we end up at the same punctuation mark. Of course, the Passat begs the question--it's one of the biggest four-doors we can think of that doesn't require a black suit, sunglasses and a security clearance to drive.

So even though it's technically a mid-size car by the EPA's 120-cubic-foot rule, the big VW makes us think: exactly what's a crossover for, especially when the weather's fine?

Over the past few weeks, as our Passat TDI's rolled up to nearly 3800 miles, we've put it through some of the informal tests that usually separate the crossovers from the sedans. Utility-vehicle buyers generally want the high driving position and commanding view of the road that only they deliver--and the Passat, like other sedans, can't match that. In some other critical ways, a good sedan can not only match an SUV or crossover cubic foot for cubic foot, inch for inch, it can beat it.

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI Six-Month Road Test trunk

2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI Six-Month Road Test trunk

Here's one example: the Goodfellas test. Take any long, rigid object--it could be an 8x10 rug from Lowe's, or a recently departed associate. In either case, it's not the vertical height of a crossover that's going to carry the day--discreetly--to its usual dumping grounds new dining-room home. It's the overall length and the flip-fold utility of its seats. In VW's own Tiguan, the maximum interior length makes this rug a tight fit--but as we found in the Passat, there's room to spare, once you slide the front passenger seat forward and fold down the rear seatback.

The Passat's back seat makes more direct, numeric comparisons between sedans and crossovers even clearer--or more confusing, depending on your bias. Rear-seat leg room in the VW is a limousine-like 39.1 inches; the Chevrolet Equinox, one of the bigger five-seat crossovers and one with a sliding second-row seat, has an EPA-rated second-row leg room spec of 39.9 inches, just a fraction larger than that of the Passat. The Passat has better shoulder room than the Equinox, by a couple of inches, and falls short of the Equinox's rear-seat head room by less than half an inch.

Of course, crossovers like the Equinox have a bigger backpack that promises lots more cargo space than the average sedan. By the spec sheet, the Chevy's 31.5 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat doubles the Passat's 15.9-cubic-foot trunk, and the rear seats fold down for a claimed 63.7 cubic feet of space. The latter number seems large, considering the Equinox's sliding second-row seat isn't removable and takes up a fair amount of space itself; the former number seems high too, considering the Equinox's large glass areas and the somewhat high cargo floor. No matter how flexible the EPA's rules are on measuring cargo area, the Chevy crossover's still a more flexible cargo solution.

But here's the point for shoppers to understand about their own driving habits: unless you're toting tall loads or full loads often, does that capability make a huge difference? Is the flexibility worth the trade-off for the Passat TDI's 43-mpg highway fuel economy?

That's a trade-off each car buyer has to make for themselves. For sure, crossovers have a place in the driving universe. It's a place where all-wheel drive's more a necessity than a vanity, where a high driving position makes up for a short biological outcome.

For our taste, the Passat TDI's proving yet again, that a good sedan does most of what a good crossover can do on a daily basis. And that Lowe's rents trucks for a reason.

Do you have a test you'd like to see us complete in our Six-Month Road Test Passat TDI? Put it in a comment below, or on The Car Connection's Facebook page--or you can ping us on Twitter @CarConnection.

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