2012 VW Passat Six-Month Road Test: A Bigger Back Seat Than A...

October 19, 2012

After spending the past half-year with our 2012 VW Passat during its Six-Month Road Test, we're pretty familiar with its vast talents. Chief among them: a huge back seat, one that's easily the biggest we've seen in a mid-size sedan, one that's made even more useful by tall, wide rear doors.

Rear-seat room is an important metric for four-door sedans, for reasons you can guess and some you might have to ferret out by audience. Family sedans need big back seats for easy child-seat installation; the more upscale, older-skewing sedans need them for easier entry and exit for passengers of a certain age. Domestic sedans require them so they can sell to fleets--you know, the kind with plastic dividers and hostile passengers on their way to confined quarters? And still other drivers need roomy four-doors for work duty, everything from real-estate showings to client ferrying.

We took note of the expanse of real estate in our first review of the then-new 2012 Passat--and it's something we've been trying to connect to, well, anything else that's on the market today. You'd think that even in the recent past, there would be big cars to link to the Passat in terms of rear-seat space. But in reality, among full-size and mid-size four-door sedans, they're becoming a rarity. Honda's stepped back from upsizing the Accord and is now reversing course. The formerly full-size Hyundai Azera and Toyota Avalon are downsizing and upstyling, while the Nissan Altima's in more of a holding pattern.

Bigger clearly was one of the high priorities on VW's PowerPoint file when the U.S. Passat was being developed--but it's by no means the default move in every other automaker's playbook.

So what, exactly, does the Passat compare itself to, now that its XXL competition is on a slimming regimen? Here's a quick scan of the automotive landscape past and present, so you can see where the Passat's back-seat dimensions fit in the grander scheme--even against some unlikely cross-shops, and one or two museum pieces, just for fun.

Your reference point is our 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI, with its 110.4-inch wheelbase, and 39.1 inches of rear-seat legroom:


2013 Honda Accord EX-L

2013 Honda Accord EX-L

Honda Accord

In its last generation, the Accord drew plenty of criticism for getting too big, though it didn't necessarily feel bloated. In its latest redesign, the 2013 Honda Accord now sits on a 109.3-inch wheelbase, and sports 38.5 inches of rear-seat leg room. It's a solid second-place finish to the Passat's back-seat space, even though it's more than four inches shorter overall.

2013 Ford Fusion

2013 Ford Fusion

Ford Fusion

We're pretty enamored of the new Fusion's looks and dynamics, especially since they don't come at the expensive of rear-seat room. The 2013 Fusion rides on a 112.2-inch wheelbase, longer than that of the Passat, but nets out with slightly less rear-seat leg room, at 38.3 inches. Many enthusiasts will find the difference meaningless, once they've pitted the cars back to back through the same set of esses. WIth Hybrid fuel economy EPA-rated at 47 mpg, excellent steering and ride damping, the Fusion's more European in feel than the Passat. Wait, did we just say that?

2013 Hyundai Azera

2013 Hyundai Azera

Hyundai Azera 

The Azera used to be the picture of big and plush, but it's been transformed into something slightly smaller, and much, much sleeker. Since last year, the latest Azera has been smaller than the Passat in back-seat space, too--it's on a 112.0-inch wheelbase, but measures out with only 36.8 inches of rear-seat leg room, losing some of that valuable space to the sexy roofline and door cuts. It's still a tremendous value, but a distinctly different car than the one it replaced.

2012 Toyota Avalon

2012 Toyota Avalon

Toyota Avalon

The last Avalon rode hand-in-hand with the Azera on its way to the Coco's early-bird special. Big back-seat room was the 2012 Avalon's calling card of epic proportions--from a 111.0-inch wheelbase, Toyota extracted 40.9 inches of rear-seat legroom, faring better than even the Passat. Big changes are afoot though: like the Azera, the Avalon's being cut down to a more fashionable size for the 2013 model year, and losing its large-car status for something slightly more in keeping with the times.

2012 Fisker Karma

2012 Fisker Karma

Fisker Karma

Now, a few outliers. If you've followed the saga of the Fisker Karma from its conception to its PR nightmares--much of it dismaying curds of government-cheese agitprop--you know it's a big car with not much interior room. How vast is the differential? The Passat's interior dimensions smoke the Karma into a new plane of existence. The Karma rides on a wheelbase of 124.4 inches, almost 15 inches longer than that of the Passat--yet its rear-seat leg room is 8 inches less.

2013 Lexus LS 460 F Sport

2013 Lexus LS 460 F Sport

Lexus LS

The Lexus LS is by no means the largest luxury sedan, not compared with its German rivals. What's more surprising is that, in short-wheelbase form, it's not even up to the Passat's challenge. The 2013 LS measures in with a wheelbase of 116.9 inches--and nets out with rear-seat leg room of 35.8 inches. (The long-wheelbase edition? It's 121.7 inches of wheelbase, 4.8 inches more, which net an inch plus over the Passat, if you're generous and apply all of it to the rear seat.)


2011 Lincoln Town Car

2011 Lincoln Town Car

Lincoln Town Car

No surprise to anyone who's ever hired a car from the airport, the Lincoln Town Car wins no awards for its space efficiency. When pitted against the Passat, it's no contest. The most recent Town Car offered for sale, the 2011 model, had a wheelbase of 117.7 inches--that before the stretchers get to it--but had just 39.6 inches of rear-seat leg room, bigger than the Passat by just 0.5 inches.


2013 Ford Explorer Sport

2013 Ford Explorer Sport

Ford Explorer

The Passat even fares well against some utility vehicles. Today's Ford Explorer has a third-row seat that has good leg room--but in second-row space, the Passat's 39.1 inches stack up handily against the 2013 Explorer's 39.8 inches.

Jeep Grand Wagoneer

Jeep Grand Wagoneer

Jeep Wagoneer

And finally, while we're keeping track, the Jeep Wagoneer in its early form rode on a wheelbase of about 110 inches. The Passat has the edge by about 0.4 inches--though the Jeep's the clear winner in ground clearance. And Pledge tasks.

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