2016 Volkswagen Passat: why we're doing a long-term test

May 10, 2016

We’ve just welcomed a 2016 Volkswagen Passat SEL to our long-term fleet.

Why are we doing a long-term test on a vehicle that hasn’t changed all that much since the introduction of its current generation, for the 2012 model year?

Revisiting the Passat makes sense because the field of mid-size sedans has changed so dramatically in recent years. It’s been four years since we began a six-month test of a 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI. Since then there have been fully redesigned versions of the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Chrysler 200, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, and Chevrolet Malibu introduced.

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Yes, the 2016 Passat looks quite the same as that model (you have to have an eye for detail to spot individual items, like the narrower headlamps and somewhat more chiseled front-end appearance), but it appears that VW has fixed some key functionality gripes we had with that car.

2016 Volkswagen Passat

2016 Volkswagen Passat

Nearly all of those gripes have to do with the infotainment system—one that we also had to endure on our long-term 2015 VW e-Golf. While the instrument panel surrounding it hasn’t changed, the unit itself has. We’ll be updating you on Volkswagen’s new-generation Discover Media infotainment system, which in the SEL Premium includes a 6.3-inch touch screen, embedded navigation, HD Radio, satellite radio, a CD player, USB connectivity, and Bluetooth hands-free calling and streaming audio.

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Volkswagen has also finally done away with its infuriating proprietary interface for plugging external audio into its systems. At last, whatever it is, if you have a USB cable, you can plug it in.

Smaller engine, better mpg: still punchy enough?

Engine downsizing has arrived here, as it has across much of the mid-size sedan class; and for the Passat lineup that means the vast majority of models are powered by a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, making 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. All models with this engine come with a six-speed automatic transmission, and all Passats have a front-wheel drive layout.

2016 Volkswagen Passat SEL long-term test

2016 Volkswagen Passat SEL long-term test

And Volkswagen has improved fuel economy ratings for the Passat by 1 and 2 miles per gallon, respectively, to 25 mpg city and 38 mpg highway.

We’ll be paying attention to whether this engine feels as refined, responsive, and lag-free with a full load as it has on our previous shorter drives of the Passat.

2016 Volkswagen Passat SEL long-term test

2016 Volkswagen Passat SEL long-term test

This year there’s no TDI version available; yet the Passat remains available in top narrow-angle ‘VR6’ V-6 form. At some point, we’ll examine whether that model still has merit; or is the 1.8T enough for most needs?

Improved safety

The changes for this year aren’t all cosmetic and feature-related. For 2016, Volkswagen bolstered the structure, including new side sills, stronger footwells, and an addition crash rail to help improve this model’s IIHS small overlap performance; the strategy worked as it’s already been retested and its rating has improved from “acceptable” to “good.”

Furthermore, the SEL Premium includes a suite of useful active-safety technologies, including adaptive cruise control, Park Pilot park-distance control, a rearview camera system, and the Park Assist steering assistant. There’s also a lane departure warning and a blind-spot monitor with rear traffic alert. The Front Assist system, which earns an “advanced” front crash prevention rating from the IIHS and allows the Passat a spot on the IIHS vaunted Top Safety Pick+ list.

Standout features on our car, which adds up to $35,090, include leather upholstery, heated front and rear seats, power front seats (with power lumbar adjustment), an integrated garage-door opener, a sunroof, and dual-zone automatic climate control, plus LED headlamps, running lamps, and taillights, with front fog lamps and cornering lamps.

A German car? An American car?

The Passat also stands as the most localized of Volkswagen’s current products—a car that’s assembled in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with an engine built in Mexico (also its greatest source of foreign parts content) and a transmission sourced from Japan. Is it still a German car?

Six months is typically the target time for our long-term test, but we’re flexible. With our recent Volkswagen e-Golf, limited fast-charging (and thus weekend road-trip possibilities) led us to keep that model for nine months, while this partially updated model we expect to keep for just three.

2016 Volkswagen Passat

2016 Volkswagen Passat

The purpose of this test isn’t to push the car to durability limits, to see what breaks, or even to try to put the most miles on it that we can. Instead, we try to use the vehicle under a far wider range of conditions than we might have the opportunity to see in either the brief daylong first-drive opportunity (usually a pre-formatted route from the automaker, aimed at painting a model in its best light) or in a weeklong follow-up drive with the vehicle (often dependent on our own schedules and needs that week, as well as the weather).

And we hope to do exactly that—to load it up with groceries, to take it on some long-weekend trips, and see how it measures up in the context of all the other cars we have in for review.

What would you like to see us cover? Check back for regular updates on our 2016 Volkswagen Passat—every couple of weeks or so—as we put this spacious sedan to the test.


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