2016 Volkswagen Passat

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Senior Editor
April 30, 2016

Buying tip

If you want a manual transmission, run for any remaining 2015 dealer stock. It's been discontinued for 2016.

features & specs

4-Door Sedan 1.8T Automatic R-Line
4-Door Sedan 1.8T Automatic R-Line PZEV
4-Door Sedan 1.8T Automatic R-Line w/Comfort Pkg
MPG
25 city / 38 hwy
MPG
25 city / 38 hwy
MPG
25 city / 38 hwy
MSRP
$23,975
MSRP
$23,975
MSRP
$24,750

The 2016 Volkswagen Passat gets a little more excitement in its features and details, while staying safe where it counts.

Four years ago, Volkswagen had the Passat jump the tracks and become a true mid-size sedan by American standards. While it's definitely been a success, selling better than any Passat before it in the U.S., it's still not keeping pace with rivals like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Ford Fusion.

Part of that is likely due to the Passat's design, which plays it safe in virtually every possible way (yes, including in safety, which is a very good thing); yet for 2016, Volkswagen is clearly giving this rational, sensible sedan a little more appeal in the fine details.

As Volkswagen puts it, the Passat gets a more dynamic presence and sophisticated look, but in truth it involves the usual sorts of things afforded to a mid-cycle refresh—new front and rear styling tweaks, and some revised interior surfaces and details, with a new steering-wheel design, new column-stalk design, and chrome and piano black trim.

Review continues below

Design-wise, the current model had put down a bit of the panache and premium details of the previous-generation model, but there's evidence VW is working on restoring some of that luster. There's a little more chrome in back, a new, more substantial four-bar front grille, and a domed hood, all said to give the car a more planted stance. LED headlights and taillights add more elements of sophistication, and a sporty R-Line trim doesn’t crank up the performance in any way but with its black accents, rear diffuser, and unique alloys with Z-rated rubber might help balance out the car seats and cracker crumbs in back.

In light of VW's diesel emissions scandal, there are two gasoline engines in the lineup for 2016. A 170-hp, 1.8-liter turbocharged, direct-injected inline-4 offers impressive peppiness and torque for its modest ratings, and it now boasts EPA fuel economy ratings of up to 38 mpg highway with the automatic transmission. It's also worth noting that both the diesel and the four-cylinder have in past years been offered with a choice of manual or automatic transmissions (the TDI with a version of VW's DSG dual-clutch automatic and the 1.8T with a traditional auto).

At the top of the lineup is the 3.6-liter "VR6" V-6, which remains at 280 hp. It's strong and smooth, and only offered with an automatic. And oddly, it doesn't make the Passat feel much quicker than with the base engine.

We’ve found the current generation of the Passat to be extremely pleasant-driving, with some of the of the best (light yet accurate and nicely weighted) steering systems in its class. The suspension is relatively taut for good control, yet the ride is comfortable, and this generation of the Passat is generally very quiet inside.

Front-seat accommodations—the driving position and the seats themselves—aren’t quite up to the top standards of other VW products, but they’re arguably better than most in this class. The back seat accommodations in the Passat are particularly good, as the seating itself is adult-sized, and it’s easy to get into and out of thanks to the more formal roofline. For the first time, for 2016, the Passat is offering rear heated seats, and there's an easy-access feature allowing you to open up the vast trunk with your foot.

The Passat has earned some excellent crash-test ratings, and it's one of the top-performing sedans in its class for occupant protection. Furthermore, the Passat has buffed up on its active-safety set for 2016. A rearview camera system is standard equipment now, as is a Post-Collision Braking System, helping to reduce (or lessen the severity of) secondary collisions. Upper trim levels of the Passat can include adaptive cruise control, and a new Parking Steering Assistant.

Perhaps the greatest change to the Passat lineup is in the middle of the dash—where the Passat lineup gets VW’s latest infotainment system, with capacitive touch controls and proximity sensing, to allow more menu options to display as your hand approaches. This system is built for VW Car-Net connected services, and allows technology for integrated apps via a wide range of smartphones—through support for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink.

The 2016 Volkswagen Passat is available in S, SE, and SEL models, with an R-Line model slotting in above the base Passat S. Base models start at a bargain $23,350, and each model offers a lot of value, presented in a very unusual way for a German car as there are relatively few a la carte options and just a few value-oriented option packages.

The 1.8-liter turbocharged Passat has been rated by the EPA at 25 mpg city, 38 highway, 29 combined for 2016, thanks to several improvements. The V-6 Passat, which comes only with an automatic transmission, is EPA-rated at 20/28/23 mpg.

6

2016 Volkswagen Passat

Styling

The 2016 Volkswagen Passat remains the most conservative-looking mid-size sedans on the market.

The 2016 Volkswagen Passat definitely bucks the current design direction of the family-sedan segment as a whole. While just about every other mid-size sedan on the market has become swoopier, sharpened, creased, or downright voluptuous, the current generation of the Passat takes a turn in a more conservative direction.

In design and details, the Passat remains the polar opposite of models from Kia, Hyundai, Ford, and even Nissan. It's much more in lockstep with the traditional themes carried by models like the Accord and Camry—yet even the Camry's become sharper and bolder this past year.

On the bright side, the Passat's play-it-safe sedan profile and relatively benign level of detailing are likely to add up to a design that doesn't age as quickly as those of some of its rivals.

For 2016, VW aims to add just a few more fine details to this sensible sedan. As Volkswagen puts it, there's a more dynamic presence and sophisticated look, but in truth it involves the usual sorts of things afforded to a mid-cycle refresh—essentially new front and rear styling tweaks, and some revised interior surfaces and details, with a new steering-wheel design, new column-stalk design, and chrome and piano black trim.

The changes keep the Passat's design fresh in light of the all-new Golf family that was all-new last year and the latest Tiguan that's due this next year. The Passat's surfaces are clean, and it uses a minimum of details with relatively spare lines. It's all buttons and switches—and big readable dials, simple and right where you expect them to be.

Some of the cues are warmly rendered: the Passat dodges the wedge-like look that some of its rivals have gravitated to, and it bears more than a passing resemblance to the old VW Quantum, and its grille is very finely drawn, matching those on other current VWs.

If you're fed up with overly complex, fashion-victim interior layouts, you'll find the setup in the Passat to be refreshingly simple. We think the cabin's straightforward design is rather charming in the more affordable models of the lineup, versus in the upscale trims it can feel a little too utilitarian.

Above the shoulder line, the Passat wears nicer, more tightly grained plastics; the harder, open-textured stuff lives below. Wood grain or metallic treatments panel the broad dash, and the ancillary controls have logical dials placed in logical places. 

The substitution of VW's new "MIB II" infotainment system doesn't bring much of a design difference to the interior, although it does allow tablet-like gesture controls like swiping and pinch-zooming.

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8

2016 Volkswagen Passat

Performance

A strong, efficient turbo four gives the base Passat decent pep, while a lean, rather taut suspension makes it feel far sportier than its looks suggest.

Don't let the conservative exterior let you think that you're getting a big, floaty, uninspiring sedan. The 2016 Passat is quite the opposite; what's under the hood is entirely modern and fuel-efficient; suspensions are taut yet comfortable-riding; and you won't find a single member of this lineup that isn't pleasant driving, strong, and smooth. 

There are two gasoline engines in the lineup. A 170-horsepower, 1.8-liter turbocharged, direct-injected inline-4 offers impressive peppiness and torque for its modest ratings. It makes an impressive 184 pound-feet torque, from below 2,000 rpm to above 5,000 rpm, which makes this model quicker than its horsepower number will suggest.

It's mated to a perfectly fine, smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic. Yet for 2016, the 6-speed manual that's been available on the Passat has been unceremoniously dropped; the Passat was one of the only remaining mid-size models still offering a manual 'box.

At the top of the lineup is the 3.6-liter "VR6" V-6, which remains at 280 hp. It's strong and smooth, but it's only offered with an automatic and doesn't make the Passat feel much quicker than with either of the other engines.

A turbodiesel version of the Passat was available until last year, when the automaker was forced to pull those models after admitting they cheated emissions tests. It's not clear when, or if, those models will return.

The 280-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 version sits at the top of the heap. Its 0-60 mph time of 6.5 seconds and top speed of 130 mph are nice for those who need to spend more; yet we're not convinced that most Passat buyers are going to care. To put it bluntly, considering the great difference in fuel efficiency, the V-6 seems like an invisible extravagance. It includes a different transmission, by the way; the VR6 comes standard with a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic that includes paddle-shift controls.

We’ve found the current generation of the Passat to be extremely pleasant-driving, with some of the of the best (light yet accurate and nicely weighted) steering systems in its class. The suspension is relatively taut for good control, yet the ride is comfortable, and this generation of the Passat is generally very quiet inside.

Review continues below
9

2016 Volkswagen Passat

Comfort & Quality

The interior is vast and the ride is smooth and quiet, although back-seat headroom is a bit slim.

The 2016 Volkswagen Passat remains one of the biggest sedans in its class; at nearly 192 inches long, with a 110-inch wheelbase, it's just shy of being classified by the EPA as a full-size sedan.

The dimensions affect interior space in obvious ways to the more upright, squared-off look. But there are more subtle benefits as well—such as the way the Passat's more vertical cabin doesn't lose interior space under the front and rear glass, as we see from the long, swoopy rooflines of most other sedans its size today. 

The accommodations you'll find in front—both in terms of the driving position, the seating comfort, and overall support—aren't up to the standards of some other VW products. Although they do provide a wider range of adjustability—including good thigh bolstering and plenty of rearward travel for long-legged types.

Much of the model lineup includes a synthetic leather upholstery—yes, it's vinyl, but with excellent appearance and a supple feel—while the priciest models get leather trim and grippy fake-suede inserts. 

The back seat accommodations in the Passat are particularly good, as the seating itself is adult-sized, and it’s easy to get into and out of thanks to the more formal roofline. For the first time, for 2016, the Passat is offering rear heated seats, and there's an easy-access feature allowing you to open up the vast trunk with your foot.

One quirk that seems to carry over year after year is that the steering wheel is offset toward the center compared to the driver's seat, a legacy of the Passat's roots as a widened version of a narrower vehicle architecture.

Yet the Passat's packaging is the payoff; between front and rear seats, it's a more spacious interior than you'll find elsewhere in the mid-size class. A 6-foot-tall adult can ride behind another of the same height and cross leg over knee, and still have a couple of inches of space left to spare. Leg room is far more ample than some other models that claim to be full-size sedans.

That said, the Passat's roof arcs downward right over the rear headrests, so very tall folks can make contact with the headliner, even in cars without the optional sunroof. We should mention here that, like in many cars, the sunroof's mechanism requires a lower headliner for packaging purposes. 

As the boxy body suggests, cargo space is impressive, too. The glove box and door pockets are fairly large, and the Passat's trunk is nearly the biggest in its class, at 15.9 cubic feet. It's a cube larger than the trunk in the Accord, a half-cube shy of the one in the Sonata, and almost three cubic feet smaller than in the Impala. The seatback releases on most Passats are pull-type knobs mounted inside the trunk, where they seem to make better sense. Big cupholders hide under a flip-up lid next to the Passat's handbrake, and a bin ahead of the shift lever is sized to items like hold cell phones and keyfobs.

Wind and road noise are issues in the Passat—although we don't see that among all that VW has claimed as improved for 2016.

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9

2016 Volkswagen Passat

Safety

The Volkswagen Passat has been a safety standout, and we don't expect that to change with this year's minor refresh.

The Passat has earned some excellent crash-test ratings, and it's one of the top-performing sedans in its class for occupant protection. Furthermore, the Passat has buffed up on its active-safety set for 2016.

A rearview camera system is standard equipment now, as is a post-collision braking system, helping to reduce (or lessen the severity of) secondary collisions. Upper trim levels of the Passat can include adaptive cruise control, and a new parking assistant.

It's sometimes hard to parse out the subtle differences in protection when a vehicle has received a mid-cycle refresh, and between the two U.S. agencies, so far they've gone different ways. The IIHS has carried over most of the Passat's previous ratings for 2016, but noted that the vehicle structure was modified and the side curtain airbags were lengthened, so as to bring better small overlap frontal protection results. It earns top "Good" scores in every category of crash testing, as well as the "Advanced" nod for front crash prevention—when equipped with the Driver Assist Package.

All of that combines to earn the 2016 Passat a spot on the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ list.

The NHTSA gave the Passat a five-star overall rating, but reduced from last year its frontal crash protection from five stars to four.

Visibility is one of the Passat's strongest safety attributes. The large glass areas, fold-down rear headrests, and slim roof pillars give drivers a nearly panoramic view of the world around them.

For 2016, the Volkswagen Passat gets a number of active-safety items that could help avoid an accident. Automatic post-collision braking system stops the car in a controlled way after an incident, while the suite of items now includes forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking, and lane departure warning.

Review continues below
8

2016 Volkswagen Passat

Features

Improved infotainment systems and a better set of comfort options make the 2016 Passat a better value.

The 2016 Volkswagen Passat is available in S, SE, and SEL models, with an R-Line model slotting in above the base Passat S.

The Passat continues to be packaged and sold in what feels a bit like an experiment, presented in value-oriented trims and a few limited option packages, as is typically the case for many Korean- and Japanese-brand vehicles, not German ones. While this makes it easier for dealers to track inventory, it can be more of a pain for shoppers who want to mix and match options and features.

The base Passat S now includes 16-inch alloy wheels, as well as a rearview camera system; VW's newest infotainment system with a 5.0-inch display, Bluetooth, a USB port, and six speakers; cloth seats; and a split-folding rear seat. You can add to this model LED headlamps, taillights, fog lamps, and running lamps.

The Passat SE adds rear climate control vents, leather trim, heated washer nozzles and side mirrors, additional leather and leatherette trim, leatherette upholstery, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, satellite radio, voice control, and an upgraded MIB II infotainment system with 6.3-inch screen VW Car-Net App-Connect, among other items.

A Technology Package can add a long list of tech and active-safety items to the SE, including fog lamps, a universal garage-door opener, keyless ignition, rain-sensing wipers, footwell lights, heated rear seats, blind spot monitoring, and a version of the infotainment system with a 6.3-inch display, navigation, and eight speakers.

At the SEL level, the 2016 Volkswagen Passat gets big 18-inch alloy wheels, stainless steel pedals, Fender premium audio, power front seats with memory settings, sport seats, and a rear armrest with a pass-through to the trunk.

SEL Premium models (the only trim that's available with the optional VR6 engine) include remote start, power-folding side mirrors, a color info display for the gauge cluster, lane departure warning with active lane control, parking assist, with additional front-door entry lights.

Review continues below
7

2016 Volkswagen Passat

Fuel Economy

The Volkswagen Passat delivers impressive fuel economy considering its size, space, and comfort; although the diesel's missing from the lineup this year.

There's a big of a cloud hanging over the Passat lineup for 2016, and it mostly concerns fuel efficiency. That's because the highest-mileage powertrain in the lineup is currently on hiatus, as VW acts to correct a serious federal emissions-cheating scandal with its 2.0-liter TDI engine—the one in the lineup that used to achieve EPA ratings up to 30 mpg city, 44 highway, and even better in real-world driving. 

Yet the Passat's base 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine gets respectable fuel economy while also providing the torque needed for everyday driveability. Its ratings have been boosted to 25 mpg city, 38 highway, 29 combined for 2016, thanks to several improvements, including better aerodynamics and smarter engagement of the air conditioning. 

The V-6 Passat, which comes only with an automatic transmission, is EPA-rated at 20/28/23 mpg. It's a bit more competitive with the other top-line models in its class, but far off the mark of the most powerful four-cylinder turbos like those found in the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima.

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December 28, 2015
2016 Volkswagen Passat 4-Door Sedan 1.8T Automatic SE w/Technology

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