- Large rear seat for adults
- Supple ride and good handling
- Straightforward layout and simple style
- Good safety scores
- Too-conservative exterior
- Limited feature availability
- Noticably windy and noisy
- Not a huge incentive to step up to V-6
The 2017 Volkswagen Passat is a conservative pick in the mid-size pack with generous interior space.
The latest Volkswagen Passat has been the best-selling version of the nameplate in the company's history, yet some within VW's C-suite aren't pleased.
Sales of the mid-size sedan hasn't kept pace with the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord, which dominate the segment, and the Passat struggles to carve an identity in the crowded field.
It's still an impressive value, particularly for space and safety mavens, and particularly because it's being steeply discounted. On the TCC scale, it rates a 6.7. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Styling and performance
The Passat plays it safe in virtually every possible way (yes, including in safety, which is a very good thing). Last year, Volkswagen smoothed over some of the rough edges to give the rational, sensible sedan a little more appeal in its finer details.
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.
The exterior of the sedan is still relatively conservative in its approach. The simple style and upright look depart from the current trends; others eschew boxy angles in favor of curvier roof lines that sacrifice interior space in favor of exterior appeal. Sensible buyers could be swayed by VW's play-it-safe approach, and we think the sedan may not age as quickly as others in its class.
The diesel is gone—and likely won't return—and has left two gasoline engines left for buyers. A 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4 is the base engine, which is paired exclusively to a 6-speed automatic and front-drive only. It's rated at 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque.
It's a fine pick, and the best for fuel economy, even if it's not the quickest.
VW's narrow angle V-6 is available as a premium option and makes 280 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Regular fuel is acceptable, although Volkswagen recommends premium. It's also mated to a 6-speed automatic, although the bigger engine gets a dual-clutch unit instead of a traditional automatic. The V-6 is predictably more confident, but its fuel-economy penalty and relative price may not convince many shoppers that it's necessary.
Quality, safety and features
The Passat's appeal may be in its straightforward interior and space for passengers and cargo. Four adults won't have any issues fitting within the cabin, and while the Passat's front seats may not on par with the rest of VW's line, the rear seats and trunk capacity are very spacious. There's no sloping roofline to cut into head space, only very tall people will have a hard time fitting in the back.
Both major U.S. safety organizations have given the Passat very good scores. The IIHS gave last year's Passat top "Good" scores in all of its tests, including the small-overlap front crash test. When equipped with optional active safety features such as forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitors, the Passat is an IIHS Top Safety Pick. Federal regulators have given the 2017 Passat a five-star overall rating.
VW upgraded the Passat's infotainment to include the latest system with touch controls and proximity sensing. Upgraded units feature telematics, connected via VW Car-Net, and integrated apps for smartphones, including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink.
The Passat is available in S, SE, and SEL trims. R-Line models have sport appearance packages that set them apart from other models and wedge in somewhere after the base S model. Base models are value-equipped with good standard features, but VW doesn't offer many a la carte options outside of trim packages.
The EPA rates the base car at 23 mpg city, 34 highway, 27 combined, which is fairly fuel efficient for a turbo-4, but far behind hybrid powertrains from Chevy and Toyota.
2017 Volkswagen Passat
The Passat plays it safe and stays mid pack in the mid-size sedan category.
The 2017 Volkswagen Passat is an outlier for mid-size sedans, but only because it takes a more traditional approach. Just about every other mid-sizer has become curvier, sharper—or downright seductive—but the latest Passat sticks to its conservative upright roof.
The bright side of sticking to tradition: 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.
Last year, VW added a few details to the sensible sedan with a more sophisticated look. There are new styling tweaks to the front and rear end, some revised interior surfaces and details, a new steering wheel and column stalk design, and chrome and piano black trims.
We gave the Passat a 5 out of 10 on our ratings scale, which reflects its mid-pack placement in style and approach. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The Passat now falls in line with the new Golf family and the latest Tiguan design that's due 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.
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.
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.
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.
2017 Volkswagen Passat
Two gas engines are available; the base turbo-4 is the best value for fuel economy and decent power.
The 2017 Volkswagen Passat offers two engine choices, both paired to 6-speed automatic transmissions. No all-wheel drive is available here, like it has in prior generations, and we don't expect to see a diesel or hybrid version anytime soon.
We gave the Passat a 6 out of 10 on our scale thanks to its good ride. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The base engine in the lineup, a 1.8-liter turbo-4, is fairly peppy. It's rated at 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, and like most modern turbos, power comes on early and stays throughout most of the rev range. The engine feels quicker than it is, 0-60 mph takes about eight seconds, and doesn't feel too taxed during everyday commutes.
That engine is exclusively mated to a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic. Like many other mid-sizers, the Passat's manual transmission option was deleted last year.
At the top of the lineup is Volkswagen's narrow-angle V-6, dubbed "VR6." It makes 280 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Volkswagen doesn't require premium gas for this engine, but it recommends it, and its ratings are based on the pricey stuff. It's predictably strong, and transforms the Passat into a confident passer.
The bigger V-6 is mated to a dual-clutch 6-speed automatic, and its gearing is significantly different than the autobox in the turbo-4.
We've found that while the V-6 is the most powerful option, it doesn't necessarily feel like it. It's 6.5-second 0-60 mph time may not be worth the fuel economy penalty for many buyers. We hesitate to recommend this engine, the V-6 feels like an invisible extravagance.
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.
Last year's turbodiesel Passat was pulled after the automaker admitted it cheated emissions tests.
2017 Volkswagen Passat
Comfort & Quality
Four adults will find plenty of space inside with room for plenty of cargo.
The 2017 Volkswagen Passat is one of the largest sedans in its classification, just sneaking in under the EPA's definition for a mid-size sedan. At nearly 192 inches long, with 110 inches between the wheels, there is 117.9 cubic feet for people and gear—just shy of the Subaru Legacy's 119.6 cubic feet.
The Passat's dimensions affect interior space in obvious ways, but there are subtle benefits as well. The Passat's cabin doesn't lose vertical space under the front and rear glass, which is increasingly rare as other mid-sizers move to swoopier roof lines.
We gave the Passat a 7 out of 10 on our scale for generously fitting adults in its rear seats, and good cargo storage. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Yet the Passat's packaging is the payoff; between front and rear seats, it's a more spacious interior than you'll find in most mid-size cars. 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.
Up front, the accommodations—namely driving position, seating comfort, and overall support—aren't up to par with some of Volkswagens other cars. Thankfully, the seats are more adjustable and offer good thigh bolstering and plenty of rearward travel for long-legged types.
Most of the lineup gets faux-leather upholstery—yes, it's vinyl, but with excellent appearance and a supple feel—and upper trims are treated with leather and grippy fake-suede inserts.
The back seats in the Passat are particularly good—mostly because they're adult-sized. Getting into and out of the Passat is easy, thanks to its formal roofline. Heated rear seats are available in SEL-trimmed car, and there's an easy-access feature that opens the trunk by waving your foot underneath the bumper.
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 3 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.
2017 Volkswagen Passat
The Passat earns very good scores from the IIHS and NHTSA and has a full complement of advanced safety features.
The Passat is one of the leading mid-size sedans, in terms of safety. It's too early for official crash data from both safety agencies, but based on the similarities to last year's model, we can confidently carry over many of those scores.
We gave the Passat a 8 out of 10 on our scale for its good crash tests and available safety features. Two small blemishes on federal testers' scorecards kept it from a perfect score. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
In 2017, the IIHS gave the Passat its Top Safety Pick designation after it aced the agency's crash tests and scored an "Advanced" rating for its optional front-crash avoidance technology. Its "Poor" ratings for its headlights kept it from a TSP+ award.
Federal testers gave the 2017 Volkswagen Passat a five-star overall score (out of five), with a four-star rating in front- and rollover-crash protection.
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, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, and a new parking assistant.
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.
2017 Volkswagen Passat
Base cars are equipped well, but there aren't many options beyond lighting and safety.
The 2017 Volkswagen Passat hasn't largely changed from last year's models. Starting with base S models, the SE and SEL trims add more features. For V-6-equipped Passat models, a new SE with Technology package has been added for 2017, in addition to the top-level SEL trim. The R-Line Passat trims are quasi-sport models—those slot in above S trims, and are available in R-Line and R-Line with Comfort trims.
Although the Passat is built and sold as a German car that's made in America, its value-based packages are a departure from that ethos. Features and technology are walled within few limited option packages that can be easy for dealers to track, but hard for shoppers to get exactly what they're looking for.
We gave the Passat a 6 out of 10 on our scale for its good base features and available infotainment, but penalized it for not offering some features outside of stepping up to pricier trim levels. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
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, keyless ignition, 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, 18-inch wheels, rain-sensing wipers, heated rear seats, blind-spot monitors, and a version of the infotainment system with a 6.3-inch display, navigation, and eight speakers. New for 2017, buyers can order SE with Technology with the uprated V-6 engine.
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 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.
R-Line models feature advanced safety features such as forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert, heated front seats and a power driver's seat.
2017 Volkswagen Passat
The diesel Passat is likely long gone, but the base gas version is respectable.
It's highly unlikely that Volkswagen will bring back a diesel version of its Passat, and there are no alternative powertrains to speak of, yet.
We give it a 7 in this category, since its most common version is still pretty frugal. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The EPA has already chimed in for 2017 and rated the base Passat, which has a 1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4, at 23 mpg city, 34 highway, 27 combined. That's respectable for its class, but behind many including the Hyundai Sonata (31 combined), Chevrolet Malibu (30 combined), and even the all-wheel-drive Subaru Legacy (29 combined).
By stepping up to the V-6 Passat, Volkswagen is a little more level with similarly powered competitors at 20/28/23 mpg. That's still far shy of premier turbo-4 engines from others, but it's closer to V-6 Accords and Camrys.
Fuel-economy first shoppers will likely consider hybrid powertrains from many other automakers first, and Volkswagen's Passat may get one soon—just probably not this year.