Thumbs Up: Impressive build quality, surprising chassis, plenty of rear legroom.
Thumbs Down: Not quite the beauty it used to be.
Buy This Car If: You’re looking for an affordable German-designed family sedan.
Volkswagen’s Passat sedan has traditionally been a hard sell in the U.S. market. Though stylish and well-equipped, it got expensive quickly when options were piled on, and many buyers realized that the step up to an Audi A4 or a BMW 3 Series wouldn’t cost considerably more than a well-equipped VW Passat.
Fresh off the success of its restyled Jetta, Volkswagen took the same approach with the redesigned Passat. Base models would be de-contented to lower the price, and assembly would transition from Germany to the U.S. to further reduce production costs. If their gamble was correct, U.S. buyers would embrace a slightly less-luxurious (but far more affordable) Passat sedan.
We could probably come up with a dozen different reasons why, but the short answer is this: the new Passat is priced right, it serves up a cavernous rear seat and delivers truly impressive build quality. In fact, one of the car’s most remarkable attributes is that there isn’t a squeak or rattle to be heard on the inside, something we can’t say about many vehicles (including luxury cars) with comparable mileage on the odometer.
If there’s a drawback, it’s this: the new Passat feels more pedestrian than previous models did, and it’s exterior styling isn’t quite as distinctive as it used to be. We’d stop short of calling it bland (especially since it now carries more of a family resemblance to the rest of the VW line), but it simply isn’t the looker it used to be.
Take the angular lines of the front bumper, for example. Yes, they tie to the Jetta, Golf and redesigned Beetle, but they lack a certain amount of elegance, almost like the designer was told “you must use an angular surface here.” Ditto for the semi-rounded rear fender line, which reminds us of a Honda Accord from a few generations back. We’re not saying the Passat is ugly by any means, it’s just more anonymous than it had been, especially in lower-trim models.
We find the cabin of our near entry-level Passat S (with Appearance Package) to be a mixed bag. On the plus side, the dash is best described as understated, with upscale touches like aluminum surrounds for the vents and instruments, a tasteful metallic trim strip bisecting the dash upper and lower and a rich, pebble-grained black vinyl dash topper. It won’t be mistaken for a luxury car interior, but it is distinctive and tastefully executed.
Adding to the check marks in the “Plus” column are the instruments, which include a simple-but-stylish tachometer and temperature gauge along with a speedometer and fuel gauge. These are split by an LCD driver information display that delivers a trip computer, clock, gear indicator, odometer and trip odometer.
On the other hand, the front seats aren’t our favorite. Perhaps it’s the busy nylon fabric, or the difficult-to-find rake adjustment, but the front seats don’t measure up to the standards set by previous Passat models. Yes, we know we’re driving a base trim level, but the seats simply don’t stack up to others in the Passat’s price range. Worse, until you get to the SEL trim level, the only available seat material is a “perforated leatherette” that VW calls V-Tex. To be honest, we’d rather have the same kind of premium cloth seats available in previous Passat models. In fact, we’d even pay more for these over the V-Tex seats.
Rear seats are wrapped in the same fabric as the front, but the highlight here is space. The rear seat is voluminous, large enough for three adults and blessed with enough leg room to satisfy most passengers. There’s ample head room, too, so the Passat belongs on any shopping list where rear-seat passenger room is an important consideration.
The Volkswagen Passat is available with a choice of three engines, including the base 2.5-liter five-cylinder, a fuel-sipping 2.0-liter turbodiesel and a 3.6-liter V-6 that will likely prove to be the enthusiast’s choice. Our S-trim tester came with the base 2.5-liter engine, rated at 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque and bolted to a six-speed automatic transmission. Output is sufficient for most drivers’ needs and expectations, with the run from 0-60 mph taking about nine seconds. Fuel economy isn’t bad, and the EPA says to expect 31 mpg highway, 22 mpg city and 25 mpg combined; we saw an indicated 24.3 mpg in mostly-city driving. Opt for the six-speed manual transmission, and the 2.5-liter Passat will deliver an EPA-estimated 32 mpg highway, 22 mpg city and 26 mpg combined.
The Passat’s handling is likely to impress drivers expecting just another midsize sedan. It’s no sport sedan to be sure, but its four-wheel independent suspension delivers more precise handling (and higher cornering limits) than most will expect. Pushed hard, there’s surprisingly little body roll in corners, yet the ride remains compliant enough that no one will complain. In fact, if we were giving out grades for ride quality, the Passat’s suspension engineers would get a solid “A” from us. That’s not to say the car is perfect, since its steering could use a bit more feel, but we’d chalk that up to the non-performance-oriented all-season tires. Also, the Passat’s brakes didn’t exactly deliver a solid pedal feel or a progressive engagement; to us, the pads felt like they had little bite right up until they grabbed aggressively. If the car were parked in our garage, we’d invest in a set of aftermarket pads to resolve the issue.
To be honest, the base S model initially struck us as underwhelming, since it didn’t seem to have the same level of luxury we’d grown accustomed to in earlier Passat models. Once we spent some time behind the wheel, however, we began to understand why Volkswagen made the changes it did. The car is now priced right to take on the challengers in the family sedan segment, and it serves up solid build quality and impressive interior room, too. If you want luxury, a Passat can be loaded up with options to rival German sedans costing thousands more. If you’d crossed earlier versions of the Passat off your shopping list as “too expensive” or “not roomy enough,” we’d suggest you head down to your local Volkswagen dealer to look at the newest variant.
Volkswagen supplied the Passat S with Appearance Package for our evaluation. There were no dealer-installed options, so the total sticker price was $23,740 including a destination charge of $795.
For comparison, a similarly-equipped Toyota Camry LE would price at $23,475, a comparable Honda Accord LX would list for $23,270 and a matching Nissan Altima 2.5 S would sticker at $23,650.