As Volkswagen was preparing to launch its current top-of-the-line sedan for the U.S. market, it created a big mystery around its name. Slated to replace the Passat but designed specifically for Americans, the model was cryptically referred to as the NMS, which stood for “new mid-size sedan.” Just when the suspense had become almost unbearable, the name of the new car was revealed as . . . Passat.
Although the name was unchanged, the new U.S. Passat had split from its European cousin. Built atop the existing PQ46 platform and stretched to offer plenty of rear-seat room, the American-built car was designed and engineered to go after the Toyota Camry. Meanwhile, the European Passat, which uses the newer MQB architecture, moved to become a credible alternative to Audis. That’s particularly true of the top-of-the-line version, which we just spent two weeks with on its German home turf.
A Four with More
While the U.S. Passat’s powertrain lineup is topped by a 3.6-liter V-6, which VW of America claims exhibits “European-type restraint in its fuel consumption,” that engine has been purged from the European lineup because of its drinking habits. The range-topping Continental Passat comes with a 276-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four. And even though we love the silky-smooth sound of the six, the equally powerful four arguably is a better engine, strong enough (according to VW) to propel this car to 62 mph in 5.5 seconds and on to an electronically limited 155 mph. The fuel economy is laudable; we managed an indicated 21 mpg, with extended amounts of driving at triple-digit speeds. In the European test cycle, this Passat is rated at 33 mpg, and with a light foot, that figure is achievable.
The engine’s output is channeled to all four wheels through a crisp-shifting six-speed dual-clutch automatic. This Passat is an absolute joy to flog on twisty roads. The steering is precise, direct, and nicely weighted; the pleasantly firm suspension is adjustable in three settings and is neither too harsh nor soft in any of them; and the car is neutral at the limit. The brakes bite sharply and exhibit no fade. Our car was fitted with 18-inch wheels, which do their part to visually spice up this car’s otherwise painfully conservative styling.
The R-line treatment, while adding a few tasteful touches to the exterior, makes more of a difference inside. The supportive leather seats and the aluminum trim feature a woven pattern mimicking carbon fiber, and there is a thick and grippy flat-bottom steering wheel. This Passat features a full TFT instrument cluster that allows the driver to modify the presentation in ways that include a large navigation map. The effect isn’t quite as spectacular as it is on current Audi models’ Virtual Cockpits, but it’s useful nonetheless. We were less impressed by the head-up display, which emerges from the dashtop at an awkward angle and looks flimsy.
The European Passat is shorter than its Tennessee-built counterpart by 4.2 inches, but the wheelbase is virtually identical, and the car therefore feels almost as spacious. And this Passat has a more upscale environment. The materials are more supple, and the wind and road noise that permeates the U.S. Passat’s rear cabin is notably absent. The European model is a class beyond, if not more.
That’s also true of the multitude of assistance systems offered. While far from turning the Passat into an autonomous car—or even a semi-autonomous one—the systems reliably alert inattentive drivers when danger looms, without lulling them into a false sense of security. And we like the LED taillights, whose horizontal pattern switches to vertical when the brakes are applied.
Whether you are driving through medieval towns, enjoying winding byways, or traversing the autobahn at 155 mph, this Passat is a top-level German executive sedan in every sense of the words. But this Q-ship comes at a price: Our test example, which was not nearly fully equipped, would have set us back by about $49,000 (not including Germany’s requisite 19 percent value-added tax). Too much for a Passat? Not really. Despite its name, this one is an altogether different animal from the one we know in the United States.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
ESTIMATED BASE PRICE (GERMANY): $41,500
ENGINE TYPE: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, iron block and aluminum head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 121 cu in, 1984 cc
Power: 276 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 1700 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 109.7 in
Length: 187.7 in
Width: 72.1 in Height: 58.1 in
Curb weight (C/D est): 3600 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 5.4 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 15.9 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 14.1 sec
Top speed: 155 mph (governed)
FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST):
EPA combined/city/highway driving: 27/24/31 mpg