Overview: After years of playing on the fringes of the mid-size-sedan segment, Volkswagen took aim at the heart of the market with the seventh-generation Passat, introduced in the United States for 2012. Divorced from its European counterpart and bigger, cheaper, and softer than previous Passats, this U.S.-built and Americanized VW trades a bit of its German character in pursuit of higher sales numbers The result is a solid, if unexciting, competitor to mainstays like the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry.
Volkswagen’s recent emissions scandal has removed the efficient TDI diesel engine from the lineup, which used to be one of the more compelling reasons to consider a Passat. The two gasoline engines left on the order sheet are a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 170 horsepower and a 3.6-liter V-6 engine with a potent 280 horsepower, both pairing with standard six-speed automatic transmissions, although the V-6 gets one of the dual-clutch variety. A sportier-looking R-Line trim level is as far as Passat goes with sports-sedan aspirations, instead emphasizing comfort and conservative styling inside and out. If style is a higher priority for you, the rakish Volkswagen CC might be more your speed, although its starting price of $35,340 is significantly higher than the Passat’s $23,260 base figure.
What’s New: A comprehensive refresh for 2016 brought updated styling and new features, so only a reshuffling of the standard and optional equipment lists among the trim levels marks the 2017 model year. Forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking are now standard on all models, while the R-Line and SE gain some new standard features. An SE V6 with Technology trim level brings down the price of entry for the V-6 engine by a few thousand dollars. There may be more coming: In November, VW showed a concept car it called the Passat GT at the Los Angeles auto show, suggesting a sportier version may be in the offing for 2018.
What We Like: If you frequently shuttle passengers in the rear seat, the Passat is the mid-size sedan for you. Space in the back is positively expansive, and back-seat riders are even treated to their own air vents, USB port, and heated seats in higher trim levels. Up front, the dashboard presents a clean, easy-to-use interface, with clear gauges and a central touchscreen with attractive graphics and a simple menu structure.
Although we miss the diesel engine, both gasoline powertrains offer competitive performance. Despite its modest output, the base 1.8T’s low-end torque helps the Passat feel peppy around town, while the six-speed automatic shifts smoothly and unobtrusively. Given the overall refinement of the turbo four-cylinder, the sprightly V-6 will be overkill for most buyers, although its quick-shifting dual-clutch transmission and 5.7-second zero-to-60-mph acceleration will certainly please more enthusiastic drivers. The VW’s ride is comfortable and quiet without being floaty; it may be engineered for America, but this Passat still has a planted, solid demeanor befitting a sedan with German heritage.
What We Don’t Like: While it’s hard to fault the Passat’s overall dynamics, it is disappointing that VW has engineered out much of the distinctive and upscale character found in previous generations of the sedan. The exterior design is about as bland as they come, resembling the previous-generation (2006–2012) Ford Fusion more than any modern competitor. Its nondescript lines fade into the background next to such stylish contenders as the Mazda 6 and the Kia Optima. And the interior, while ergonomically sound, lacks pizazz and doesn’t feel special enough to merit the $30,000-plus price of upper-trim Passat models.
Americanizing the Passat also meant the disappearance of the practical wagon, which had been sold in the United States going back several decades. And we Yanks no longer have the option of a manual transmission, a feature found in fewer and fewer of today’s family sedans. Rumors suggest that Volkswagen may realign the U.S.-bound Passat with its more desirable European counterpart in the near future, so perhaps there’s hope for a return of the Passat wagon—maybe even one with a stick.
Verdict: VW’s family sedan went swimming in the mainstream, and some of its character got washed away.
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VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
BASE PRICES: 1.8T S, $23,260;
1.8T R-Line, $24,795;
1.8T SE, $26,315;
V6 SE, $30,115;
1.8T SEL, $31,815;
V6 SEL, $34,815
ENGINE TYPES: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve 1.8-liter inline-4, 170 hp, 184 lb-ft; DOHC 24-valve 3.6-liter V-6, 280 hp, 258 lb-ft
TRANSMISSIONS: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode; 6-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 110.4 in
Length: 191.9 in
Width: 72.2 in Height: 58.5 in
Passenger volume: 102 cu ft
Trunk volume: 16 cu ft
Curb weight (C/D est): 3350–3550 lb
EPA combined/city/highway driving: 23–27/20–23/28–34 mpg
C/D TEST RESULTS FOR:
2016 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T Automatic
Zero to 60 mph: 7.8 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 21.1 sec
Zero to 110 mph: 27.0 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 8.7 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 4.0 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 5.9 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 16.0 sec @ 89 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 116 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 181 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad*: 0.83 g
Curb weight: 3392 lb
C/D observed fuel economy: 31 mpg