2012 Volkswagen Passat
Starting MSRP $20,590–$32,950
Comparing the 2012 Volkswagen Passat to the 2011 model would not be fair.
The 2011 model was the crème de la crème of Volkswagen sedans. It was a car meant for the few, the lucky, the discerning V-Dub buyer.
The new Passat sheds its discretion and moves into the cars-for-the-masses lane.
It's the quick road to success and part of VW's plan to take over the world (automotive market). Typically, dumbing down a vehicle to appeal to more people is as smart as putting on skinny jeans and a plaid shirt to try and get some new friends. Just look at VW's 2011 Jetta, an unhappy compact that adopted the mantra, "If you can't be good, be cheap."
The new Passat, however, arrives this fall in three distinct flavors: a five-cylinder base car, a six-cylinder upgrade and a four-cylinder diesel model. And it manages to remain true to its German heritage, offers a great ride and still touts an affordable price tag.
During test drives of the V-6 model and the diesel, I found the cars surprisingly normal. I half expected the vehicle to slog along the road, matching an experience I had in the Jetta. But the diesel model, known only by the three letters TDI — turbo direct injection — was excellent.
You can barely hear the engine from inside the car, or outside of it, for that matter. VW has mated this engine to its optional DSG six-speed transmission to create an absolutely delicious powertrain. This dual-clutch transmission is truly dreamy, maintaining power through gear changes. No lurching, no pause, just gliding smoother than the penguin in "Fight Club." (It's also available on the gasoline versions of the Passat.)
But it's the 2-liter diesel that will steal your heart. It's far from a power hog, producing 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. But those aren't bad numbers and more than enough juice to give the Passat some get up and go.
Let's face it, the Passat is in the midsize car segment — the single most important segment of cars sold in America — and while there are a few performance cars littered in the group, none blow your socks off.
But the 2-liter TDI engine will at least blow you past more than a few gas stations. It gets 43 mpg highway and 31 mpg city.
It has a range of 795 miles, meaning you could drive from Detroit to Lincoln, Neb., on a single tank of diesel and still have five miles to spare. Let me say that again: Detroit to Nebraska.
The V-6 gas model, which some people may decide to purchase (why, I'm not entirely sure), remains powerful and fun. It blasts out 280 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, and has that wonderful DSG transmission.
It plays the role of premium German sedan with aplomb, quiet and stable on the highway. It feels heavy on the road, in a good way, even though it weighs 3,200 pounds.
The firm rack-and-pinion, electro-mechanical, power-assisted steering gives the Passat an excellent feel on the road, whether it is highway or country road. The independent suspension quietly absorbs all of those bumps along the way, keeping the ride smooth. Even in hard corners, the Passat holds its ground with the best of them in the midsize car segment.
And while the Passat may have lost some of its luster with the makeover, it still looks like a solid sedan. Its face is more bland than its predecessor, but the long horizontal grille and big open intakes under the bumper take on the new look of Volkswagen. It's staid, it's conservative, it's classic midsize car — as least offensive as possible.
While the profile lacks excitement, it still looks nice. The backside may have the most drama with the big tail lamps squinting at the trunk. Really, there's a smoothness about the Passat that may wipe away telling details, but still, it looks polished.
Lots of space inside
If the exterior pushes people away, the interior may lure them back. The Passat has a great interior.
First, there is a lot of space inside and it's slightly bigger than the outgoing model.
The backseat can fit three adults easily with its 39.1 inches of legroom. The front seats are even more comfortable, offering 42.4 inches of legroom and 56.9 inches of shoulder room. (Shoulder room is really a telling measure for how comfortable a person will be inside a car. If the space is too tight, the car can feel suffocating.)
And while there's really not much flash in the Passat's interior, there's nothing wrong with it, either.
There's a simplicity to it that seems to mesh with the new philosophy of Volkswagen. Everything is drawn across strong horizontal lines, and the Autumn Nut Burl wood trim in my test models looked extremely nice.
VW nicely places pieces of trim to outline and showcase many features, such as the air vents, steering wheel controls and instrument gauges, and the materials throughout the cabin feel well built.
More importantly, the Passat comes with a host of standard features such as Bluetooth, dual climate controls and keyless entry.
There's a nicely thought out combination of features that most drivers would want and not bust their bank accounts.
Of course, there are all of the other bells and whistles, ranging from a sunroof and navigation system to real leather seats and the Fender Premium Audio system — 400-watt, nine-speaker system.
The key to the midsize segment is providing as many features as possible to a customer base that goes from one extreme to the other.
And this Passat does just that. There's a bland daily driver in the mix, starting a few Deutsche marks below $20,000. Then there's the fully loaded V-6 SEL that comes with just about everything a family could want in a vehicle. My personal favorite, of course, is the diesel, which seems to fall somewhere between the two.
If you still want that exclusive high-end feel of the previous Passat, there's still a version like that in America. It's called the Passat CC.
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Exterior: Good. While plain, the exterior gives the Passat a nice shape and generally appealing look, though you don’t know exactly who makes it.
Interior: Excellent. Lots of space and loaded with features that make all of those daily drives a little more enjoyable.
Performance: Good. Cruises well on the highway and feels comfortable in the city.
Pros: Space and price make this a good combination.
Cons: People looking for those fun VW charms will be disappointed.
**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Mike Hanley||Cars.com National||June 15, 2011|
|Joe Bruzek||Cars.com National||February 4, 2011|
|Sara Lacey||Mother Proof||March 30, 2012|
|BreAnn Ahara||Mother Proof||January 20, 2012|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||October 28, 2011|
|Scott Burgess||The Detroit Newspapers||July 14, 2011|
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