Unlike the previous Passat midsize sedan, which occupied a niche in terms of sophistication and price between mass-market and luxury models, the latest version is aimed right at the heart of the market and priced far more modestly. While that lower MSRP entails a few sacrifices, the Passat is still a smart buy thanks to an attractive and generously-sized interior, capable handling and an available class-exclusive diesel motor that returns 43 mpg on the highway.
For the latest model year, a new, more efficient turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder will gradually replace the old 2.5-liter five-cylinder throughout the Passat lineup. Volkswagen has also added a new Sport trim level that offers a number of aesthetic extras.
Stylistically, the Passat features an understated, slightly bland look characterized by Volkswagen's horizontal corporate face. Underneath its clean but conservative exterior, the Passat boasts a comfortable and commodious cabin. Passengers in the back seats benefit from best-in-class legroom, and up front the dashboard is simple and elegant.
While there are more cheap plastics to be found than in the previous-generation model (particularly in the bottom-half of the interior), there are still enough soft-touch materials to impart a high-rent feel. One quirk is a steering wheel that is curiously offset slightly to the right.
The suspension is made up of struts up front and a multilink setup at the rear, and the handling is responsive and composed.
A 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft. of torque will gradually replace the aging 2.5-liter straight-five as the volume engine for the Passat.
For those willing to drop a little more coin for a lot more fuel economy, the 2.0-liter TDI turbodiesel four-cylinder is certainly the engine of choice in the Passat. Rated at 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, the TDI is rated to net 31 miles per gallon in the city and 43 mpg on the highway when equipped with a six-speed manual. A six-speed DSG dual clutch automatic is also available, although it lowers mileage to 30/40 mpg.
While most buyers opt for the four or five-cylinder engines, Volkswagen also offers a 3.6-liter VR6 rated at 280 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. of torque. The VR6 is exclusively mated to firm's DSG automatic transmission, and fuel economy checks in at 20/28 mpg.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Passat offers a small galaxy of trim levels - S, Wolfsburg Edition, SE and SEL - that each break down into sub-trim levels as well. While the five-cylinder engine is available with all trim levels, the TDI and VR6 can't be had in base model S form.
The entry-level S model includes dual-zone automatic climate control, power windows and locks, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, an AM/FM/CD stereo with an AUX-in jack, cruise control, an anti-theft system and 16-inch steel wheels with hubcaps. The S with appearance package adds 16-inch "San Jose" alloy wheels, a folding rear armrest, front visor vanity mirrors and a standard automatic transmission.
In addition to the Passat S' standard features, the Passat Wolfsburg Edition gains 16-inch wheels, Volkswagen's V-Tex leatherette seating surfaces, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a power driver's seat, heated front seats, satellite radio and a Media Device-Interface with iPod connectivity.
The SE includes the Wolfsburg Edition's features and adds a leatherette upholstery, premium touchscreen-activated sound system, a rear-view camera, a leather wrapped height-adjustable steering wheel, SiriusXM satellite radio and 17-inch "Sonoma" alloy wheels. The SE with Sunroof adds - wait for it - a sunroof. Proving that there is truth in advertising, the SE with Sunroof and Navigation adds a navigation system.
The Sport builds on the SE's content with 19-inch "Luxor" wheels, foglights, a rear spoiler and unique paint options, including contrasting black roof and mirror caps. The cabin benefits from sport comfort seats, aluminum sport pedals, carbon trim accents, stainless steel door sills and model-specific floor mats.
The SEL includes all of the SE with Sunroof and Navigation's features plus a premium Fender-branded sound system, a folding rear seat with a pass-through, chrome exterior accents and 17-inch "Salamanca" wheels. The SEL Premium brings Keyless access with push-button start, remote start, leather upholstery, power adjustable front seats and foglamps.
All Passat models except for the entry-level S can be ordered with Volkswagen's Car-Net infotainment system, which integrates the car's entertainment, navigation and climate control systems while offering crash notification, roadside assistance and stolen vehicle location assistance. Car-Net also features remote vehicle access, speed and boundary alerts and it can provide a vehicle health report. The bulk of Car-Net's features can be accessed via a smartphone.
All Passat models feature dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems. Also included is an intelligent crash response system, which automatically unlocks all doors, disconnects the battery terminal from the alternator cable, shuts off the fuel supply and turns on the warning hazards and interior lights in the event of a crash.
The Passat's rivals include the oft-lauded Honda Accord, the winter-ready AWD Subaru Legacy and the aging Chrysler 200. Other mid-size sedan options include the Ford Fusion and the ever-popular Toyota Camry.