2015 Volkswagen Passat

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 44 mpg on the highway.

Recent Changes
For the latest model year, the Passat gains a new TDI engine that is both more powerful and more efficient than the outgoing unit.

Additionally, S and Wolfsburg Edition trim levels can be ordered with an optional Technology Package.

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.

Powertrain Lineup
The volume engine for the Passat is a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft. of torque.

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 150 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, the TDI is rated at 31 miles per gallon in the city and 44 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 30/42 mpg.

While most buyers opt for the four-cylinder engine, 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 turbo four 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, rain-sensing wipers, 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.

S and Wolfsburg Edition models can be ordered with an optional Technology Package that bundles high-tech features like a rear-view camera, a premium sound system with eight speakers and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (S models only).

Occupant Safety
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.

Key Competitors
The Passat's rivals include the oft-lauded Honda Accord, the winter-ready AWD Subaru Legacy and the Chrysler 200. Other mid-size sedan options include the Ford Fusion and the ever-popular Toyota Camry.