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 and competent handling.

Recent Changes
For the new model year, the Passat has been refreshed. The TDI clean diesel engine is not currently available due to an ongoing government investigation. An R-Line appearance package is also new.

Overview
In the front, you'll find a new lower bumper with sculpted, protruding fog lamp surrounds. The hood is similarly more muscular, with subtle "power bulge" ridges adding character and framing the now-more-upright VW logo. Squint, and you'll note that the grille now has four horizontal chrome bars rather than three, and there's a fifth in the lower grille just for good measure.

In the rear, the hexagonal license plate recess is gone and the rear reflector markers have been moved to their own recesses along the base of the trunk line.

Elsewhere, the new Passat looks essentially the same as the outgoing model. For those who want a little more visual flair, the R-Line appearance package is now available. It boasts several unique visual cues, including 19" wheels, a front bumper, grille insert, rear bumper and side sills. Also for the first time, LED lighting is available for an additional cost across the top of the range.

The suspension is made up of struts up front and a multilink setup at the rear, and the handling is responsive and composed.

Inside, new models come standard with VW's new MIB II infotainment system, which includes USB connectivity for the first time (which means no more proprietary audio cables). The biggest news here is that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both available on all but the base models.

There are also visual differences to be found outside of the entertainment features. The center stack has been redesigned slightly around the new screen, and a new horizontal trim split has been added across the dash, a la BMW and Mazda.

The packaging has been shuffled around a bit as well. Base models come with roughly $1,300 worth of additional standard equipment, but at the same MSRP (now that the auto is standard).

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. It's paired to a traditional, six-speed automatic transmission. This combo is good for 25 mpg city and 38 mpg highway.

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.

Pending the outcome of the government's investigation into Volkswagen's diesel emissions discrepancies, a TDI engine should be made available once more.

Trim Level Breakdown
The Passat offers a small galaxy of trim levels - S, SE, SEL and SEL Premium. The SE is also available with a Technology Package. While the turbo four engine is available with all trim levels, the VR6 is only available on the SEL Premium.

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 alloy wheels.

The SE includes the S model'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 "Knoxville" 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 wheels. The SEL Premium brings Keyless access with push-button start, remote start, leather upholstery, rain-sensing wipers, power adjustable front seats and foglamps.

The SEL Premium is available in both four- and six-cylinder variants. It has standard lane departure warning, remote start, LED lighting and several other driver assistance features. VR6 models get unique rear bumper inserts to set off the larger engine's exhaust pipes.

All Passats except for the SEL Premium models (on which it is standard) can be equipped with a Lighting package, which introduces LED headlamps and DRLs.

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.

SE 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, Apple Carplay and Android Auto.

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.