2014 Volkswagen Passat Review and Quick Spin
Let me tell you something about the 2014 Volkswagen Passat. Except for the Mazda 6, this is the most overlooked car in its class. For every four Honda Accords or Toyota Camrys that get parked in American driveways, Volkswagen sells one Passat, and having now spent a week driving a 2014 Passat SEL Premium with this car’s new standard turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, I can’t figure out why more people don’t choose the VW.
In advance of launching this version of the Passat for the 2012 model year, Volkswagen made a huge effort to improve upon the established midsize sedan recipe, designing this Passat specifically for American customers and building it in a brand new assembly plant in Tennessee. In total, the company spent $5 billion to create a Passat built by Americans specifically for Americans.
How has the target audience reacted? Every major competitor, except the Mazda 6, sells in greater numbers. In my opinion, there can be just one reason for this, and that reason must be the Passat’s average reliability ratings. To eliminate this as an obstacle to purchase, all Volkswagen needs to do is offer a better warranty, something along the lines of what Hyundai and Kia did when quality and reliability perceptions capped sales. Surely, if the Passat’s durability and dependability are equal to the competition, Volkswagen can afford to offer that extra peace of mind.
2014 Volkswagen Passat Review and Quick Spin: About Our Test Car
The 2014 Volkswagen Passat lineup is extensive, offering three different engines – turbocharged 4-cylinder (1.8T), turbo-diesel 4-cylinder (TDI), and V-6 – and five different trim levels called S, Wolfsburg Edition, SE, Sport Edition, and SEL Premium. Prices range from $21,815 for the Passat S to $35,085 for the Passat SEL Premium V6.
While the Passat SE 1.8T ($25,595) is the most popular model, and the Passat Sport Edition 1.8T ($27,295) is the newest member of the family, my test car is the Passat 1.8T SEL Premium ($32,115), painted Platinum Gray Metallic.
In addition to standard SE equipment, the SEL Premium adds an automatic transmission, 18-inch aluminum wheels, and fog lights with a corner illumination feature, plus dual-zone automatic climate control, sport/comfort front seat designs with 12-way power adjustment for the driver and front passenger, and leather upholstery with Dinamica synthetic suede inserts.
Autumn Nut burl wood trim, keyless access with push-button starting, and remote engine starting are also standard for this model, along with a HomeLink universal remote and a power sunroof. The SEL Premium model’s hard-drive infotainment system features a reversing camera, navigation, and a 400-watt Fender premium sound system.
2014 Volkswagen Passat Review and Quick Spin: Styling and Design
You might disagree, but I think the Volkswagen Passat looks clean, classy, and upscale, especially when equipped with the optional 18-inch aluminum wheels shown in the photos. The overall look might be conservative, even a bit boring, but this is a car that’s still going to look good a decade or two from now.
Inside, the conservatism continues in terms of tones and textures. Tasteful wood trim creates a demarcation line within the cabin. Everything above the wood trim looks and feels like it came out of a more expensive car, such as an Audi, while everything below the wood trim looks and feels like it came out of a less expensive car, like a Toyota Corolla.
2014 Volkswagen Passat Review and Quick Spin: Comfort and Cargo
While the quality of the Passat’s interior materials might demonstrate inconsistency in terms of approach, there is no such problem when it comes to front and rear seat comfort, especially when this sedan is equipped with the 12-way adjustable sport/comfort front seats installed in my test car. Available only in the Sport Edition and the SEL Premium, they’re terrific once you get them dialed in. Add a tilt/telescopic steering wheel wrapped in smooth leather coupled with soft places to rest your arms and elbows, and you’ll find longer drives easy to tackle. All that’s missing is a ventilated seat option for the country’s muggier climates.
Volkswagen hasn’t delivered front seat comfort at the expense of rear seat passengers. I’m not a small guy, but the Passat’s back seat makes me feel like I am thanks to massive amounts of legroom. Add a tall, supportive seating position, a center armrest, and air vents to help heat or cool the rear quarters, and just about anyone will be comfortable riding in the back of this Volkswagen.
Better yet, parents of smaller children are going to love this car. Getting a reverse-facing child seat into the Passat is no problem, and once your newborn grows up a bit and moves to a forward-facing seat, they won’t be able to kick the front seatbacks. That’s pure bliss, right there. It also makes me wish the Passat had manual rear side window shades to protect a baby’s eyes from sunlight.
Moms and dads will be able to carry lots of baby gear in the Passat’s roomy 15.9 cu.-ft. trunk. Using the remote key fob, the trunk pops completely open. The space inside is deep measured from the seatbacks to the trunk lid, but shallow in terms of height. That means full-size suitcases must be loaded flat rather than on their side. But, you can also toss a couple of those in and still have room for a good-size stroller and other cargo. Just watch the trunk hinges when you slam the trunk lid shut, because they’re not enclosed.
If you need more room, the Passat’s 60/40-split folding rear seat flops down. If you need to carry something long, there’s a rear seat pass-through designed to accommodate you. Plus, Volkswagen supplies a small storage tray on the left side of the trunk.
2014 Volkswagen Passat Review and Quick Spin: Features and Controls
For a car designed specifically to appeal to American buyers, the 2014 Passat has a few quirks when it comes to its controls. At a glance, everything appears to be located where you expect to find it, but there are a few exceptions.
If you get a Passat with the keyless entry and push-button ignition setup, the button is located on the center console rather than the dashboard, which is the more traditional location. When pairing your phone using Bluetooth, you need to use the steering wheel controls and the menus on the gauge display rather than the touchscreen infotainment system. Looking for the cruise controls? They’re on the turn signal stalk. And while I like the fact that the Passat offers a power/volume knob and a tuning knob, when tuning you must twist to find a station and then push to select it.
The hard-drive infotainment system in my SEL Premium test car was slow to boot-up, slow to activate the reversing camera, and the touchscreen wasn’t particularly responsive. Often, I needed to stab at radio station pre-sets and other virtual buttons more than once to make them work.
One thing I really like about the Passat, though, are the one-touch power windows and the power sunroof control that lets the sun shine in with a single twist of an overhead knob.
2014 Volkswagen Passat Review and Quick Spin: Matters of Safety
Volkswagen doesn’t offer much in the way of safety technology upgrades for the 2014 Passat. You can’t get a blind spot warning system, or a lane departure warning system, or a forward collision warning system. A reversing camera is standard on SE, Sport Edition, and SEL Premium models, and all versions except for the Passat S include a new-for-2014 CarNet telematics service that includes Automatic Crash Notification as well as speed and boundary alerts.
Though it lacks many modern safety upgrades, the Passat is nevertheless a safe car. It gets a 5-star crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a ‘Top Safety Pick’ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, making it a compelling choice as a family sedan.
2014 Volkswagen Passat Review and Quick Spin: Driving Impressions
If you’re looking for something transformative about the 2014 Passat, check under the hood. The old, grumbling, unrefined, 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine is gone, replaced by an excellent 1.8-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder.
The new engine makes the same amount of horsepower as the old one at 170 ponies, and torque increases a bit to 184 lb.-ft. Thanks to turbocharging, though, the torque is spread across a wider rev range to help make the Passat feel quicker and more responsive, and turbocharged engines also perform better in high-altitude regions. There is a bit of turbo lag right when you step on the gas, though, so be careful making left turns across traffic.
The new turbo four also improves the Passat’s fuel economy, bumping the combined-driving fuel economy rating from 25 mpg with the old 5-cylinder engine to 28 mpg with the new 1.8T. I averaged a little less than that on my test loop, at 26.3 mpg, but on a long freeway drive got 36.8 mpg with my family along for the ride.
In most Passat 1.8T models, a 5-speed manual gearbox is standard with the new engine, which is great if you like that sort of thing. Most people will get the optional 6-speed automatic instead. This is a traditional automatic, not Volkswagen’s Direct Shift Gearbox, and is calibrated to maximize fuel economy by upshifting as soon as is possible. As a result it sometimes behaves in a confused manner and occasionally chooses a gear with unbecoming harshness. When placed in Sport mode, though, the transmission is smart enough to figure out when the driver is tackling a road with spirit, and you can always choose gears for yourself by using the separate shift gate.
If you drive the Passat in the city or on the highway, and you’re expecting a German sport sedan driving experience, you’re not going to get it. This isn’t a stiff-riding car. In fact, it sometimes feels under-suspended, and exhibits too much vertical body motion. Yet the tires and steering clearly communicate road texture, perhaps to too great a degree for the typical midsize sedan buyer.
I’ll say this, though. You can toss this car into a corner carrying a remarkable amount of speed. Body roll is nearly non-existent, the 18-inch Continental tires don’t squeal at all, and the steering proves crisp, precise, and accurate. I had a blast driving this car down a twisty canyon road, with the exception of how the brake pedal felt.
Generally, I find Volkswagen brakes to be the least inspiring dynamic component on any of the company’s models. In the Passat, pedal feel and response at the top of pedal travel are insufficient, and then once the car starts braking, it can be difficult to smoothly modulate pressure. After a car wash, braking performance was clearly diminished, a problem I’ve never experienced before. And when you release the pedal, it clunks in an unrefined way.
2014 Volkswagen Passat Review and Quick Spin: Final Thoughts
At the beginning of this review, I talked about how Americans continue to choose competing midsize sedans in much greater numbers than they do the Passat.
From my perspective, that’s a mistake. This Volkswagen is stylish and safe, roomy and comfortable, practical and fuel-efficient, and is usually pretty fun to drive. Passat owners agree with these observations, as this car was named the most appealing model in its class according to J.D. Power. Plus, it also comes with free scheduled maintenance for the first two years or 24,000 miles. And Volkswagen is almost always offering lease deals and rebates on this car.
So why isn’t the Passat more popular? Aside from the car’s relentlessly average reliability rating, I really haven’t got a clue. If you ask me, anyone shopping for a midsize sedan ought to have the 2014 VW Passat on the consideration list.
Volkswagen provided the 2014 Passat SEL Premium 1.8T for this review
2014 Volkswagen Passat photos by Christian Wardlaw