2016 Volkswagen Passat
In his book Gracie: A Love Story, comedian George Burns told the story of the one time he cheated on his wife. He felt so guilty that he bought her a $10,000 diamond ring (this was the 1950s!) and a new silver centerpiece for the dining room table. Years later, he heard Gracie on the phone with her friend: “You know, I wish George would cheat again. I really need a new centerpiece.” Volkswagen is in a similar situation: Their cheating on diesel emissions has tarnished their reputation among American buyers. So how can VW win our confidence back? One way is by chopping the prices on their cars, including the Passat. This big 4-door sedan has always been a favorite family car of mine, and now it’s a better deal than ever.
In the interest of full disclosure, the Volkswagen Passat is an old family friend. Back in 2012, when the current version was introduced, Volkswagen loaned one to my family and me for a year-long test drive I was doing for another publication. We put 30,000 miles on the car and developed such a fondness for it that we seriously considered buying the Passat at the end of the loan. We ended up not doing that—there was another long-term tester waiting in the wings—but the Passat remains my personal benchmark for a family car, with emphasis on the family bit. The Passat proved roomy and reliable, and the hard-wearing interior held up surprisingly well to our active kids—and our active dog.
Photo by Volkswagen
The current version of the Passat was introduced in 2012, and unlike the previous model it was distinctly different from the Passat that Volkswagen offers in Europe. Volkswagen figured out that Americans like space, so they gave us a bigger car—and they also built a factory for it in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which today employs 3200 workers. I’ve always found Volkswagen quality to be hit or miss—it seems to vary from plant to plant—but the Tennessee-built cars seem to do pretty well. J.D. Power rates their reliability at “About Average,” and for Volkswagen, that ain’t bad. Volkswagen gave the Passat an update in 2016, though the car didn’t really change much: The front and rear styling are new, but you have to park the old and new versions side by side to tell the difference—and even then you might be scratching your head.
For 2017, Volkswagen is adding lots of new standard equipment to the Passat without big changes in pricing (consider this part of their penance for the sins of Dieselgate). A forward-collision warning system with automatic braking is now standard on all Passats, and the mid-range R-Line and SE models get more standard equipment: R-Lines now feature an upgraded touchscreen stereo, heated front seats with power adjustment for the driver, and V-Tex upholstery (that’s VW’s version of fake leather, and I’m a fan; we had it on our long-term Passat, and it wears well and cleans easily). SE models get keyless ignition, and both R-Line and SE now have a blind-spot warning system. R-Line pricing is unchanged from last year, and if you get an SE model with the Technology Package, you’ll get additional equipment (nicer wheels, parking sensors, LED lights) and pay less than you would have for a comparably equipped 2016 model. One of my enduring complaints about Volkswagens is that the base models are cheap, but mid-line models get very pricey, so it’s good to see VW improving the value equation.
One thing that hasn’t changed much is the Passat’s interior. The design isn’t as jazzy as some of its competitors, but the control layout is simple and easy to learn; it’s all very logical, just as you’d expect from Germans (or Vulcans). Last year, Volkswagen (finally!) replaced its proprietary media port with a regular USB port, so you can now plug in your devices without having to buy a $50 adapter from the dealership. All 2017 Passats have a touchscreen stereo that is compatible with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and MirrorLink.
Back seat legroom has always been one of the Passat’s strong points; this Volkswagen sedan boasts 39.1 inches of rear seat legroom, on par with fullsize sedans like the Chevrolet Impala, Toyota Avalon, and Ford Taurus and more than midsize rivals suich as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Chevrolet Malibu. There’s plenty of room for tall folks to stretch out, and if you’re a short person like me, it’s almost like riding in a limousine. The trunk is massive at 15.9 cubic feet, and it’s smartly shaped and lined with durable materials.
The Passat is offered with two engines. Standard in all models is a 1.8 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces 170 horsepower and comes paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. I’m a big fan of this powertrain; it delivers strong acceleration and returns good fuel economy, with EPA ratings of 23 MPG city, 34 MPG highway, and 27 MPG combined. That puts it right in the ballpark with 4-cylinder versions of the Honda Accord, Chevrolet Malibu, and Toyota Camry. In my experience, the Passat delivers real-world numbers in line with its EPA figures, something not all 4-cylinder turbo engines can claim.
If you want a Passat with even more urge, Volkswagen offers a 3.6-liter V6 paired with its performance-oriented DSG twin-clutch automatic transmission. The 3.6 delivers plenty of power, and while it’s rated for premium fuel, it’ll run on regular gas with a slight decrease in power. EPA fuel economy estimates are 20 MPG city/28 MPG highway/23 MPG combined, and the Passat’s big 18.5 gallon fuel tank gives it plenty of range. If you’re looking for the super frugal TDI diesel, sorry, Charlie, you’re out of luck—VW has discontinued it in the wake of the diesel emissions scandal.
German cars are known for their excellent ride and handling characteristics, and the Passat is no exception. It’s no BMW M3, mind you, but this VW steers accurately, rides comfortably, and won’t fall apart in the turns—in fact, you can really fling it into the corners, provided you don’t mind running the risk of your kids doing the technicolor yawn. (Did I mention that V-Tex cleans up easily?) I was a bit surprised at how light the steering is; that seems to be a trend in Volkswagen’s latest sedans, and I wouldn’t mind a little more resistance as I turn the wheel. But overall the Passat feels like a natural-born dancer—it has an underlying poise and grace that you simply can’t help but notice, something German automakers create especially well.
Photo by Volkswagen
How does the 2017 Volkswagen Passat compare on value to its competitors? It’s a little difficult to compare directly, as the Passat bundles its options differently than other automakers. The Passat SE with Technology Package is priced at $28,815 (including $815 destination fee) offers most (if not all) of the features offered in the leather-lined versions of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Chevrolet Malibu. Take leather out of the equation (VW’s V-Tex is a reasonable substitute), and a comparably equipped Honda Accord EX-L with Navi will run you $31,655; a Toyota Camry XLE will have to be optioned to $31,805; and the Chevrolet Malibu 1LT will needs extras that bring the price to $31,480. If genuine leather is what you want in your Passat, you’ll have to go to the top-of-the-line Passat SEL, priced at $31,815, and it comes with a self-parking system, a nifty feature not found on most competitors. I never thought I’d write this, but the Passat is a great value compared to the competition.
It’s good to see a friend improving himself (or herself), and I am pleased to see the Passat changing for the better. The Passat has always been roomy and a pleasure to drive, and now it's it can add excellent value to its list of strengths. One might argue that Volkswagen is trying to buy back the confidence of American buyers after the diesel debacle, but I’m perfectly okay with that. What’s done is done, and if Volkswagen wants to make it up to us by offering great deals on one of the roomiest midsize sedans on the market, who am I to complain?
Photo by Volkswagen