Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord have been the standout favorites in the hotly contested mid-size sedan segment for years - a segment that requires a car to have a near-perfect combination of factors to stand out from the crowd. Last year, the Hyundai Sonata made waves by offering a new level of design and technology componentry, and Volkswagen is also looking to make a statement (albeit a different one) with the 2012 Passat. Its complete overhaul has seen the Passat grow four inches in length, offer more features, and – perhaps most importantly – drop thousands in price to a sub-$20,000 starting MSRP. New to the Passat as well is a segment-first turbo-diesel engine (TDI), which returns 43 mpg highway and is offered alongside 2.5-liter and V-6 engines. While the engineering is all German, this Passat is the first to be built at Volkswagen’s new Chattanooga, Tennessee plant. And the automaker took particular steps to create a Volkswagen specific to the American buyer. Case in point: Europe’s Passat is nearly entirely different; our Passat has more room and a unique look. All of this seems to herald the start of a different direction for Volkswagen, but with the Accord and Camry expecting redesigns for 2012 and 2013, it’s still up in the air whether it’s the right one.
What's to Like
Leg- and headroom in the rear is spacious and accommodates most passengers comfortably. The addition of a TDI engine is great for those who may not want a hybrid but are concerned with fuel economy. The trunk is cavernous, and the touchscreen interface is fantastically easy to use and intuitive. Pricing is on par with the rest of the segment. Three years or 36,000 miles of free scheduled maintenance sweetens the pot.
What's Not to Like
Drive quality is not up to Volkswagen standards, especially concerning is the steering and handling. Exterior design is ho-hum – and it looks a little too similar to the Jetta , and while the interior quality is high, it’s nothing special to look at. A power driver’s seat and USB port should be standard.
Mid-size sedans on the market aren’t known for their cornering abilities, and that’s an expected trait of the segment. So like most, the new Passat has focused on comfort, softening the ride to make it more forgiving over the road’s imperfections. It results in a smooth journey, but one that tends to have plenty of body roll in corners. Vague, indirect steering doesn’t help anything either. Still, the Passat has an engine for every type of driver. The TDI is torquey and fun, giving you plenty of low-end power, while the 2.5-liter is a less robust...