2012 Volkswagen Passat

Review: 2012 Volkswagen Passat

We drive the 2012 Volkswagen Passat 3.6 SEL Premium

By: Tim Healey

Web2Carz Contributing Writer

Published: November 10th, 2011

Ask any auto journalist what they want in a mid-size sedan, and the answer, in some order, would probably involve more power, less weight, and plenty of fun-to-drive factor.

Ask the average American consumer that same question, and the answer would probably comeback thusly: More space (passenger and cargo), better miles per gallon, and a lower sticker price.

Thus the fine line that Volkswagen needed to walk when it launched the 2012 Passat—go for Teutonic driving enjoyment or American comfort? How about both?

That appears to be the goal, anyway. The Passat is the first car to be built at VW’s new plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and it will be tailored for American tastes (the European version will be slightly different).

Cynics will snark that “American tastes” means “supersize me” and it’s hard to disagree. Thanks to feature bloat and bloated Americans, our cars have gotten bigger—park a current Honda Civic next to an older Honda Accord if you doubt this—and the Passat follows. The 2012 Passat is a half-inch taller, and it gains more than three inches in overall length and almost four inches in wheelbase.

Front legroom grows by an inch, and rear legroom is almost an inch and a half longer.

See? It’s not just American waistlines that are expanding.

  • Features & Prices

    Volkswagen offers three engines on Passat—a 2.5-liter inline-five, a 3.6-liter V-6, and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged diesel (TDI). That goes along with several different trim levels—S, SE, SEL, and SEL Premium, although not all trims are available with all engines. Our tester was a 3.6 SEL Premium.

    That means that not only did it have a 280-horsepower V6 under the hood (and a 6-speed direct-shift automatic gearbox), but it had features like a power sunroof, dual-zone climate control, a navigation system, a premium Fender audio system, satellite radio, iPod integration, cruise control, a trip computer, 18-inch wheels, and a tilt/telescope steering wheel. Because this was an SEL Premium, it had leather seats, heated front seats, fog lamps, and keyless entry and starting. Base price: $32,950. There were no options charges (the paint, interior trim, and automatic are all included), so with destination ($770) the total came to $33,720.

    That’s on the high end for the mid-size class, but the car feels worth it. The interior is handsome and most materials feel upscale—this is the un-Jetta. Sure, the exterior styling is a bit white bread, but who says plain can’t be good? In this case, the Passat is easy on the eyes. It won’t turn heads, but it won’t turn them away either.

  • Performance

    Speaking of heads, the acceleration won’t exactly snap yours back, but it’s stronger than one would think—the front tires will chirp if you stab the gas hard enough. Two-hundred and sixty-five lb-ft of torque can’t hurt.

    Unfortunately, relatively quick acceleration is where the fun sorta ends. We say sorta, because at times the Passat can be very engaging. At other times, the artificially light steering feels about as distant as an angry girlfriend, although it does seem to get firmer when partaking in aggressive cornering.

    Handling is generally above average, although some body roll creeps in, and the car is tuned to understeer. It’s fun in the same way that suburban town festivals can be fun—you can have a good time, but not too much of one.

    That said, for around-town cruising, you could do a lot worse. The Passat is roomy and comfortable, and while there are some confusing switches—apparently German pictograms and American ones don’t always matchup—for the most part, the switchgear does what it’s supposed to with precision. Almost all touch surfaces feel great, and they look pretty darn good, too. Cargo space is more than adequate.

    Fuel economy is rated at 20 city and 28 highway, and that sounds about right, given our experience.

  • Conclusion

    While the new Jetta has taken plenty of potshots for looking and feeling cheap, the Passat will escape those critiques. Yes, it looks almost as plain as the Jetta. But the interior is spades better, there’s a lot of space, a comfortable ride, more than a modicum of power, and a pinch of fun-to-drive factor (sadly, just a pinch). Volkswagen would like to take over the world, and by making a Passat that better appeals to Middle America, ze Germans have taken a nice first step.

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• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2012 Volkswagen Passat, click here: 2012 Volkswagen Passat.