2016 Volkswagen Passat SE Review

The Passat is a true American family car

Wade Thiel, Senior Staff Writer

Positives: Roomy interior, supremely quiet and comfortable ride, plenty of power, lots of standard features for trim level
Negatives: Undramatic exterior, sub-par infotainment system, hot vinyl seats, low-quality interior materials in some areas, no diesel option right now
Bottom Line: The American version of the Passat may be a little softer than the European version, but it's still very responsive and precise, making it a pleasure to drive. The Passat is overall very comfortable and easy to use, but if VW wants to take up more of the market, they need to upgrade the infotainment system and make the seats less sticky in hot weather by only offering real leather or cloth seats.
 View Our 2017 Volkswagen Passat Overview
The VW Passat has always been an attractive and sensible sedan, and that hasn’t changed. In 2012, the big wigs at VW decided to really make the Passat a viable contender for the American midsized sedan crown by softening and enlarging it, and the result was a sales surge. While the car has sold considerably better the last four years than in the past, it still comes up short against the competition in terms of design and technology. The 2016 model received some minor updates to the exterior and technology in hopes that it would boost sales further and perhaps pull more buyers away from Honda or Toyota, but many have speculated as to if it was enough.

We got behind the wheel of the latest Passat to see if the minor changes for this year’s model actually have the potential to get the job done. Here’s what we found.

Driving Experience



The American version of the Passat might not be as taut as the European spec car, but it still feels composed and quick to us. Its ride is smooth and comfortable, but far from being soft. It doesn't feel as sporty as something like the Jetta or the Golf and that's a good thing. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder provides plenty of power for city and highway driving, and has good throttle response. There is the option to upgrade to a 3.6-liter V6 engine, but we’re not sure why you’d want to. It reduces the fuel efficiency dramatically and this car doesn’t feel like it needs the extra power.

Ride Quality: The Passat is composed and smooth over bumps and gaps. You’ll swear you’re in a much more expensive car. It’s not an extremely cushioned ride, nor is it harsh.

Acceleration: Throttle response is good but not great. This car is no sports sedan, though it has plenty of power for city and highway driving.

Braking: The brakes are progressive and do a fine job of slowing down the car without feeling grabby.

Steering: The electronic steering can feel a bit numb at times but overall makes it easy to control the car. It’s not too light or too heavy at any speeds.

Handling: On straightaways, the car's suspension led us to believe there would be significant body roll but the Passat corners pretty flat. That's impressive for a car nearing full-size sedan proportions.




VW updated the infotainment system for 2016 and while it functions fine and has many of the features you want in a new car – like Bluetooth connectivity, Sirius XM radio, App-Connect smartphone integration, navigation and more – we were a little disappointed with it overall. Other companies have better laid-out systems with larger screens and more intuitive controls. VW’s new system is a step in the right direction but it’s still lacking.

Infotainment System:The 6.3-inch screen is smaller than the competition's screens and is placed low on the dash. Graphics are clear, but could be sharper.

Controls: The buttons, knobs and touchscreen work fine, but they aren’t as well-placed as, say, the Hyundai Sonata’s and they could stand to be a little bigger.

Bluetooth Pairing: Phone pairing was simple and our phone reconnected upon re-entry to the car without any issues.

Voice Call Quality: Clear on both sides of the call. No issues to speak of.




VW will likely never be known for daring style. The company sticks to conservative and boring, yet attractive lines on their cars. While the Passat is not a bad-looking car, there isn’t much that stands out, making it perfect for anyone who doesn’t want to be noticed. If you’re looking to blend in, the Passat is for you.

Front: The front of the Passat features a clean appearance with updated headlights and a more muscled hood adding the smallest amount of flare.

Rear: The rear is about as basic as you can get. There’s few creases and angles, with the VW logo and the small chrome line on the bumper being the main eye-catching features.

Profile: The Passat is conservatively styled but is very well-proportioned, and it has nicely spoked 17-inch alloy wheels, both making for an attractive, albeit subdued-looking car.

Cabin: The car’s interior is attractive and refreshing in a Teutonic way that the Japanese midsizers don't do. VW has done a nice job of dressing up the look of lower quality materials (plastics and vinyl seats) to give the Passat a more luxurious look in spite of some cheap feeling surfaces, unlike the Mazda6.




The interior of the car is spacious and very comfortable from an ergonomics standpoint. It’s just the materials that we have an issue with. As stated above, VW actually does a good job making the materials look good. It’s only after sitting in the car for a while, that we began to notice the details and see that these materials aren’t as good or comfortable as VW would want you to believe.

Front Seats: Cushioning and bolstering are good in the Passat. The issue with the seats is the leatherette. Sitting in these seats on a hot day leads to a sweaty back and legs. Upgrading to a higher trim with real leather seats would help. At least you can opt for run-of-the-mill cloth seats.

Rear Seats: The rear seats feature plenty of room and cushioning, though they suffer from the same leatherette.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The Passat is exceptionally quiet on a variety of different roads. It’s one of the most solidly built, quiet cars we’ve driven for under $30K.

Visibility: Front, side and rear visibility are good. The mirrors and backup cameras make maneuvering easy.

Climate: The automatic climate controls in the Passat work well, moving air quickly to both seating rows, though ventilated seats would be nice.




Safety is a high point for the Passat. The car received a five star overall rating from the NHTSA, four star for frontal crash, five star for side impact and four star for rollover protection. This is true for all trim levels of the car.

IIHS Rating: The Passat earns the top rating of Top Safety Pick+

Standard Tech: Air bags and seatbelts all around, ABS, stability control, Intelligent Crash Response System, tire pressure monitoring, rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitors and fog lights.

Optional Tech: There was no optional safety equipment on test car.




The Passat is not a compact car and that’s a big plus when you have a lot of things to take with you. While VW isn’t exactly on par with other non-German brands on building spacious cubbies and containers for all of our stuff, the Passat really does a pretty good job of accommodating your things.

Storage Space: Besides the two cup holders behind the gear shifter, there’s a little pocket in front of the gear shifter as well as a little space beneath the arm rest. The door pockets and glove box also give you some places to stash gear.

Cargo Room: The 15.9 cubic feet of space in the truck edges out both the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry, giving it a leg up on the competition.

Fuel Economy



The mileage for the Passat with the 1.8-liter turbocharged four cylinder is impressive at 25 mpg city and 38 mpg highway, according to the EPA estimates. The Passat once again beats the Camry and Accord on highway fuel efficiency, though the Accord beats the Passat in the city.

Observed: 27 mpg

Driving Factors: We mostly drove the Passat in the city with several short jaunts on the highway. At times we pushed the car a bit more than needed to test the power of the turbocharged four-cylinder.




The 8-speaker sound system provided loud, clear and crisp audio, though there are better systems out there. While most people will likely be happy with the sound quality and range that these speakers produce, some may want to upgrade to the premium Fender audio system that comes with the upper trim levels of the car.

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