2017 Volkswagen Passat V6 SEL Premium Review

Germany's potent family sedan toes the line between eco and luxe

Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief

Positives: Strong acceleration, great road manners, precise steering, huge amounts of interior space and cargo room, excellent sound system.
Negatives: Dead initial throttle response, lots of wheel hop, small touchscreen with bad positioning, small control knobs, some cheap-feeling materials.
Bottom Line: The Passat is a well-made car that just happens to be sadly anonymous. Though we like the well-executed but somewhat muted styling of the car, it gets lost in the crowd. The driving dynamics and steering are great, but the top trim V6 is both expensive and probably unnecessarily powerful when a turbo four would be more than fine.
 View Our 2017 Volkswagen Passat Overview
Next to the Jetta, the bigger Passat is VW's second best-selling vehicle with 73,002 units sold in 2016. It outsold the BMW 3-Series, the Nissan Maxima and the Mazda6. That's a solid showing for a car that most people don't actually notice, compared with the bolder stylings of the aforementioned vehicles. The Passat is a German car made for Americans, and it made that change back in 2012 with bigger dimensions, slightly cheaper materials and a more subdued styling than the generation that came before it. Passat sales climbed domestically as a result, and as of the 2016 model year it received some nice updates inside and out. We drove it for a week in top V6 SEL trim to see how it stacked up against other worthy family sedans.

Driving Experience



Passat buyers who opt for the V6 clearly want the power, and it delivers in spades. The driving experience isn't thrilling, but it's also not lacking for most owners. The car handles well for its size, and it feels solid at high speeds with excellent on-road stability. Overall, the Passat feels good to drive, but there are better handling, better steering Japanese cars out there in the Accord and the Mazda6, but neither of those cars feels as hefty and as solid as the Passat when helming it.

Ride Quality: The Passat is a great blend of comfort with a touch of sport. You're not totally insulated from the road, nor is the ride jarring. Both driving enthusiasts and everyday drivers will find it well-balanced.

Acceleration: Acceleration is strong once the front wheels stop spinning/hopping. 0-60 comes in under six seconds, quicker than its competition in V6 Hondas and Camrys. Power is strong and even, and the paddle shifters notch up the excitement nicely. The transmission is smooth and seamless, but the gas pedal is a bit dead at the top.

Braking: Good, progressive brakes that don't make you guess. Braking distance is about average for the segment.

Steering: The electric power steering isn't very precise, and the weight feels a bit artificial. At highway speeds, however, it's pretty good and very much on center.

Handling: Body roll is there but not overly present in turns. Take it into a turn, and you feel the weight, but the Passat remains composed.




VW is one of those manufacturers who hasn't spent a ton of time making its infotainment system as good as it could be. Overall, the tech works just fine but lacks the size and the visuals to make it really great.

Infotainment System: The 6.3" touchscreen responds extremely well, and the capacitive touch with proxmity sensors built into the head unit work particularly well. We just wish the screen was larger with bigger fonts and better graphics. It also needs to be placed higher on the center stack.

Controls: Buttons and physical knobs for climate and audio are welcomed, but the audio knobs are a bit too small for our liking.

Bluetooth Pairing: Pairing worked very well. Quick to link up and zero streaming/phone call issues.

Voice Call Quality: Voice call quality was very good. Loud and clear on both sides of the call was our experience regularly.




Though practically no one but auto journos will notice, the Passat was refreshed in 2016 to make it edgier and bolder inside and out. The result is a car that is a bit higher on the prominence scale than before, though that isn't saying much since the Passat is pretty conservatively styled. But on one will accuse the Passat of being ugly. It's actually pretty well-styled and should hold up well over the years. The interior matches the exterior in that it's well-executed but far from radical.

Front: The whole front has been redone with a bolder and more angular grille, a domed hood shape and a new bumper. The LED lights are a nice touch for this top trim Passat.

Rear: The tail section looks essentially the same with the exception of the addition of a slim chrome strip that connects the taillights and thin reflectors just outside the base of the trunklid opening.

Profile: By no means adventurous in styling, the Passat's profile is perfectly proportioned and clean. We think it looks great by virtue of the fact that it will hold up well over the years even if it won't turn many heads.

Cabin: Clean styling with good-looking materials make the interior noticeable. No one aspect stands out, but nothing's bad to look at, either. This might be some of the best fake wood we've ever seen.




This is where the top-trim Passat excels. The car has capacious seating and cargo, and no one who enters the Passat's cabin will complain about its roominess. The cabin feels well-crafted and airy, and we're glad that leather abounds instead of high-grade vinyl. Though it's not as rich-feeling as the top trim Passat from two generations ago, it's certainly more comfortable and ergonomic. This is a sedan that should make long trips much easier.

Front Seats: Great seats that feel good however long of a drive you take. The leather surfaces feel good, and the cushioning and bolstering should make just about any driver happy given the Passat's focus.

Rear Seats: Ample space to stretch out, and three across in comfort is no problem.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The Passat feels like a German bank vault with its excellent build quality, low interior noise and solid 'thunks' from the doors.

Visibility: Great visibility all around. The parcel shelf isn't too high, and rearward sightlines are good.

Climate: Climate controls work well, and the system heats up fast during this Chicago winter.




For 2017, the IIHS made some changes for cars to nail the Top Safety Pick+ rating, including headlight performance. It's really the only reason the Passat drops a notch for this year. Nevertheless, it remains an excellent choice to keep your family safe on the road thanks to its top notch crash test scores.

IIHS Rating: Top Safety Pick thanks to "Good" in all crash test scoring and "Advanced" with regard to Accident Avoidance tech. Only the "Poor" score with headlights hurts the Passat.

Standard Tech: The Passat V6 SEL is utterly loaded with safety features in top trim spec. It comes with features like Intelligent Crash Response System, tire pressure monitoring, LED automatic headlights and taililghts, rear view camera, adaptive cruise control, Front Assist (includes autonomous emergency braking), lane departure warning, parking steering assist with Park Pilot, and blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert. We made extensive use of the adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist, both of which performed flawlessly for 400 miles of highway driving.

Optional Tech: The V6 SEL Premium had all of the available safety features as standard equipment. Very nice.




The Passat is a roomy car, but it's cubbies could be a bit larger for our tastes, but there's still a good amount of room in the cabin. Overall, the Passat has enough space for a family's daily gear and luggage (capacity for 5 carry ons behind the rear seats).

Storage Space: Well placed storage in the cabin but a bit small for a car this big. The armrest compartment is deep but short, and the center console compartment could use more room for phones, keys, etc. Door pockets are decently sized.

Cargo Room: 16 cubic feet is right for the segment, keeping pace with the Hyundai Sonata and the Ford Fusion and outpacing the Nissan Altima and the Mazda6. The opening provide easy access, and the space is sufficiently tall. We crammed a ton of stuff in their on our road trip, including a massive pack 'n' play for the kid, a highchair, an oversized duffel bag, three backpacks and four grocery bags filled with kids toys.

Fuel Economy



What you get in terms of power, you lose in terms of fuel economy. The reason why anyone buys a naturally-aspirated V6 isn't for fuel economy reasons (unless you're downgrading from a V8, of course). Our Passat didn't set any mileage records, nor did we expect it to. Our expectation is that VW will soon do away with this powertrain since the 1.8T is more than enough for most drivers and gets way better fuel economy numbers.

Observed: 24.8 over 542 miles.

Driving Factors: The majority of our week was highway driving due to a road trip (around 400 miles) using adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist. The rest of the time, we exploited the V6 on local roads, which accounted for our less than stellar average mpgs.




We absolutely loved the Fender system that came with the top trim car as standard equipment. It was loud, full and very clear. One of the best systems we've heard in the past year of testing.

Final Thoughts

It's hard to go wrong with a Passat. Sure the VW diesel scandal still stings, but that curse doesn't apply to this car. The V6 in the SEL Premium is strong and smooth, and the car feels rock solid whenever you drive it. It's one of those cars that is satisfying like a good New York Strip but fails to totally wow you like a dry-aged bone-in Rib Eye. That being said, we enjoyed our time in the Passat since it proved that it can handle a family of four with gear stacked to the ears without batting an eye. The roominess is the Passat's sweet spot, along with its near-peerless build quality. It used to be criticized for taking an American bent, but we think that's what makes it fantastic for families while still keeping its German strengths.
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