2018 Volkswagen Passat 2.0T SEL Premium Review

The end-of-life act can still be very good

Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief

Positives: Great steering and handling, excellent efficiency, well-appointed, interior echoes the more premium CC, capacious interior and trunk
Negatives: Base engine needs more power, conservative styling might bore some
Bottom Line: The Passat is one of those sedans that should get more attention because it really is a great all-arounder. It might not have the most power or the best interior tech, but it drives like a charm and can seat three in back in true comfort. It's time for a redesign, but the Passat still holds its own as a great family sedan.
 View Our 2018 Volkswagen Passat Overview
When we reviewed the V6 version of the 2017 Passat, we loved it, but this year the Passat is showing some signs of age. It hasn't been fully redesigned since 2012, and that's a seriously long time for a car these days. The new Jetta is almost here, and the Arteon premium sedan is also on its way. Volkswagen promises an all-new Passat sometime in 2019, but for now the current Passat is still on sale. We reviewed the more efficient 4-cylinder turbo version in premium SEL trim. Read on for the full details.

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: The turbo four has some low speed lag but then picks up quickly. It's well-mated to the 6-speed automatic. Maximizing the horsepower means using the Tiptronic option to "manually" shift.

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 hasn't totally revamped their infotainment system, but it's much improved over last year's. The responsiveness is better but not at the top of the heap, but visuals are improved, as is the overall functionality.

Infotainment System: The 6.5-inch touchscreen is on the small-ish side for us, but it's clean and crisp. The proximity sensor picks up your hand before it touches, and the menus rise in response. It's quite good.

Controls: Good physical knobs for climate control and audio, but we do wish the audio knobs were larger.




No one will accuse the Passat of being a head-turner. Its refresh in 2016 helped, but the overall styling is still very conservative. That's not a bad thing, since the Passat has a clean look that will hold up well over time, but it tends to disappear in the backdrop when more fetching cars like the Mazda6, the Toyota Camry, and the Hyundai Sonata show up.

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. We expect the next Passat to have more aggressive styling along the lines of the Arteon.

Cabin: The colorway with contrasting brown and black leather seats is an excellent touch that makes our tester evoke the CC. The interior is clean and unobtrusive, but the interior of the updated Mazda6 is far better.




The car has capacious seating and cargo, and no one who enters the Passat's cabin will complain about its roominess, especially in the back seat. The cabin feels well-crafted and airy, and we're glad that leather abounds instead of high-grade vinyl. This is a sedan that should make long trips much easier.

Front Seats: 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. This is a seriously big back seat for a car this size. Perfect for us Americans.

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.




It's a bit of a split decision here in terms of safety. The Passat no longer gets top ratings from the IIHS but still achieves top scores from the NHTSA. The standard safety tech is excellent and helps boost scores.

IIHS Rating: It fails to make the grade for the Top Safety Pick with only a "marginal" in the small offset passenger crash test and "poor" for headlights.

NHTSA Rating: The Passat gets five stars from the NHTSA in crash tests.

Standard Tech: The Passat SEL has a strong set of features at no extra cost. It comes with an 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, adaptive cruise control, and blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert.

Optional Tech: None.




The Passat is a roomy car, but its cubbies could be a bit larger for our tastes, but there's still a good amount of room in the cabin. Trunk room is big and can swallow 5 carry-on bags.

Storage Space: Cabin storage options are plentiful 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 on par for the midsize sedan segment. The trunk opening is large, and the load floor is flat. We had no problem hauling luggage and golf bags.

Fuel Economy



Like most 2-liter turbos, the one in the Passat SEL is pretty thrifty. We tend to drive our testers in a spirited fashion, so the fact that it came back with seriously good numbers is testament to the car's efficiency. The 3,274 lb curb weight also helps. That's pretty light for a sedan this size.

Observed: 27.5 mpg

Distance Driven: 91 miles

Driving Factors: We drove the car in sport mode most of the time, and we were pretty heavy with the throttle.




We absolutely loved the Fender system that came with the top trim car as standard equipment. It was loud, full and very clear. The premium system isn't just the Fender name but truly excellent sound delivery.

Final Thoughts

We still love the Passat, though it is getting long in the tooth. It's just one of those cars that does so much quite well in terms of space, efficiency, comfort, and driving entertainment. We have no doubt that the next-generation Passat will be even better, but the current one still qualifies to be at the top of your shopping list.

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