Staff Writer - CheersandGears.com
July 30, 2012
Volkswagen's tenure in the U.S. has been one of many changes. When introduced into the U.S. market during the 1950’s, Volkswagen was the funky value choice with a lineup including the Beetle and the Bus. In the 1970’s, Volkswagen would morph into the brand that would offer high-quality budget cars. The high quality would solider on, while the budget part would be pushed aside for premium from the 1980’s to the late 2000's.
Starting in this decade, Volkswagen made some ambitious plans, selling 800,000 vehicles in the U.S. by 2018. That meant changes once again to the lineup which caused some outrage in the automotive enthusiast world; shedding the luxury and sportiness that most enthusiasts have come to know about the German brands.
The Jetta and Passat would shed some of their premium trimmings to bring back the value oriented aspect that Volkswagen originated with. However, consumers have been going with crazy with the Jetta and Passat, both seeing huge sales since being introduced. At the end of last year, the Jetta saw a 54.5% increase in year to date sales and the Passat saw a 124% increase in year to date sales.
So what do consumers see that enthusiasts don’t in the Jetta and Passat? To find out, a 2012 Volkswagen Passat 2.5 SE was dropped off for a week’s evaluation.
Next: The Outside View
Plain. That's the best word to describe the Passat's exterior. There are no flared wheel arches, coupe like roof, short decklid, and other design cues that are in use today in the midsize sedan market. Instead, Volkswagen went for a safe, conservative look with the new Passat. You’ll still be able to tell its part of the Volkswagen family due in part to the large, angular chrome grille and wide stance. Chrome trim on front air dam and the door window frames, and a set of seventeen-inch alloy wheels complete the look.
Next: Step Inside
Space, the final frontier. Those words I’m sure were written on the board for the team handling the Passat’s interior since how much space is inside. Head and legroom for both front and rear passengers either place the Passat at the top or within the top five in the class. Plus, the interior is bright and airy, helping the illusion of more interior space
As for the materials, the new Passat drops the luxury materials from the last generation and goes for a mix of soft and hard-touch materials. Materials are average for the class. As for the Passat’s build quality, that is above average.
This being the SE model, you do get a lot of standard features for $25,525 (as tested price); V-Tex leatherette covered seats, an eight-way power seat for the driver, heated front seats, and automatic climate control.
For your entertainment, the Passat SE comes with a five-inch color touch screen radio that provides AM/FM/SirusXM/Aux/Bluetooth and runs through an eight-speaker sound system. The touchscreen is very responsive and bright.
Next: Under the Hood
Like all of the other players in the midsize sedan market, Volkswagen offers a variety of powertrains to meet a person’s needs, ranging from a base 2.5L five-cylinder, to a 2.0L turbo-diesel four, and a 3.6L V6. Our Passat was equipped with the base 2.5L five-cylinder engine producing 170 HP and 177 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choices are between a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic.
Volkswagen takes a lot of abuse for the performance of the 2.5L five-cylinder, but most of it is deserved. Leaving a stop, you’re left wondering where the power is until the engine reaches above 2000 RPM and the power decides to show up. Also, compared to other four-cylinders in the market, the 2.5L is a bit noisier. Thankfully, the six-speed automatic does a good job of providing smooth shifts and keeping the Passat in the right gear.
EPA rates the 2.5L in the Passat at 22 City/31 Highway/25 Combined. Our average for the week was 28.2 MPG, the majority of the driving taking place on suburban and rural roads.
Next: Shall We Go For a Drive?
Ride & Drive
The Passat trades in the BMW-on-a-Budget handling for something a bit softer. It won't be popular with enthusiasts, but hey, this this is a People's Car and the general public tends to like their suspensions a bit softer. If enthusiasts want a Volkswagen product that competes with BMW, that's what Audi is for. On highways or city roads, the Passat’s suspension does a good job of minimizing the shock of bumps and other road imperfections. As for sound insulation, the Passat minimizes road and wind noise very well.
But don’t think the Passat is a big soft sedan. Volkswagen did leave some sharpness for the new Passat. The suspension does have enough damping to cope with enthusiastic driving. The steering is weighted just right and direct. Now, the Passat won’t run rings around competitors like the Kia Optima, but for most buyers who want a little bit of fun with their comfort, the Passat will serve their needs.
Visibility for the Passat is very good with the front and side giving a good view of the road. Rear visibility is hindered due to a smallish rear window and tall trunklid. This causes a problem when backing-up.
Next: And the Verdict..
The new Passat appears to be a winner in Volkswagen’s lineup. The first six months of 2012 saw Volkswagen moving 10,252 Passats compared to 2010 when only 747 Passat sedans were sold. Throw the Passat wagon into the mix and the number jumps to 1,108 sold. Now, the U.S. doesn’t get the Passat as a wagon like the European market. Also, the European market gets a Passat Alltrack, a Passat wagon kitted with AWD and a higher ride height. Volkswagen did show the Alltrack at this year’s New York Auto Show to gage reaction, so there could be a chance of the Alltrack coming to the U.S. in the next few years.
To accomplish this sales success, Volkswagen did make some concessions with the new Passat. But the majority of buyers won’t care about the lack of luxury materials that were in the previous Passat. Nor will they cry when they realize the new Passat doesn’t have the same driving dynamics of the previous model. What most buyers will notice is the amount of interior space, high exterior and interior quality, range of engines, and the low pricetag.
However, not everyone will like the plain-jane styling of the new Passat. Also, the 2.5L five-cylinder is an unimpressive engine, despite delivering an impressive fuel economy number for the week.
Is the new Passat a winner in my books? Yes, it accomplishes Volkswagen's goal of increasing US sales by catering more to the tastes of the US market and its not a bad midsize sedan to boot.
Disclaimer: Volkswagen provided the vehicle, insurance, and one tank of gas.
Year - 2012
Make – Volkswagen
Model – Passat
Trim – 2.5 SE
Engine – 2.5L inline-five
Driveline – Front Wheel Drive, Six Speed Automatic
Horsepower @ RPM - 170 @ 5700
Torque @ RPM - 177 @ 4250
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 22/31/25
Curb Weight – 3221 lbs
Location of Manufacture – Volkswagen Chattanooga, Chattanooga, TN
Base Price - $24,825.00
As Tested Price - $25,525.00 (Includes $770.00 Destination Charge)
William Maley is a staff writer for Cheers & Gears. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on twitter at @realmudmonster.