Volkswagen's new Passat a big, smooth ride
By Jim Bray
You can get it as a diesel or in gas-powered five and six cylinder models, but however you configure your power train you may just discover that the 2012 Volkswagen Passat is a top car in the mainstream midsize class.
All new for 2012, the Passat is VW's largest family car available in North America. It's a fine one, too.
I'd never driven a Passat before parking my ample butt into a pair of the 2012 models, but I came away really liking the car – with only one small quibble: I'd like to see the shocks a tad stiffer. Other than that, and depending on the trim level and option packages, this Passat fills all of my requirements for a car in this category. It's roomy, efficient, nice to drive, ergonomically wonderful, and even handsome, if a tad bland.
The first of the two test Passats that VW Canada provided was the 2.5 liter five cylinder gas-engined one, wearing the mid-range "Comfortline" trim level and the optional Technology and Sport packages, both of which added just over three grand to the base price. It all added up to about $32,575 Canadian, which (trim levels and options being different on either side of the 49th parallel) translates approximately to the U.S. spec Passat 2.5L SEL with optional rear spoiler, for a price of about $28,770 U.S..
This seems very reasonable, especially when you consider all the stuff you get, including a rocking up-market Fender audio system (in case you want the car's fenders to play music!), 18 inch alloy wheels, a little spoiler that makes the Passat's bum look a little less buttock-like, navigation system, power-operated sport seats and paddle shifters for the six speed automatic transmission.
The second Passat was the diesel, called TDI, and wore the lowest end "Trendline" trim level. Nothing wrong with it, but if you have the wherewithal you'll undoubtedly prefer the extra stuff of the Comfortline version.
For this generation Passat, VW has stretched the car in nearly every direction, but the stretch marks don't show. In fact, the car looks bit like a big Jetta, which if you think the Jetta is an attractive car will undoubtedly be a good thing. And judging by the number of new Jettas on the roads around here, people are finding it looks just fine.
The tested power trains are fine, if not earth shattering. The base 2.5 liter gas engine is an oldie, and it only puts out 170 horses @ 5,700 and 177 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,250, but it still moves the Passat along well. The diesel only oozes out 140 horses @ 4,000, but the foot pounds (236 @ 1,750–2,500) are awesome and that makes all the difference if you like lead-footed driving. And of course the diesel sips gas, comparatively.
If you're concerned about the diesel's cold weather performance, don't be. Temperatures reached – 35C during my test period – and it was never plugged in – but the car started every time. It didn't like it any more than I liked being out in that cold, but it rose to the occasion anyway.
A five speed manual transmission is available on the five cylinder model, but you can get a six speed stick with the diesel and the V6. You can also order VW's dual clutch DSG transmission with the diesel, which is what the test car had. It's a great transmission, usually, but for some reason it didn't seem matched as well to the Passat as it has to the Jetta or Golf: it would shudder and jerk sometimes – especially when cold – in a manner I haven't seen before.
The only thing wrong (usually) with the DSG is that when you're in sport mode you can't shift manually, but if you get the sport package the 2.5 liter test car had (which may also be available on the V6 and diesel – check with your dealer), it adds paddles – the best way to shift.
Inside, both test Passats offered Volkswagen's excellent interior design and ergonomics. VW makes some of the best interiors there are, and the Passat continues this tradition. That means everything is where it should be and it works very well without forcing you to crack the owner's manual.
The instrument panel is clear and clean, with big analog gauges surrounding a configurable digital info screen. The center stack is also a model of simplicity, with touch screen controls for the audio system (higher option levels get an even better touch screen interface) and very simple HVAC control.
The basic seats are pretty good, though the manually operated driver's seat never let me find an absolutely perfect driving position. The optional sport seats, however, are much better – they're comfortable and supportive and the power operation lets you put them exactly where you need them. The telescoping/tilting steering wheel is comfortable, and features redundant controls; the steering feel is good, though you won't confuse it with a Porsche. The switches and buttons all work with a nice, solid feel, and the greenhouse is very generous.
The base stereo is typically German good, but the Fender-badged one is awesome, though a tad bass-heavy. Naturally, you get Bluetooth capability. Heck, there's even a little analog clock in the center of the dashboard and little coat hooks on the rear side of the B pillars!
You could very nearly camp out in the rear seat. We put three people across and, while it's still not the optimal configuration, it was very manageable – and there's so much leg and knee room back there you might be tempted to bring along your cello to practice as you're chauffeured around.
Oh yeah, if you're wanting to haul stuff in your Passat, bring it on: the trunk is huge! Mafiosi could use it to take multiple deceased victims to a lonely place for disposal.
As mentioned, the ride is a tad soft, thanks to a too-soft suspension, but that's the only thing that really mars a car that otherwise handles and drives very well – and the tendency to wallow a tad isn't so pronounced as to be a deal breaker.
The sunroof's a tad small, but only a tad, and the car really needs a USB interface. You can get an iPod connector and there's an auxiliary jack, but streaming audio via the Bluetooth is a battery hog, so it would be nice if you stream while the phone's plugged into USB to keep the battery topped up.
Still, these are mere quibbles, and Volkswagen should be congratulated for making the new Passat bigger, nicer, and yet less expensive (at least at the lower trim levels) than the old model. It's an interesting balancing act, and the German manufacturer seems to have pulled it off well.
Copyright 2012 Jim Bray
Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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