By on September 2, 2011

After a mere six decades of testing the waters, Volkswagen decided to get serious about the American car market. For the second time. To avoid a repeat of the Westmoreland debacle, this time they’ve designed a pair of sedans specifically for American tastes. They’re also building the larger of the two, intended to lure Americans away from their Camcords, in an entirely new, non-unionized American plant. And so, with the new 2012 Volkwagen Passat, tested here in V6 SE form (earlier, briefer drives sampled the other two engines), we learn what Americans really want—as seen through a German company’s eyes.

#1 – We have the aesthetic sense of retired engineers

The new Passat is very cleanly styled, and none of its aesthetic elements can be faulted. But the whole could not be more conservative. Put another way, many American car enthusiasts find the exterior boring. But perhaps their Camcord-driving parents will love it?

The tested silver car was shod with the base SE’s 17-inch wheels. The Passat looks both more expensive and sportier with the available five-spoke 18s (more on these later). Darker colors bump up the elegance.

#2 – Good materials and warm colors are wasted on us

When I learned that Chrysler would be supplying Volkswagen with a version of its iconic minivan, I wondered how they could possibly upgrade its notoriously cheap interior to VW standards. Fast forward three years, and Chrysler has substantially upgraded its interior materials. They also banished light gray—which makes all but the best materials look cheap—from their interior color palette. All of the budget-grade light gray plastic discarded by Chrysler has found a new home in the 2012 Passat, judging from the tested car. VW emphasizes the soft materials used on the tops of the instrument and door panels, but you’re more likely to touch the hard stuff lower down. The Passat’s interior is as plainly styled as its exterior, with right angles and flat surfaces. The problem with flat surfaces: they directly present more area to the eye, so hard plastic looks like what it is. Luckily, beige and black are also available. Hard plastic tends to look best in the latter. Prefer warmer, even bright colors, or at least colorful accents? The Passat isn’t your sort of car.

How cheap is the interior? Not as cheap as that in the new Jetta, but the analog clock would gather dust in a dollar store. Memo to Volkswagen: the entire point of an analog clock is to make an interior seem more upscale. Automotive news recently reported that “VW markets leatherette as a premium feature and the material’s texture might fool some Passat riders.” The author must have taken VW’s word for it, as the texture and feel of the gray vinyl in the tested car won’t fool anyone. It’s the sort of vinyl that turned Americans off of vinyl. Unless they’re the sort of Americans who preserve their furniture beneath clear plastic, for whom the Passat’s fleet-ready easy-clean interior might well be a dream come true. One positive note: the door pulls feel solid.

#3 – We like big cars with scads of room, especially legroom and trunk room

The American Passat is bigger than the European Passat, which is an updated version of the previous global Passat. Compared to the 2010 Passat, the 2012 is 3.4 inches longer (191.6), half an inch wider (72.2), and half an inch taller (58.5). Still not quite as large as the super-sized Honda Accord (194.1×72.7×58.1) and Mazda6 (193.7×72.4×57.9), but at least as large as anything else in the segment. Of course, what really counts are the interior dimensions, and here the new Passat truly shines. Through masterful packaging the interior encompasses limo-like legroom, 42.4 inches up front and 39.1 in back, for a total of 81.5, meaningfully more than in the Honda Accord (79.7) and Hyundai Sonata (80.1). Better, the Passat’s cabin feels even roomier than its dimensions suggest. Credit the straight-edged interior styling that, as in the 2012 Camry, maximizes perceived space. The Hyundai Sonata, with a swoopier interior, feels much tighter (if also sportier) from the driver’s seat.

The trunk extends forward virtually forever even before the rear seats are folded. Unlike many these days, it’s also very regularly shaped. Don’t swap in a full-sized spare and there’s more space beneath the floor. Inside the car, there are plenty of usefully large storage areas. Unlike in many current luxury cars, my superzoom camera fit in both the glove compartment and the center console.

#4 – We’re so delighted by some unexpected electrical bits that we’ll overlook the curious absence of others

VW might have nickle-and-dimed the interior materials, but they spent freely on light bulbs and minor electrical bits. Even the cheapest Passat has turn signal repeaters in the mirrors, puddle lights, a curb light in each of the wide-opening doors, comprehensive red switch backlighting, and dual-zone automatic climate control. All four windows have auto-down and auto-up. A power lock button that operates all four doors is present in each of them—even the two in back. (Great fun for the grandkids.)

Curiously MIA even in the top-of-the-range SEL Premium: separate front and rear height adjustments for the driver seat (raising the seat also tilts it forward) and rear air vents. The former are common among competitors, and it’s a mystery how VW figured the Passat would be fine without them. And the latter—why provide a huge rear seat if the people back there are going to bake?

#5 – We don’t like to gaze across acres of instrument panel, but otherwise have little need to see the outside world

The Passat’s staid exterior makes for good sightlines from the driver’s seat. The A-pillars are relatively thin and upright, and the instrument panel (abetted by a bi-level upper surface) appears compact by contemporary standards.

With this, VW decided they’d done enough to aid visibility. Even with the high beams on, the halogen headlights cast a narrow beam at night, and xenons are not available. With the body tall and high-waisted in the current idiom, rearward objects (still breathing and otherwise) can be obstructed by the high trunk, but neither obstacle detection nor a rearview camera is offered.

#6 – We like flat, hard seat bottoms and well-bolstered seatbacks

Okay, maybe not. No explanation for this one except that you can’t entirely remove German tastes from a German car. Where’s the pillow-top velour option?

#7 – There’s no replacement for displacement

No turbo Benzinmotor here, but the available V6 packs 219 cubes (3.6 liters for Americans who’ve learned some metric) and is good for 280 horsepower when wound to 6,200 rpm, the most you’ll find among direct competitors. Not the smoothest or the quietest six, with substantial engine noise at both idle and once over 3,000 rpm. But traditional American V8s also expressed their pleasure when subjected to a heavy right foot. And VW’s six uses its extra ration of gasoline (EPA ratings of 20/28 vs. the Sonata 2.0T’s 22/34) to produce much more sporting noises. Do a pair of front-mounted 215/55HR17 ContiProContact tires struggle to transfer this much power to the pavement at low speeds? You bet. But…

#8 – We like spinning our tires

The new Passat V6 continues a fine American tradition of cars with far more torque than traction. But wait…you can’t actually buy a Passat like the (pilot production) tested car, with both the V6 and the 17-inch tires. At a dealer you’ll only find V6 Passats with 235/45HR18 Bridgestone Turanza EL400s (and a sunroof also absent from the tested car). Still not a performance tire, and still no match for the V6’s 258 foot-pounds of torque channeled slush-free through the DSG, but nearly an inch wider and so a little grippier.

All-wheel-drive would help, but is no longer available.

#9 – We like lightning-fast shifts

Okay, probably not a priority among the Camcord set. But if you’ve got the next big thing in transmissions, flaunt it. The five-cylinder base engine is paired with an automatic, but the others get VW’s famed “DSG” dual-clutch automated manual. With the V6 shifts are virtually instantaneous and, except for some barely perceptible bumping about at low speeds, generally smooth. Those seeking to extract the full potential from the powerful six can use paddles on the steering wheel or the lever to manually shift the transmission. Or just stick the lever in S, in which case the transmission will keep the engine continually on boil (consequently this isn’t a viable option for typical driving). What the Camcord set won’t like about the DSG: $350+ fluid changes every 40,000 miles (just beyond the 36,000 miles of free maintenance).

#10A – We like to feel (and hear) the road

In the late 1980s, Toyota intensively studied the U.S. market and concluded that we get our kicks from super-smooth, super-quiet cars. Either times have changed, or VW used a different methodology, or they chucked the survey results in this case and did what they wanted to do (see #6). Whatever the reason, on concrete you’ll experience Honda levels of road noise and on the highway you’ll experience a similar abundance of wind noise.

Personally, I love a detailed read of the road through the seat of my pants, and consequently enjoyed my week in the Passat more than I would have a week in a Camcord. Instead of a smoother, more insulated ride, I wished for a nose that didn’t retain a bit of float and bobble (a partial concession to American tastes?) and the conventional steering offered only with the five-cylinder engine. Compared to the electric-assist system in the TDI and V6, which starts talking only under duress, the 2.5’s conventional system provides much more nuanced feedback and makes the car feel smaller, lighter, and more agile. But the Americans the new Passat is styled and sized for? Their taste in cars tends to differ greatly from mine.

Or perhaps VW’s research found…

#10B – We’re going to play the audio system loud anyway, and when we do we enjoy our bass at 11, even when it’s not

Five years ago VW partnered with Fender, legendary American manufacturer of guitars and guitar amps, to include a free GarageMaster with every car. Perhaps realizing that few of the Camcord owners they hope to lure away aspire to become six-string samurai, for the new Passat (and the new Jetta as well) VW had Fender help develop (or at least put their name on) an audio system manufactured by Panasonic. The 400-watt system can certainly kick out the volume, with an extra helping of thrumming guitar-amp-style bass even with the slide centered. Even with songs that you weren’t previously aware had much bass. Prefer a more balanced sound, similar to the default position in other systems? Simply use the touchscreen to move the slide to the left a click or three.

Or, perhaps as a result…

#10C – We’re deaf

#11 – We can be suckered by a low starting price

VW successfully captured Americans’ attention by starting the Jetta just below $15,000, and clearly hopes for repeat by starting the Passat below $20,000. But these prices are before $770 destination, and without the popular third pedal delete option. The least expensive automatic Passat lists for $23,460. The least expensive with a V6: $29,765. (Add nav like in the tested car: $31,365.) In defense of the $20,000 car, a Passat with the 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, its attendant conventional steering and lighter curb weight, and the manual transmission should be the most engaging of the bunch. Not a bad way to go for enthusiasts with two big kids and a small budget.

Take the wayback machine to 2007, the last year VW last offered a Passat with a V6 but without leather, and you’ll find a $30,820 sticker. Adjust for the 2012′s additional features using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, and the new car’s price advantage widens to about $2,400 (but only about $1,400 comparing invoices, dealer margins have been squeezed). So the new car is less expensive even when comparably equipped, just not nearly to the degree suggested by the $7,180 base price drop.

A Honda Accord EX V6 lists for $28,050. Even after adjusting for the Passat’s additional standard features it undercuts the Passat by about $400 at MSRP, and nearly $2,000 invoice-to-invoice. Willing to trade two cylinders for a turbo? The Hyundai Sonata SE 2.0T lists for only $25,405. The feature adjustment is only a few hundred in this case, leaving the Korean competitor with an over $4,000 price advantage.

#12 – We’re ready to forgive and forget VW’s past reliability lapses

Unfortunately, it remains to be seen how reliable the new Passat will be, and how soon Americans will be ready to accept that VW has changed (assuming it has). Based on responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey, the new Jetta is about average so far, not bad for an all-new car. But the cars are still young.

At the end of the week, I wondered about some of VW’s choices with the new Passat, yet remained intrigued by the car’s combination of qualities: plain styling, lots of room, lots of power, an engaging chassis (if less engaging steering), value-grade interior materials, and limited refinement. If VW was trying to develop a twenty-first century interpretation of the groundbreaking 1977 Chevrolet Caprice (or the Ford Crown Vic that aped it) with the “cop suspensions,” this is about where they’d end up. With the TDI the Passat would make a great cab. With the V6 it would make a great cop car. Ed was in town for a few days while I had the car. His riff on VW’s current tagline: “Das Impala.” Coincidentally (or not), the current Honda Accord is quite similar. Did VW simply riff off the Japanese? Or do both the Germans and the Japanese know us better than we know ourselves?

Volkswagen provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

 

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80 Comments on “Review: 2012 Volkswagen Passat V6 SE...”


  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Don’t these VW and Honda strategist realize how many people buy Camry mostly because of reliability and excellent NVH qualities?

    • 0 avatar

      I recently drove a Camry, actually for the firstest time. It was very smooth and quiet. I drove it around town. very impressive.

      I tried to get on a highway. Something made noise. It was the engine. I’d asked it to do something. My bad.

      I then went around a “reference road”. The tiny tires complained.

      If you ask it to do nothing, as a driver, you will LOVE the quiet and smoothness. For the owner of this car, it was perfect.` Think of the passenger whose eyes get wide when you take a corner at 6/10, or is surprised when the autobox kicks down. This is the target audience

      I’m heartbroken that vw thinks this is a good thing.

      BTW, home market german cars look nothing like ours, bmw, vw or MB

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I’m with Ed. Interior and exterior look very Impala-esque. Chevy styling with VW reliability, should be a huge hit.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      The rear seat is much better than the Impala’s. This is one of the few cars, aside from the likes of the Cube, that can fit a six foot six passenger behind a six foot eight driver. And it has a sunroof!

      The 6 and Accord might be bigger, but both are more cramped inside (the Mazda lacks headroom, the Honda footspace, especially in the back).

      I’m frankly quite impressed. And yes, the black interior is the best option.

      • 0 avatar

        Your head didn’t encounter the headliner in the back seat? Even without the sunroof there’s much less headroom than legroom. People up to 6-3 should fit, but any over that mark best have much of their height in their legs. Not that any direct competitors are better.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        My head brushed the headliner in the rear, thats a given and something I sort of take for granted. It wasnt too bad, and ease of egress and legroom made up for it. The seats themselves were pretty good, too: not short or low.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @psar: I can fit my 6’1″ frame behind myself in my Pontiac G6 (epsilon body). 112+” wheelbase lends a lot of room. This Passat looks like it has plenty of room in back.

      • 0 avatar

        Replying to this from the back seat of a Passat; I’m 6’1″, and I can fit my whole fist sideways between the top of my head and the roof without touching either. What’s that, about 10cm, so… 4″? Something like that. And with the front seat adjusted to where it would be comfortable for me, I’ve got enough room in the back seat to at least flex my legs, if not fully stretch them out!

  • avatar

    Nice Pics Mike

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks. I wish I had a better one with the E38 7er parked behind the Passat. But there was another car parked to the left of the BMW. It was an eye-opener to walk out of the library and realize that the little car parked behind me was the “big BMW.” The Passat’s beltline and cowl are so much higher.

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    Great way to frame your review, Michael. This Passat may actually make VW a player in the North American market, whether enthusiasts like it or not.

  • avatar

    I want to like it, and yet…de-contented and dowdy would be OK at a price advantage, but when this is the more expensive option….

    OK, how long til a V-6 with a proper manual 6 speed? Perhaps call it the GBi to evoke the B7 chassis. I know we have no chance to see the Passat R36 that Europe has been driving for 3 years

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Honda levels of noise? Great another car I can cross off the “long distance interstate cruiser list.” People wonder why some of us (even those who are only 34 years old) would want a quiet serene car. I live in New Mexico, I’m not flying to Disneyland, I’m driving. I don’t want to drive it in a car that lets me know preciscely how crappy the highway maintance has been by letting me hear it every mile.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      The wind noise was very bad at freeway speeds. This was very surprising to me from a German company.

      • 0 avatar

        Chalk a BIT of that up to driving a pre-production car. When I drove the pre-pre-productino cars about 9 months ago, I found them very noisy. The pre-production cars from about 4 months ago were better, but still noisy. The first-run production car I have right now is better still. It’s a bit louder than a Mk VI Golf, but as good or better than the Camry, Accord and Sonata. Not that that’s a really high bar to set, but at least it’s not unfamiliar territory for Camcordimatabu buyers looking for a change.

  • avatar

    It looks like traditional American midsize sedan from 90s, like Taurus, Impala, Intrigue, Buick Century. There is still market there for this kind of car and significantly less competition since there is no Taurus, Century and Olds. And there will no competition when GM drops current Impala.

    Now the next step for VW is to come up with cheap RDW full-size sedan to replace Ford CV. There is still market for this kind of cars also. What about German engineered Panther? Baby boomers may buy German engineered traditional American cars. VW still has cachet among hippie generation.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      It looks like traditional American midsize sedan from 90s, like Taurus, Impala, Intrigue, Buick Century.

      I have my suspicions that you have never seen any of those cars in the flesh.

      Here’s an interior shot of the last Century: http://trialx.com/curetalk/wp-content/blogs.dir/7/files/2011/06/cars/1996_Buick_Century-2.jpg Aside from having a steering wheel in front of the driver, I don’t see the comparison.

      • 0 avatar
        segfault

        That’s actually a shot of the 1984?-1996 Century. The last Century was built alongside the Regal, Grand Prix, and Intrigue from 1997 to 2004, I think.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        The last Century was built alongside the Regal, Grand Prix, and Intrigue from 1997 to 2004, I think.

        You’re right. I meant to make reference to a 90′s-era car, since that was the comparison being made by the prior post. Using the term “last” was inaccurate.

        My point remains is that the Passat doesn’t bear much resemblance to typical American sedans of that period. That poster is European, and I have my doubts that he has actually ever seen any of the cars from Ford and GM that he was referencing. To my eyes, the new Passat looks a lot like, well, a slightly enlarged, somewhat decontented old Passat.

      • 0 avatar

        What I said was that American midsize cars used to be poorly made FWD cars with heavy V6 engines with lot of understeer and torque steer and cheap fabric inside. European midsize cars used to be RWD with smaller engines. E.g. Opel Omega, Ford Scorpio, BMW 5 series, Mercedes E class. Many of them with 1.8L-2.0L I4. And as a rule interior materials used to of pretty good quality. Okay by European I mean German. Compared to American midsizers German midsize cars handled much better and were almost luxury cars in comparison. I remember Ford Scorpio had powerful and modern 3.0L V6 while Taurus had some crappy pushrod V6 and quality wise you could not even compare them. Passat rather was a compact car and Audi A6 made sense only in quattro trim.

  • avatar
    facelvega

    Volkswagen has no choice but to design special cheapo cars for the American consumer for one giant, elephant-in-the-room reason: we pay much less for our cars than Europeans do.

    Example: current base price for a DSG-equipped GTI in the US is $24,795. The same car IN GERMANY starts at 29,600 euros right now according to vw.de. That works out to $42,195 by today’s exchange rate. Volkswagen has to make simple, big, cheap, crappy cars for us or they’ll never make any money here, it’s that simple.

    • 0 avatar
      onthercks07

      If it were really that simple, than why doesn’t Toyota/Nissan/Honda send us their trash? Why don’t the Koreans? Or the Swedes?

      Excuse me if I’m a little offended that since Germany has sky-high labor costs, I have to be given an inferior version of a car YET still pay comparatively more money for a car than other cars in the same class.

      • 0 avatar
        Vega

        But they do. The US Camcords are only sold in America. The Acord Sold in Europe is called Acura in the US.

      • 0 avatar
        wsn

        Vega: The US Camcords are only sold in America.

        That can’t be further from truth.

      • 0 avatar
        hal

        The EU Passat competes with the Mondeo, Avensis, EU Accord, Sonata
        The US Passat competes with the Fusion, Camry, US Accord, i40
        VW was unique among large mass market manufacturers in selling the same midsize car in the US and Europe. That doesn’t mean the Camry was never sold in Europe but it was never the Passat competitor either

    • 0 avatar
      probert

      Of course the other elephant in the room – it’s a big room – is that we are in the middle of a recession/depression and even prior to that we have lower wages than in europe. The middle class is being squeezed and unemployment is in double digits.

      Additionally with poor union representation blue collar/service workers barely – if lucky – make a living wage.

      So the market for “enthusiast” cars is pretty limited from the viewpoint of a large auto maker.

    • 0 avatar
      Manic

      There’s couple of things to remember tho:
      - no-one will pay list price in Europe (same as usually with MRSP in US?), you walk in to dealership- you get at least 4-7% rebate, more if you choose car from a list of pre-ordered cars
      - list price is 19% tax (VAT) incl. which goes to government, maybe better way is to compare VAT free prices which is what dealership/OEM gets for a car
      OTOH, cars in US have better std. equipment.
      - most of these cars are, leased, rented or bought by companies as rep-mobiles or mid management perks.
      But yeah, no point to try to sell too expensive cars in US so they have to decontent, same has happened in Europe btw., our new-old Passat (I drive currently) has lost some “high grade feel” during face lift.

  • avatar
    onthercks07

    So essentially the 2012 VW Passat is a poor-man’s German version of the panther sedan platform EXCEPT…with an overly complicated & expensive transmission, questionable durability, even more questionable reliability, and interior sophistication as fake as a hooker’s rack.

    Wow, where do I sign?

  • avatar
    mpresley

    The new Passat is very cleanly styled, and none of its aesthetic elements can be faulted…

    Except for the fact that it is not as aesthetically pleasing as the model it replaces. But design is always rather subjective. As both a longtime VW and Audi driver, plus a current ’09 Euro Passat owner–a car I very much enjoy, I do not think I’ll make VW the stop anymore. But I am atypical, and given current sales of the New Jetta, perhaps the New Passat will also be a hit for American VW.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I think that I really, really like this new Passat.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    GM and Ford must be jumping for joy–or maybe some of their former employees now working for VWoA’s product planning/marketing are still on the GM/Ford payroll.

    VW “Malibuized” the Rabbit 30 years ago–it didn’t turn out well. Now, they want to use their reputation to lure wannabe German car buyers to buy “German engineering”/supersize style for less–just like Walmart.

    In the end, they will turn off the Germanophiles and the Wal-mart types.

    On the other hand, the dumb Americans, have gotten smart 4 decades after the XP-887 and are offering small cars that drive well with nice interiors–sort of what German (and to a lesser extent Japanese) cars were known for.

    Fascinating!

    • 0 avatar
      SimonAlberta

      Interesting comments. I have been thinking along the same lines. It seems to me that each brand used to have its’ own niche and did quite well but then they all started to try to be all things to all men.

      Now every maker tries to compete in EVERY niche and we get a jumble of models that are all much of a muchness.

      When I first came to Canada 21 years ago I initially was a bit snooty about American luxury cars, thinking them inferior to Euro and Japanese models. After a while though I came to appreciate that they were not inferior but, rather, offered different qualities.

      To my mind, wafting along a highway in a 1990 Lincoln Town Car is one of the joys of motoring.

      Of course, going around corners is a different proposition.

      • 0 avatar

        You’re in Alberta! There are no corners here! ;)

        As a VW enthusiast, I’m not thrilled with the decontenting. I have been proven completely wrong with the Jetta this year, however. No matter how much we whinge and complain, the buying public is loving the new Jetta far more than the previous model. Volkswagen hit the sweet spot with that car. Enthusiasts can gnash their teeth and complain, but the Average Joe buyer is proving to be in love with the cars at their lower price-point and content. They clearly did their research, and got it right. Even the flat seats, which we enthusiasts assumed would be somewhat offensive as implying that North Americans have large posteriors, have proven to be FAR more popular than the much nicer seats in the Golf.

  • avatar

    Great review Michael. I really liked the approach you used.

    It’s too bad VW cheapened the Passat so much, as I am really quite fond of the styling. Then again I’ve always like simple and honest cars.

  • avatar

    MICHAEL KARESH – I Liked the layout of this review.

    I had a chance to test a VW Passat, but, I just wasn’t interested.

    • 0 avatar
      GoDaddy

      I had bought a new 1999 German made VW Passat 4cyl Auto. It drove great until around 65K miles then transmission issues (surging while cruising & reverse lights stayed on in drive?), turbo issues (oil anyone) and finally timing belt broke at 70K which caused valve damage (warranty covered & our for 1 week). Couldn’t sell it fast enough & VW service manager told me to sell it as well?! To cap it off, our local VW dealer’s service was miserable – no thanks, I’ll buy a Ford next.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Still, Michael, the best all around car in this class is the Mazda6 S…
    So why buy the VW over that car?

    I guess what bothers me is my total inability to understand the USA buyer.
    Given a large, fun, athletic, driver’s dream like the Mazda6S and then to not see any on the road is stupifying(?).

    I haven’t driven the new kid, but I would be surprised if you got the great feel from the wheel and road as you get from the M6.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      The 6 isnt that much fun to drive, no moreso than an Accord and less than the prior Camry SE. Its a nice car, but highly overrated.

      There arent really any “fun” cars in this class. To use a metaphor from the Camry review: theyre all flavours of vanilla.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        The 6 isnt that much fun to drive

        IDK, the MZI is probably the rowdiest engine in the class.

      • 0 avatar

        Sad, but largely true, Psar. I enjoyed driving the Passat, but I enjoyed driving the much-maligned Jetta more. Same goes for the Mazda6 (which didn’t quite do it for me) and the Mazda3.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        @Michael: There’s precedent for a fun-to-drive midsizer, just not for one that sells well. The first-generation Mazda6 was probably the last cut at this kind of thing, and look how it did.

        People who want fun either want something harder-edged (in which case they’ll go sports compact or sports car) or more luxurious (BMW). Or they’ll buy something that just looks sporty.

        VW sorta-kinda gets that, so does Mazda. If we’re lucky, one of them (or Ford, or whomever) might find an economical way to make a hopped-up version that doesn’t cost too much. Weird that Toyota got the closest to that.

      • 0 avatar

        I wasn’t so crazy about the Mazda6, either. Looked at one, ended up with a Protege5. Which makes the new Passat seem as quiet and refined as a Lexus LS.

        I have high hopes for the next Ford Fusion.

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        The last relatively fun to drive car in this class was the 4th Gen Subaru Legacy. Even the 2.5i is fun to drive following the axiom that it is “fun to drive a slow car fast.” I am still impressed by the steering feel and suspension on my Legacy wagon. However, the 4-speed auto does it’s best to destroy as much driving enjoyment as possible.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        I guess you folks answered my question.
        It seems different strokes for different folks.
        But I beg to differ…however, without all the personal information or experience.
        I do drive a Mazda3S through the Ozarks daily.
        I do know the feel of coming around monster corners and then suddenly finding yourself on a sudden uphill battle.
        The guts and feel are all fun.
        The power comes on well and never do you feel there will not be even more whenever you want it.
        NOT having this experience with those cars you mention, I can’t confront.
        I have driven most just around urban streets but never under the daily stess of these hill roads.
        IF you are telling me the Accord or Toyota can pull this off like the 6S can….I am somewhat surprised.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Im saying that none of the current mass-market midsizers can pull off what youre asking. The current 6 is a normal car, unremarkable in most ways. There’s little of the old Speed6′s character in it, and no more than youd find in the Camry SE or Fusion Sport.

        The 3 is a little different. It is still overtly sporty (though less than the Protege—like Michael I owned one of those, too) versus the competition. Dont ascribe virtues to the 6 because of their presence in the 3.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        I apologize.
        It was a typo to say Mazda3S.
        I have placed my 05 orange 3S in Florida as a second car.
        I meant to type Mazda6S, as this is the car I work with in southern MO.

        But again, I am standing by my position that any suggestions an Accord, Toyota…or any similar car, can keep up with the fun and guts of this “6″S is a bit more than factual.
        .
        This car is fast, fun, great size and holds the road like a slot car. The feel of the wheel at any speed is road race-like.

        Perhaps you or Michael think there are no fun cars in this segment…I do.

        Tell the truth…most reviewers have agreed with me having read so many these past 2 years since it came out in 09. However, most consumers must agree with the likes of you and Michael as I see few on the road.
        Again, however, after reading Jack’s burnings of most reviewers these past weeks…perhaps the ONLY reviewer of trust for me…is me.

        Or yourself, the buyer.

        Drive them all.
        Test them all….then buy with YOUR heart and YOUR head.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        I would like to add another note…
        ONE of the favorite things about Mazda as a company I have been rooting for is its desire to bring down weight.
        I like the idea.
        However, I have noticed several problems that are coming from this.
        Hopefully TTAC can address these issues in the future.

        First…the sound of shutting doors.
        Mazda cars, although the most fun for MY money, seem “beer can” thin when shutting the doors.
        Second, hail damage.
        We recently were hit by several hail storms. With BOTH my MKS and my 09 Mazda6 sitting outside…the 6 got damaged horribly.
        I think there were over 30 large dents put everywhere from hood to side.
        Not a ONE on the MKS.

        So for all the great things that come from making cars lighter and more efficient, there are hidden long-term cost to us, the owners.
        Michael…this is a car detail on quality that will never see the light of day on TrueDelta, but in fact was a major contributing reason for the damage cost.
        Yes, the storm did the damage…but the MKS next to it had none.
        This is really as important as brakes that fail under pressure.
        In this case, the pressure was a storm.

        I do not look forward to the panics every time another warning of hails comes on the TV.

        Quality is weight.
        I wish there was more information or more details of metals and thicknesses involved in a GOOD auto review.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I also liked the style you used in this review, directly and perceptively addressing the probable assumptions VW used to develop this car.

    My 02 Passat was a beautiful thing at the time, especially with understated aftermarket wheels. But it seems to me that VW has taken boring looks to a new level, and may just succeed in doing so.

    VW may have discovered that the niche market occupied by enthusiasts isn’t that profitable, so they’re going after the real money. Can’t blame them, I suppose. But the car’s pricing doesn’t look all that attractive when you compare to others – particularly with the ultra-hot Sonata.

    • 0 avatar

      The Passat remains an easier and more enjoyable car to drive quickly than the Sonata, with a more composed and more communicative chassis. The Hyundai continues to have a more artificial feel and loses its composure when hustled. On the other had, the Hyundai is quieter (though not by as large a degree as I expected) and the ride of the 2012 Sonata SE seemed better than I recall in the 2011. (Ed and I took one for a quick comparison loop while he was in town. Thanks, Glassman Hyundai in Southfield, MI.)

  • avatar
    panayoti

    Michael I think auto scribes give way too much emphasis on “leg room”. I was among the first in my area to sit in the new Passat and as usual, the “roomy” Passat didn’t pass my knee test. As with other “roomy” sedans I find my right knee always seems to bump up against the center console causing discomfort for anything longer than a drive to the corner store.

    I don’t know if any of the B&B have this issue, but I find it disconcerting that so many scribes always find sedans “roomy”. As a taller person (6’3″) with short legs, I cannot find a vehicle with the console positioned below knee level. There are a couple very small cars that fit just fine. A Versa fits like a glove, as does my Forester. Instead of having the console “curve” into the dash, these vehicles extend their consoles under the dash rather than trying to swoop the console into the dash with a curving arc that torments my knee. I guess the designers are more interested in style rather than function.

    Many of the foreign car makers are making the problem worse by extending the console vertically and making the console wider as well. Hell the Taurus is really the worst domestic offender as they are extending the console vertically almost to the top of the dashboard. Am I the only one here that has this issue or is the problem more widespread than is reported (which is never)??.

    • 0 avatar

      I suspect you sit much differently than the great majority of auto reviewers do. When I sit in a car my knees are only about shoulder-width apart, so they’re not usually close to the console, and I cannot ever remember finding the console uncomfortably close. To sit this way I do usually telescope the wheel all the way out, if this adjustment is available. When I evaluate roominess it’s how large the car seems around my upper body, not around my legs, unless the footwell is unusually tight (as in the Dodge Nitro).

      • 0 avatar
        nrd515

        I think you’re right, I myself sit with my knees wide apart, and some cars that would for some people be “comfortable”, are anything but for people like me and panayoti. I wear size 13.5 shoes and find that that is one of the most common problems I have with smaller vehicles. Some of them I’ve sat in I can’t keep my right foot from touching both the brake and gas pedal at the same time without holding my legs in a horribly uncomfortable position. Some of the vehicles weren’t really small at all.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      Which is why (at 6’4″, 35 inch inseam) my 08 Hyundai Elantra is tolerable, even with a (CR listed) 40″ of legroom to the gas pedal. The front console is low all the way up to the dash, allowing my splayed legs to be free of hard plastic interaction.
      I sat in a 2010 Sonata (with 41.5″ legroom), and even with the power seat adjusted to maximum upward front/rearward down on the seat bottom, my right leg rested on the “swoopy” console. A ridiculous oversight, in my opinion, since it’s for styling purposes only, and the extra legroom (which implies a longer wheelbase, thus a bigger car), seems to end up in the back seat –

      So I guess that they’re assuming that these new sedans are to be limousines, driven by midgets?

    • 0 avatar
      x9419c

      I have the same problem. In a lot of cars I have to turn my right heel away from the console because of the way it slopes up which is very uncomfortable. I wish they made more cars with column-shift transmissions. I wear size 13 shoes and I’m 6ft tall.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      I agree 100% about the intrusive consoles. I’m 6’2″ with relatively short legs. I found the Taurus, LaCrosse, Avalon, CTS, SLS, even the old Ford Five Hundred all assaulted my right knee. I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting, too.

  • avatar
    swilliams41

    Yuk, Yuk, Yuk, I don’t blame VW, I blame the car buying public with its LCD attitude. Why cant we have a quiet car that handles great, is fast, gets decent mileage and still has adequate room and great construction and nice materials. The Taurus Limited fits that and is a slow seller, the others are Buick Lacrosse, Sonata, noisy Accord and Mazda 6, heck I would rather have a Charger or mid-level 300. But watch all the non-discerning folks flock to the Passat. Most of them would never know that the GLI is MUCH better than the regular Jetta. We just cant sweat the details, just the marketing hype. BTW, I own a 2006 3.6 Passat Luxury, fun but the front end is too soft and its fairly noisy inside. My other car, a 2003 530i is much quieter, smoother and still handles better, HELLO!!!

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      “My other car, a 2003 530i is much quieter, smoother and still handles better, HELLO!!!”

      Which is a car that is priced tens of thousands over what most Americans can afford. What you are asking for costs money. Automakers have to compromise to get costs down, BMW doesn’t have to worry about that.

      • 0 avatar

        +1. Spent some time under my 3 today doing some maintenence. Was impressed as ever with the build quality….no one ever really looks at the bottom of a car. Look at a Solara some time….tinkertoy.

        Most metal in the US moves based on monthly payment alone, with a “what is the least crappy car I can get for my money”.

        The alternative is a used car of a better class…but that would also incur a note with maintenance costs-this is in contravention to the above. Most folks don’t think rotating tires, hitting the bushings with silicone, and being one with your vehicle is “fun”.

  • avatar
    nrd515

    It looks ok, needs different (5 spoke wheels), but it’s not anything that would interest me. I bet it’s on my sister’s list of cars to test drive though! If it’s a boring car, she’s in love.

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    I’ve owned two Passats in the past – but I won’t be buying one of these. I was happy they offered a Turbo wagon with a manual transmission when most other manufacturers were killing their wagons.

    I know I’m in the minority, though. They’ll almost certainly be more successful with this car than they were with the earlier ones – so be it.

  • avatar
    MattPete

    I’ve seen a fair number of these driving around Farifax Co. VA. They are quite handsome in person, but each time I see one the styling makes me think of the early 1990s (not that that was a bad era for styling or anything). It’s almost like they dusted off an alternative design for the B5 Passat.

  • avatar
    jeffsnavely

    Just wait until the typical buyer experiences multiple DSG Mechatronics unit failures that strands them on the highway with 6-8 week waits for parts and the $5k cost after the warranty. GTI buyers can excuse this somewhat but not your average boomer Passat buyer.

  • avatar
    amikorekt

    The 2012 Passat is less than or equal to the 2005 Ford Five Hundred.

  • avatar
    Alex the guy with the Accord Coupe

    That is hands down the crappiest looking analog clock I’ve ever seen in a car. Whoof. If I was looking to buy this car, and I saw that clock, I’d have to stop. If you skimp on the clock, what else is cut-rate?

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Yes that is a remarkably crappy clock. That interior would be improved by a cheap hand-wound travel clock.

    • 0 avatar

      I vaguely remember an oddly-shaped analog clock in the 1980s Maserati Biturbo. While the clock itself wasn’t bad, it looked like it had been glued haphazardly to the IP.

      Here’s one that’s not too crooked:

      http://www.maserati-alfieri.co.uk/Biturbo_Si/Biturbo_Si-17a.jpg

      More photos:

      http://www.maserati-alfieri.co.uk/alfieri06ppppppp.htm

  • avatar
    LordDetroitofLondon

    I really like this new format for your car reviews. I am not saying the old ones are bad or anything, but this format is so much more refreshing and appealing to read.

    Please keep it going.

  • avatar
    amikorekt

    The 2012 Passat is less than or equal to the 2005 Ford Five Hundred.

    (after 24 hours in moderation limbo, I figured I’d give it another try.)

  • avatar
    likenissan

    The picture with the BMW 7-series is revealing. In fact, this new passat is virtually the same size as the Phaeton.

  • avatar
    xantia10000

    Michael,

    Thanks for the great, comprehensive review. Question about your comment regarding the interior plastic: what current U.S. market mid-sized sedan has better material quality than this new Passat?

    My take is that this Passat is pretty much on par with the segment and doesn’t deserve to to be criticized for using cheap materials. Or, conversely, if you think the materials truly are cheap, then perhaps all mid-sized sedans should be admonished as much as Passat has been lately…

    My guess: Material quality is highlighted because previous B6 Passat had better-than-average materials for its class and it’s tempting to compare this $21k model with the $28k B6 model, not with its mid-sized sedan peers.

    But you’re the reviewer, so maybe I’m the one who’s off…

    • 0 avatar

      That’s my take as well. The previous Passat had an absolutely sumptuous interior. This one is merely “better than the rest”. It’s a downgrade, but hardly worth criticism, when 6 years later, the rest of the competition hasn’t caught up yet.

  • avatar
    gergg

    Hmmm….I’ve been driving the 2012 TDI Passat, getting 47mpg in mixed driving, silky smooth 6 speed stick, extremly comfortable seat, beautiful ride, great power, leatherette preferred to the real thing, huge interior, drives like a sporty cruiser….beats the tar out of my Honda, Nissan, Toyota, and Isuzu vehicles. This thing is great, what car did you really review? The clock, oh come on!

  • avatar
    R.A. Gregorio

    Nice review. Thanks for bringing back memories of the Maserati Biturbo from your comments above. I wanted that car when I was in highschool in the eighties, as much as I wanted a BMW M3 (E30).

    As for this Passat, I read this after some magazine named it their car of the year this year. I was hoping it had the VR6 engine, but no it does not. Still the DSG is there in this V6 version and it does use regular gas.

    Personally, given your more favorable driving experience with the new 2.5 Jetta, I’d choose the 5 speed Jetta GLI over this Passat. Yes, I like driving, and I don’t want to sleep behind the wheel of a Camry or Accord.


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