2012 Volkswagen Passat
Up-sized and down-priced: Award-winning VW Passat sedan is redesigned for 2012.
Because it's assembled in a brand-new plant in Chattanooga, TN, the new 2012 Volkswagen Passat marketing slogan is "Engineered in Germany, Born in the U.S.A." And setting it apart from its American, Japanese and Korean competitors is its available 140-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, EPA rated at 30 mpg city, 43 highway with its standard 6-speed manual transmission and 30/40 mpg with the 6-speed DSG automatic most folks will buy.
Building a Brand
You have to admire German automaker Volkswagen for its lofty ambitions. Counting its upscale Audi and an eclectic collection of other brands around the world, it aspires to be the largest global maker by outselling GM and Toyota while overtaking the latter as North America's third biggest seller.
Already Europe's largest maker, VW aims to triple its U.S. volume to a million units (including 200K Audis) by 2018. Given the U.S. market's extreme competitiveness and VW's past stumbles here—including sometimes questionable quality and a long-ago failed attempt at U.S. production—some seriously doubt that can be done. But VW is pursuing a strategy to attract a lot more American buyers than it ever has.
The Jetta Formula
It began with the 2011 compact Jetta, doubles down with this midsize Volkswagen Passat sedan and a much-improved new Beetle for 2012—and will continue with more new and better models designed specifically for American tastes. In the past, VW's U.S. cars and trucks have been its European models "federalized" to meet U.S. regulations. From now on, most will be larger, roomier and lower priced than their European cousins.
That strategy has worked well for the 2011 Jetta, which—despite its reduced feature content and cheapened interior—has been selling very well at its more affordable price. And it should work equally well for this larger, roomier and some $7,000 cheaper 2012 Volkswagen Passat, which retains its Teutonic character while boasting the segment's most generous rear legroom.
Exterior and Interior
The somewhat bland yet handsome body of the 2012 Volkswagen Passat is so conservative that owners may have to flash its lights with remote fobs to find it in crowded parking lots. VW says it's balanced and timeless, not trendy or flashy, completely in character for a German sedan. Also that it looks more expensive than it is and won't be looking dated down the road.
This largest-ever Passat leads with VW's new brand face, a three-blade horizontal grille flowing into wrap-around headlamps. Under the front bumper is a large lower intake and available corner-illuminating foglamps. Its roof flows rearward to a near-coupe-like profile.
The 2012 Volkswagen Passat cabin is commodious and VW's first designed and tailored specifically for American tastes. The four large doors open wide for easy access, and there's ample room for five adults. The simple but elegant dash and interior boast tight fits, nice materials and (except for the $19,995 base model) chrome accents throughout.
Volkswagen Passat seats are surprisingly comfortable, with extra side- and thigh support for long trips. The cloth-trimmed base model's driver's seat manually adjusts eight ways, including lumbar, while other versions offer eight-way power adjustment. SE models are trimmed in Volkswagen's perforated V-Tex leatherette, and SELs feature full leather.
Standard in the 2012 Volkswagen Passat is the company's aging but capable and efficient 177-hp 2.5-liter 20-valve DOHC gasoline 5-cylinder coupled to a 5-speed manual or optional 6-speed automatic gearbox. It delivers very respectable 22/32 EPA economy with the former, 22/31 with the latter and—thanks to the car's slick 0.29 drag coefficient and 18.5-gal. gas tank—remarkable range.
The available 2.0-liter TDI "Clean" turbodiesel four offers a strong 236 lb-ft of torque and bladder-busting range with 40-plus-mpg highway efficiency. It meets our ultra-tough U.S. emissions standards courtesy of a Selective Catalytic Reduction System (SCR) that—like virtually all other U.S. diesels except smaller VW cars with the same TDI engine—requires periodic refills of a small tank of "Adblue" urea fluid. Optional transmission with the diesel is Volkswagen's DSG (dual clutch) 6-speed automatic.
The other available engine is VW's 280-horse 3.6 liter V6, which drives the Passat's front wheels through that same six-speed DSG. Its EPA economy ratings are 20 mpg city, 28 highway.
Models and Features
The 2012 Volkswagen Passat is offered in S, SE and SEL trims, and even the base 2.5 S comes with dual-zone automatic climate control, hill hold control, a multi-function steering wheel with audio and phone controls, central locking, power outside mirrors, automatic headlights, a trip computer, AM/FM/CD six-speaker audio, hands-free Bluetooth, a 60/40 split rear seat and driver's seat lumbar adjustment.
Standard safety features on the 2012 Volkswagen Passat include Electronic Stability Control (ESC), anti-lock braking with Hydraulic Brake Assist and Volkswagen's Intelligent Crash Response System, which unlocks the doors, shuts off the fuel pump and activates the hazard warning lights following a collision. The six standard airbags include driver and front-passenger front and side thorax bags, plus front and rear side curtain bags.
The SE adds 17-inch alloy wheels, V-Tex leatherette trim, power driver's seat, heated front seats, "highline" instruments with multifunction display, leather-wrapped steering wheel, hand brake and shift knob, power heated outside mirrors and an eight-speaker touch-screen radio with a six-CD changer. The Volkswagen Passat SEL piles on GPS navigation, Fender premium audio, sport seats and a rear seat pass-through, while the top-level SEL Premium adds leather trim, keyless access, push-button start, fog lamps, driver seat memory and an eight-way power passenger seat. Both the diesel and V6 engines are offered in SE and SEL Premium trims with these features and more.
We enjoyed ample time in Passats with all three engines, though none with manual transmissions. We were pleasantly surprised by the 2.5-liter gas engine's more-than-adequate performance and economy averaging about 30 mpg over a 500-mile trip with local driving at both ends, and we got there and back without a fill-up. Impressive!
Also impressive were the 2.0-liter turbo-diesel's torquey low-end grunt and amazing range as we averaged its advertised 40 mpg over a mix of freeway and local driving. Its civility was amazing; so quiet that you quickly forget it's a diesel—until it's time to refill it. The nice, smooth, refined 3.6-liter V6 doubles the diesel's power but adds just 22 lb-ft of torque for a small noticeable performance advantage. If you want more zip than the Volkswagen Passat 5-cylinder provides but are diesel-phobic, this choice is for you.
While this new 2012 Volkswagen Passat is "Engineered in Germany," its driving character is a pleasant blend of precise, athletic European and comfy, quiet American. It can carve corners as well as anything in its class but doesn't beat you up when the pavement gets rough, and its extra-roomy back seat is especially appreciated by grown-up rear passengers. Well equipped at about $20K to start, it's fully competitive with its many excellent rivals yet unique due to its available clean-diesel power. www.vw.com
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