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2012 Volkswagen Passat V6

 The Passat looks wide because it is wide

Car tested 2012 Volkswagen Passat VR6 Sedan
Body style Four-door sedan
Engine 3.6L-V6 (280 horsepower)
Transmission Dual clutch automated six-speed manual transmission marketed as DSG
Least expensive Passat  $23,975
Price as tested  $39,375 (Highline V6, navigation and sport options)

The first-generation Passat debuted in Europe in 1973 as a replacement for the K70 (an NSU design VW inherited when it purchased that firm). The Passat was the first Volkswagen-branded car to move beyond VW's air-cooled, rear-engined template.

The first six generations of Passats were built in Germany. The high cost of European production made the car an expensive niche product In North America. In its bid for greater sales on this continent, Volkswagen is now building a North American-specific Passat in the U.S., allowing for a lower price that puts it in the heart of the mid-size market.   

The Passat is now priced to compete with popular mid-size cars like the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata; this has substantially increased its potential customer base. 

The Passat's design has many crowd-pleasing styling elements. Clean, uncluttered flanks highlighted by some strong accent lines highlighted by judiciously applied bright trim. That said, the whole is less than the some of its parts, as the Passat comes off looking bland and bit old-fashioned compared to previous models. This may be deliberate, as Volkswagen executives believe American buyers in this segment have very conservative tastes.

Whether you like the design or find it anodyne, there is no mistaking that the Passat is a seriously big car 


Big, crisp gauges flank a comprehensive trip computer with a very useful digital display for instantaneous fuel consumption.

Our Passat test car was powered by a 3.6L version of Volkswagen's narrow angle V6 engine producing 280 horsepower. The engine is silky smooth and produces abundant, flexible power that delivers vivid acceleration. Getting your foot onto the throttle pedal to release the VR6's urge could be an issue however, as it is located in a very narrow slot between the brake pedal on the left and the dash centre stack on the right. 

Power reaches the front wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission marketed under the Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) label by Volkswagen. Under most conditions, the DSG delivers crisp, smooth upshifts and quick downshifts and an overall operation that matches, or exceeds that of a conventional automatic. That said, the transmission has a few eccentricities. These include a stumble that feels like a stall each time the Passat rolls to a stop, the lack of a "creep" function, and audible gear whine. When the car is stopped in "Drive", the driver must release the brakes, allowing the clutch to grab, to ease the car off the line.

The APA also tested the Passat with the base 170 horsepower 2.5L inline five-cylinder engine and the optional 2 litre turbodiesel. The five provided adequate acceleration. Engine noise faded into the background except when accelerating hard, when its five-cylinder soundtrack is either compelling or annoying, depending on your sensibilities. The six-speed conventional automatic transmission attached to the 2.5L engine has enough speeds to spur acceleration as well as furnish a high top gear for serene cruising. One-hundred-and-forty horsepower in a big, heavy car seems like a recipe for glacial progress, however, the TDI's 236 lbs-ft of torque imbues the Passat diesel with effortless pickup that has to be experienced to be believed. 4Motion all-wheel drive, which used to be optional on the Passat, is no longer offered.  

Controlled by a small-diameter, thickly-padded steering wheel, the Passat's nicely-geared steering has a pleasing heft and precise operation, but little road feel. The low-profile 45 series tires on the Sport package equipped Passat tested are unsuited to family car use, as they create excessive road noise and react harshly to minor road imperfections. However, the suspension design is very good, as the Passat handles confidently, is rock-steady at highway speeds and demonstrates a firmly compliant ride as speeds rise. The brakes are strong, with good pedal feel. Wind noise is muted. Occupants enjoy a sonorous audio sytsem and are comforted by efficient seat heaters.

The Passat tied the Kia Optima for second place in an APA three car comparison won by the third car, the Toyota Camry. The Passat was lauded for its class-leading cabin space and impressive comfort, which made it the limousine of the trio. The Passat's unflappable nature and carefully-honed ride-handling compromise was judged to be the best of the trio of cars tested. Competition for the Passat was stiff last year, and with the new Ford Fusion and Honda Accord, intensifies for 2013.

With substantial, comfortable seats and expansive legroom, there is much to admire about the Passat's interior. But the materials and design aren't going to elicit much enthusiasm.

The driver faces a set of large, crisply-marked gauges that flank a multi-function trip computer. The dash centre stack is carefully conceived and contains logical controls even on navigation-equipped examples. The instruments are located in a very traditional dashboard which contains all the elements needed to create a classically elegant look. This design is a bit plain, and undermined by shiny hard plastics and the unpleasant look of the faux carbon fibre dashboard trim that comes with the Sport option package.

Our Passat test car featured a two-tone colour scheme called Cornsilk Beige, which gives the cabin a very airy feel, however, the beige is too light for real-world conditions. The seats feature leather bolsters with cloth inserts. Given the level of soiling on the inserts and floor mats on our carefully prepared test car, most owners of the light color interior will be confronted with a shabby looking cabin soon after delivery.  There is a Moonrock Gray alternative cabin hue available with some exterior colours, but it is also on the pale side. All Passat exterior colours can be twinned with a Titan black cabin, which would look cleaner for longer. 

The Passat's trunk is long and reasonably wide, but shallower than many competitors. The rear seats don't fold completely flat. A pass-through from the trunk to the cabin allows long, bulky items to be carried. The trunk hinges on previous Passats nested outside the trunk area, whereas those on the current Passat could crush luggage if the driver doesn't pack carefully. 

Like the exterior, the dash design is meant to be very traditional. The faux carbon fibre trim on our Sport package-equipped car is unimpressive and less elegant than the faux wood accents on non-sport models 

With a comfortable seat and impressive legroom, rear passengers feel pampered. The light-hued
leather and cloth trim of our test car soiled easily. The available black cabin trim is a more practical choice.

The Comfortline trim upgrade is priced to reflect its additional contents. The Highline trim model is very good value. The TDI is priced $2300 (Highline) to $2600 (Trendline and Comfortline) higher than a 2.5L of the same trim level. However, resale value of a Passat diesel is such that purchase premium will be returned when the car is traded in. The V6, offered only in Highline trim, is priced $4325 more than the same model with the base 2.5L five. Leasing is exceptionally well priced.

Volkswagen has succeeded in placing the Passat at the heart of the mid-size market. Less than $200 separates the base 2.5L Passat Trendline model from the similarly-equipped 2.4L Honda Accord LX sedan. Comparing monthly lease and finance payments for the two cars in November 2012 reveals that only a few dollars separate the payments for the cars.  

The Passat is covered by a four year/80,000 km bumper to bumper warranty, with 5 years/100,000 coverage on the powertrain. Reliability data is incomplete for this new model, but predicted to be average or below average. The previous Passat was rated average for the first three to four years, deteriorating after that. Expensive service. The direct-injected V6 will likely suffer from the carbon build-up problems afflicting all of VW's TFSI engines. Interestingly, first year assembly and electrical issues typical of new VWs appear to be less frequent on the North American-built car than either of the two previous generations assembled in Germany. APA will need another year or two to see if the track record is maintained.

The Passat is equipped with twin frontal airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags and side curtain airbags. Electronic Stability Control, now required by law, is standard and a proven collision reducer. The Passat attained a five star overall safety rating from U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and attained Good ratings in the frontal, side, rear and roof strength tests administered by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. 

With this new Passat, along with the Jetta that came before, Volkswagen took steps to tailor its vehicles to the North American market and widened their appeal to mainstream buyers. Part of this shift includes bigger cars and lower prices, to align VW models with market leaders here. To date, the move has been very successful -- Passat sales have tripled since the new model debuted. 

However, achieving a more competitive price required some cost cutting, much of it inside the car. The "thrifting" is quite obvious inside the Jetta, but less so on the Passat.. That said, there are a lot of shiny surfaces inside the Passat that would have been unthinkable two generations ago.

Volkswagen has picked up quite a few new brand adherents over the last few years, proving VW has translated its desire for greater market share into new products non-traditional VW buyers are willing to buy. That said, slightly bland, less luxurious, less "special" Volkswagens may alienate traditional VW customers who were attracted to the cars due to their status as the sole affordable German brand,  the precision driving experience and luxurious cabins. Long-time VW fans were willing to put up with the often spotty reliability and high service costs of past models in exchange for their unique style and driving characteristics. Will new VW adherents, who are buying the Jetta and Passat, stick with the brand if VW is unable to deliver the reliability mainstream buyers expect? The APA doesn't think so...

While wide and long, the Passat's trunk is quite shallow. The pass-through from the trunk to the cabin is large but the seatbacks don't lay flat. The large trunk hinges that can crush luggage are a visible example of cost savings; previous models had more expensive hydraulic struts mounted in the drain channels outside the trunk area. The classy metal trunk sill plate along the edge of the opening is gone. 

The discreet 3.6 badge, positioned at the upper right of the trunk lid, is the sole clue that this is the hot V6 model.