Full 2009 Volkswagen Passat Review
What's New for 2009
The 2009 Volkswagen Passat lineup undergoes a major downsizing, as there is now just a single front-wheel-drive Komfort trim level, and the only available powertrain is the turbocharged 2.0-liter four with a six-speed automatic transmission. One new feature this year is a hard-drive-based navigation system with a touchscreen and digital music storage capability. However, some previously available features, such as leather seating, a premium audio system and xenon headlights, are no longer available.
Just as a rising tide lifts all boats, so a rising Euro lifts the prices of German cars for the American consumer -- and few models demonstrate the consequences better than the 2009 Volkswagen Passat. Having carved out an enviable niche as an upscale alternative to workaday family sedans and wagons, the Passat looked set to conquer even more market share with its clean-sheet redesign a few years ago. While that new design may not have resonated with buyers as VW had hoped, economic realities also intervened. By last year, the starting price for a V6-powered Passat had ballooned to a jaw-dropping $36,000. Not surprisingly, stateside shoppers steered clear of this exorbitantly priced model, and the Passat lineup in general floundered while consumers turned to more affordable rivals.
The ball was in Volkswagen's court, and the company has certainly taken a bold swing with the 2009 Passat. That overpriced V6 model? Auf Wiedersehen. In its stead, Volkswagen is offering a single trim level -- Komfort (ja, that's with a K) -- that comes with the turbocharged four-cylinder and a six-speed automatic transmission. With a base price of more than $28,000 for the sedan (and almost $30,000 for the wagon), the Passat still doesn't come cheap, but it's priced competitively with upmarket six-cylinder versions of mainstream family sedans. VW is hoping that the Passat's high-quality interior and European panache will convince consumers to settle for its blown four-cylinder rather than, say, the potent V6-powered Altima or Camry.
We wouldn't be surprised if many car shoppers do just that. The Passat's power plant may be down a couple cylinders, but it still provides reasonably zesty acceleration with decent fuel economy, and the Vee-Dub's interior is clearly a cut above in terms of quality and design. What's more, the Passat's suspension evinces that characteristic German feel in the way it expertly blunts impacts, yet tackles corners with respectable composure. High-speed stability is another plus -- the Passat was engineered for use on the autobahn, and that shows in its unruffled manner at extralegal speeds. However many cylinders are under the hood, there's a lot of fundamental goodness in the Passat's package.
Another Passat pro is the available wagon version, one of only two family-sedan-based wagons currently on the U.S. market. (Subaru's Outback is the other.) With the uncertain status of gas prices, the Passat wagon makes for an intriguing alternative to thirsty SUVs. Also introduced this year is the Volkswagen CC, which is essentially a Passat with sleeker styling and all the luxury goodies that used to be on the Passat's features list -- including the V6 engine. With a lower roof line, only four seats and a smaller trunk, the CC trades the Passat's utility for style. Indeed, both the CC and the 2009 Volkswagen Passat are intriguing alternatives in general. The question is whether you're willing to step down a notch engine-wise in order to enjoy the Passat's many virtues.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Volkswagen Passat is available as a midsize sedan or wagon. Both body styles come in Komfort trim only. Standard equipment on the sedan includes 17-inch alloy wheels, heated windshield washer nozzles, a sunroof, air-conditioning, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, premium leatherette vinyl upholstery, power heated front seats and an eight-speaker sound system with an in-dash six-CD changer, an auxiliary audio jack and satellite radio. The wagon features all of the sedan's standard equipment and adds chrome roof rails.
Options include sportier 17-inch alloy wheels, a variety of exterior appearance packages (sedan only), an iPod adapter (replaces the standard aux jack) and a hard-drive-based touchscreen navigation system with a USB port, an iPod interface and 20GB available for digital music storage.
Powertrains and Performance
The front-wheel-drive 2009 Volkswagen Passat is equipped with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that pumps out 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control is mandatory. In performance testing, we've timed a Passat sedan with the 2.0-liter engine at 7.7 seconds to 60 mph. This is slower than its V6-powered rivals, but plenty quick for most buyers thanks to its abundance of low-end torque.
Fuel economy is respectable given the Passat's peppy performance. EPA estimates stand at 19 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined for the sedan, while the wagon dips slightly to 19/28/22.
Antilock disc brakes, stability control, anti-whiplash front head restraints, front-seat side airbags and full-length head curtain airbags are all standard on the Passat, while rear-seat side airbags are optional. In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests, the 2009 Volkswagen Passat earned four stars out of five for its protection of front occupants in head-on collisions. Side-impact tests resulted in five stars for protection of front passengers and four for those in the rear. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the Passat as "Good" (the best rating possible) in its frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The VW Passat's comfortable and upscale cabin is one of its high points. Fit and finish is superb and there's a feeling of precision to all the controls. Interior materials quality is first-rate -- the Passat is more akin to entry-level luxury sedans than family sedans in this regard. Even the leatherette vinyl upholstery looks and feels better than many cars' cow-sourced stuff. Trunk capacity stands at 14.2 cubic feet, which is about average for this class. The wagon has 35.8 cubic feet of cargo room with the second-row seats up, and a cavernous 72.6 cubic feet with the seats folded down -- that's about the same as a Honda CR-V or a Toyota RAV4.
Although the 2009 Volkswagen Passat is tuned more for comfort than for attacking corners, its well-sorted chassis imbues it with a confident feel and the steering is light but accurate. Thanks to its German bloodlines, the Passat feels unflappable at higher velocities. The turbo-4 provides more than adequate power under most circumstances, and it sounds good, too. Our only real complaint is the somewhat intrusive road noise.