Closer to the Center, but Still on the Leading Edge
Ronald Montoya, Senior Consumer Advice Editor
The Volkswagen Passat has traditionally been on the fringe of the midsize sedan class. It competes with the Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys of the world, but in the past, its pricing began where its rivals were topping out. On the one hand, this made for an amazingly refined midsize sedan, with an interior quality and driving feel like that of an Audi, but this came at the cost of an uncompetitive price when compared to the competition.
The 2012 Volkswagen Passat has had its price slashed by $7,000 compared to the previous-generation Passat, so now it's on equal footing with its competition. To achieve this more attractive price point, a few items have been left behind in the redesign, however. These include the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, all-wheel drive, bi-xenon headlights, and even rear-seat ventilation outlets to name a few.
At the same time, we've found that the price cut and shorter list of standard and optional equipment don't mean that corners have been cut in the redesign of the Passat's basic package. In fact, Volkswagen has managed to maintain the premium feel of the Passat's predecessor while significantly reducing the price tag.
There is no shortage of good cars to choose from when it comes to midsize sedans, and the differences among them are slight. The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu has been significantly redesigned, yet lacks the interior space of the Passat. The 2012 Honda Accord is a solid contender, but in the lower trims, it doesn't offer as many standard features as its competition. And finally, the 2012 Hyundai Sonata has the most power, offers Bluetooth as standard equipment and has a lower price point.
This 2012 Volkswagen Passat SE has been equipped with the base 2.5-liter inline-5 rated at 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. While this horsepower figure is one of the lowest in the segment, it should be enough to meet the needs of consumers.
According to EPA testing, the 2.5-liter engine is rated at 22 city/31 highway mpg and 25 mpg in combined driving. These fuel economy estimates are also on the low side when compared to the competition, but we'll give the Passat bonus points for being consistent. In more than 750 miles of mixed driving during our testing, we averaged 25 mpg, matching the EPA's combined figure, a feat that fewer cars than you might think manage to accomplish while in our hands.
If 25 mpg and 170 hp seem a little unimpressive compared to the Passat's competition, VW has some alternatives. The optional 2.0-liter turbodiesel is perfect for those seeking maximum fuel efficiency, as it comes with an EPA rating of 30 city/42 highway mpg and 34 mpg combined. Or if you simply want the most powerful engine available, the 3.6-liter V6 is good for 280 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.
During instrumented testing at our test track, the Passat SE accelerated to 60 mph from a standstill in 9.0 seconds, which is slower than average for this class. The Passat came to a stop from 60 mph in 123 feet, which also wasn't particularly impressive although the car maintained its composure very well under heavy braking. Our primary impression from the test track revolved around the 2.5-liter engine's sluggish throttle response as it tried to cope with this 3,266-pound package. It's partly a result of the way the transmission has been calibrated for maximum fuel economy, and you can make the car livelier by using Sport mode if you're willing to sacrifice some fuel economy. In the end, we just got used to life at a slower pace.
While some might have reservations about a VW that's built in Tennessee instead of Europe, the Passat's doors still open and close with the reassuring, solid thud for which German cars are known. Once inside the cabin, the driver seat proves both comfortable and supportive, and it can be electronically adjusted both for seating position and lumbar support. The leather-wrapped steering wheel can tilt and telescope to give you an even better driving position.
Once you're on the road, you'll find that the 2012 Volkswagen Passat has a quiet cabin apart from some minor wind noise, and it does a respectable job of isolating the cabin from unwanted road noise. The Passat's ride quality really sets it apart from the competition, as the long-legged, resilient suspension gives the car a welcome composure when you're driving long distances. This car might be built in Tennessee, but it still feels uniquely European.
The controls on the center stack are sensibly laid out and are easy to use. Dual-zone climate control is a rarity at this price point, yet the 2012 Volkswagen Passat has it at every trim level. An audio system with touchscreen control is standard on the SE trim and higher, and we like the way it eliminates excessive buttons on the dash (we're looking at you, Honda Accord) and gives the car a high-tech feel. As one person to whom we showed the car said to us, "I want the look of a navigation system, but I don't actually want to pay for it."
Yet for those who actually want navigation, there are two versions available. We prefer the RNS 510 version that comes in the Passat SEL, because it has a larger screen (6.5 inches rather than 5 inches) and HD radio, although naturally it does cost more to get to this trim level.
As with many cars these days, there is a useful multifunction information display between the speedometer gauges that can show you a number of tripmeter statistics ranging from your current fuel economy to cruising range. More impressive, when a phone is paired with the Passat via Bluetooth, you can also find your contacts and call log on this screen.
The Passat has one of the largest trunks in this class, with 15.9 cubic feet of space. It has a wide opening and can easily accommodate a full load of Costco groceries or a pair of international roller-style suitcases.
As for the backseats, the Passat has the most rear legroom in its class, so tall passengers will still be comfortable. However, the combination of a prominent hump in the rear footwell as if this VW were a rear-wheel-drive car plus an extension of the front console with a bit of storage and a cupholder proves a little more restrictive for a middle-seat passenger than other cars in this class.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2012 Volkswagen Passat is for the person who wants a midsize sedan with a premium feel and plenty of interior space. This Passat 2.5 SE represents the trim most people are likely to buy, and it strikes a nice balance between the key features you come to expect in a modern midsize sedan and the price you are willing to pay. As an added bonus, all Volkswagens come with three years of free maintenance.
The comparisons that come to mind are similarly based on feature content and interior space, as the Passat no longer makes such a large statement when it comes to driving performance and its fuel economy is unremarkable. So if you think about the Honda Accord, consider that you could pay roughly the same, but then you would miss out on Bluetooth and the dual-zone climate control. Or if you looked at the Kia Optima, you'd find that it has a more attractive combination of features, price and a five-year warranty.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Who should consider this vehicle
Drivers who want a family sedan that is less ubiquitous and a dash more high-rent than the usual suspects will appreciate the 2012 Volkswagen Passat. Additionally, the car's generous legroom makes it a great fit for those who frequently haul taller passengers in back, though you'll want to look elsewhere if you want a sedan that comfortably seats five. Thanks to its low price and impressive feature content, the VW Passat also shines as an excellent pick for shoppers in this segment who prioritize value.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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