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Distinguishing itself with European-style refinement and an efficient diesel option, the 2013 Volkswagen Passat is a solid choice for a family sedan.
High-quality cabin; refined and quiet ride; available fuel-efficient turbodiesel engine; top safety scores; strong V6 engine.
Lackadaisical throttle response; below-average braking distances.
Available Passat Models
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After a redesign last year, the 2013 Volkswagen Passat returns with only a minor shuffling of features and the addition of the Wolfsburg trim level. Most notably, a rearview camera is now available.
The 2013 Volkswagen Passat enjoys a rather unique position, since it's the only European entry in the family sedan segment. Now, this does not mean this VW calls soccer "football" or takes off all of August to holiday in Mallorca. Instead, a continental heritage helps the Passat bring to its class of sedans a certain premium flair that its rivals lack.
This is apparent as soon as you take a seat inside the cabin. The interior is classy and distinguished, with legible, informative gauges, a no-nonsense layout and solid-feeling switchgear. On the move, the Passat has a confident, responsive personality while also remaining comfortable and usable. And since European automakers are big on diesel engines, it seems only natural that the Passat offers one: a 2.0-liter turbodiesel that gets very impressive fuel economy.
However, this Passat isn't just beer gardens and lederhosen. VW actually builds this car in Tennessee expressly for the American market. VW knows what Americans want, and that's why there's an impressive amount of legroom, while the trunk is above average in size. And if it's power you desire, there's a strong 3.6-liter V6 good for 280 horsepower available.
There are a couple downsides to the Passat. We're not fond of the longer-than-average braking distances, for instance, and its lazy throttle response with the automatic transmissions can be irksome. There are also a lot of great choices for a family sedan this year, including the stylish 2013 Ford Fusion, newly redesigned 2013 Honda Accord, value-packed Hyundai Sonata and sharp-handling 2013 Nissan Altima. But all things considered, the European-influenced 2013 Volkswagen Passat comes highly recommended.
The 2013 Volkswagen Passat sedan is offered in three broad models broken down by engine (2.5L, TDI and 3.6L), which are further subdivided into a quartet of different trim levels (S, Wolfsburg, SE and SEL).
The lineup starts with the "S" base model (2.5-liter only), which comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, automatic headlights, keyless entry, full power accessories, air-conditioning, a six-way manual driver seat with lumbar adjustment, cloth upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, audio controls on the steering wheel, cruise control, a trip computer, Bluetooth with streaming audio and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio input. An available Appearance package adds a six-speed automatic transmission, 16-inch alloy wheels and a rear-seat center armrest.
The Wolfsburg includes the features of the S with Appearance package and adds unique 16-inch alloy wheels, leatherette (premium vinyl) upholstery, a six-way power driver seat, heated front seats, satellite radio and a USB/iPod interface.
Move up to the SE trim level and you get 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome exterior trim, heated mirrors, rear seat air vents, a sliding front armrest, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, upgraded gauges and displays and an eight-speaker sound system with a touchscreen audio interface.
Options on SE models include a sunroof or the sunroof bundled with a navigation system and iPod integration. TDI SE buyers can add 18-inch alloy wheels and foglights as well. The 3.6L SE comes standard with these options except the navigation system, which remains optional. A nine-speaker Fender audio system is also included.
The 2.5 SEL models include all of the above (minus the foglights but keeping the 17-inch wheels), plus upgraded front seats, live traffic updates, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera, a rear-seat pass-through and wood interior trim. The 2.5 SEL Premium adds the foglights, keyless ignition/entry, remote ignition, partial leather upholstery and power front seats with driver memory functions. Both the TDI and 3.6L can also be had in SEL guise, but the Premium package is mandatory.
The VW Passat comes with a choice of three distinctly different engines. The entry-level 2.5L model is powered by a 2.5-liter inline-5 engine rated at 170 hp and 177 pound-feet of torque. Transmission choices include a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic. In Edmunds performance testing, an automatic-equipped 2.5 Passat accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 9 seconds, which is about average for the class. EPA-estimated fuel economy for the manual transmission stands at 22 mpg city/32 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. The automatic drops slightly to 22/31/25 mpg. These figures are about average for the class.
Those looking for maximum miles per gallon can opt for the TDI model with its fuel-efficient 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel, which produces 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. It comes mated to either the six-speed manual or a six-speed automated manual transmission (known as DSG). In Edmunds performance testing, the Passat TDI went from zero to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds -- this is on par with gasoline-powered four-cylinder sedans. The EPA-estimated fuel economy is an excellent 31/43/35 for the manual and 30/40/34 with the DSG. In extensive Edmunds fuel economy testing, we've found that the Passat can easily surpass these numbers by 8-10 mpg.
If maximum thrust is what you're after, look no further than the 3.6L's 3.6-liter V6, which churns out 280 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. VW's six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission is standard. In Edmunds testing, this engine was able to bring the Passat from zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds -- very quick for this class. EPA-estimated fuel economy stands at 20/28/23 mpg.
Standard safety features for the 2013 Volkswagen Passat include antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. Models with the manual transmission also gain hill-hold control. In the event of a crash, the Intelligent Crash Response automatically cuts off the fuel supply, unlocks the doors and turns on the hazard flashers.
In government crash testing, the Passat scored a perfect five out of five stars overall, with five stars for frontal impact protection and five stars for side crash protection. Similarly, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Passat its top score of "Good" for frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests. In Edmunds brake testing, both a Passat 3.6 SEL and TDI came to a stop from 60 mph in about 130 feet, which is longer than average. A 2.5 SE delivered a class-average 123 feet.
Spaciousness is the operative word when describing the Passat's cabin. Space up front is good; however, the driver seat only adjusts in six ways (minus lumbar), and it lacks the seat-bottom tilt found in most competitors. In back, the Passat verges on full-size sedan dimensions, allowing even good-size adults to stretch out their legs. The backrest is too upright, however, which can result in taller occupants' heads grazing the roof. The spacious trunk can swallow 15.9 cubic feet of cargo -- a number that bests many of the Passat's competitors.
The quality of interior materials isn't as high as seen in previous Passats, but they remain among the best in the class, while the design adds an upscale feel. The layout of gauges and controls is also refreshingly simple. Finally, the premium Fender audio system has been tuned to the acoustics of the interior and will please even hard-core audiophiles.
The 2013 Volkswagen Passat's character depends a great deal on which engine is under the hood. Performance and fuel economy from the 2.5-liter five-cylinder are adequate and it should be an acceptable choice for most buyers. Our recommendation, however, is the turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel, which offers livelier low-end power and truly extraordinary fuel economy. For those who care more about power than fuel economy, the 3.6-liter V6 engine delivers much more enthusiastic acceleration.
The DSG automated manual transmission that's available with the turbodiesel engine and standard with the V6 works well, though throttle response (with the DSG and the regular automatic) is rather lackadaisical, with a noticeable lag between the time the pedal is pressed and when the engine actually kicks in.
On the highway, the Passat is impressively comfortable, snuffing out bumps large and small. Around corners, the steering is reasonably precise, although it's numb on center and a tad heavy at low speeds. Overall, though, the Passat manages to earn high marks for the type of tasks for which family sedans are typically used.
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