Full 2014 Volkswagen Passat Review
What's New for 2014
A more fuel-efficient 1.8-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine replaces the 2.5-liter five-cylinder on the 2014 Volkswagen Passat SEL model and will gradually be phased in on other trim levels. VW's Car-Net telematics interface also debuts this year, and most trims now have a standard rearview camera.
One of the more interesting options for a midsize sedan is the 2014 Volkswagen Passat. It's the only European car in the family sedan segment, and that heritage is evident in its clean styling, tidy, down-to-business interior design and solid, composed highway ride. It's also one of just two sedans in this class with an optional diesel engine, and that TDI power plant returns fuel economy on par with hybrid sedans. However, there's plenty of North American influence in VW's family sedan as well, and indeed the Passat's greatest attribute is the vast amount of space it offers for passengers and cargo.
This spaciousness is no accident, of course, as the Volkswagen Passat is built in Tennessee expressly for the American market. Not only is this midsize VW sufficiently comfortable and serene for long road trips on U.S. highways, but you can even get it with a potent 3.6-liter V6 engine. Most Passat buyers end up with one of the more sensible engine options, of course, and to be honest we've never been thrilled with the base 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine's below-average fuel economy and slightly gruff power delivery. The good news is that Volkswagen is phasing in a new, turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine for the 2014 model year. It doesn't make any more horsepower than the 2.5 engine, but there's more torque for passing maneuvers and the 1.8T engine returns better gas mileage to boot. Initially, only SEL models will have the new engine as standard, but as the 2014 model year progresses, you can expect to see the 1.8T on all VW Passats. Still, if you're really serious about fuel economy, the extra cost of the diesel engine on the TDI models will probably be worth it to you.
Although there's much to like about the 2014 Volkswagen Passat, we can say the same about many of its competitors and you'll certainly want to check a few of them out before making a decision. The Nissan Altima and Honda Accord are two of our favorites in this class: Their base four-cylinder gasoline engines are more fuel-efficient than the Passat's 1.8T and 2.5 engines, and the Altima has some of the richest cabin furnishings in this price range. We're also fond of the Mazda 6, which has the sportiest handling of any sedan in this class and an available diesel engine, and the stylish Ford Fusion, whose eco-themed counterpart, the Fusion Hybrid, is a compelling alternative to a diesel Passat.
Even in the face of so many competent rivals, though, the 2014 Volkswagen Passat comes highly recommended, especially with the 1.8T and TDI engines.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2014 Volkswagen Passat sedan is offered in four broad models broken down by engine (2.5L, 1.8T, TDI and V6), which are further subdivided into a quartet of different trim levels (S, Wolfsburg, SE and SEL).
The lineup starts with the "S" base model, 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, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, 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.
The Wolfsburg Edition includes the features of the S model and adds unique 16-inch alloy wheels, leatherette (premium vinyl) upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a six-way power driver seat, heated front seats, satellite radio, a USB/iPod interface and VW's Car-Net telematics system.
Move up to the SE trim level and you get 17-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors and windshield washer nozzles, a rearview camera, rear-seat air vents, a sliding front armrest, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, 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. On TDI SE models, 18-inch alloy wheels are also added if the sunroof is equipped, and if you equip both the sunroof and the nav system, you get foglights as well. Navigation is not available on V6 SE models, but on the upside, a nine-speaker Fender audio system is included with the optional sunroof.
The SEL models include all of the above items, including an upgraded navigation system with a larger screen, hard-drive music storage and traffic updates. You also get keyless ignition/entry, remote ignition, eight-way power front seats with driver memory functions, partial leather upholstery, wood-grain interior trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, HD radio and a separate ski pass-through for the 60/40 rear seat.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2014 VW Passat is front-wheel drive and comes with a choice of four distinctly different engines. The S, SE and Wolfsburg models come with a 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine rated at 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. You can have a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission on S and SE models, while the Wolfsburg is automatic only. In Edmunds performance testing, an automatic-equipped Passat 2.5 accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 9 seconds, which is slower than average for the class. The EPA's estimated fuel economy for manual-shift Passat 2.5 models is 26 mpg combined (22 city/32 highway), while the automatic drops to 25 mpg combined (22 city/31 highway). These figures are below average among midsize sedans.
Volkswagen is beginning to phase the 2.5-liter engine out of the lineup in favor of a new 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which is also rated at 170 hp but makes a more substantial 184 lb-ft of torque. Currently, the 1.8T is standard only on the SEL model. Eventually, though, it will be the base engine on all Passats, and consumers are likely to encounter both engines in 2014 models at dealerships. A six-speed automatic is standard on the SEL 1.8T, but VW will also offer the five-speed manual when this engine makes its way to the S and SE models. Fuel economy estimates are 28 mpg combined (24 city/34 highway) with the automatic and 28 combined (24 city/35 highway) with the manual: good numbers for a four-cylinder midsize sedan.
Those seeking maximum mpg can opt for Volkswagen's turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel engine, which produces 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque on SE and SEL models. Called the TDI, this diesel engine comes with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automated manual transmission (known as DSG), which takes the place of a conventional automatic. In Edmunds performance testing, the Passat TDI went from zero to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds. The EPA-estimated fuel economy is an excellent 35 mpg combined (31 city/43 highway) for the manual and 34 mpg combined (30 city/40 highway) with the DSG. In extensive Edmunds fuel economy testing, we've found that the diesel VW Passat can easily match or surpass these numbers.
The strongest engine available on the Passat is a 3.6-liter V6, which churns out 280 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. It's optional on the SE and SEL, and the DSG automated manual transmission is standard. In Edmunds testing, a Passat 3.6 accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds -- quick for this class. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 23 combined (20 city/28 highway).
Standard safety features for the 2014 Volkswagen Passat include antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags, and front and rear side curtain airbags. In the event of a crash, the onboard computer automatically cuts off the fuel supply, unlocks the doors and turns on the hazard flashers. A rearview camera is standard on SE and SEL models. VW's new Car-Net telematics system, standard from the Wolfsburg model on up, includes automatic crash notification, roadside assistance, remote vehicle access, stolen vehicle location and geo-fencing (which allows parents to set boundaries for teenage drivers). A Car-Net smartphone app lets owners control many of these functions on the go.
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 moderate-overlap, side-impact and roof-strength tests. The Passat received the Institute's second-highest rating of "Acceptable" in the new small-overlap frontal-offset crash test.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Passat 3.6 SEL came to a stop from 60 mph in about 130 feet, which is longer than average. However, a 2.5 SE model stopped in a class-average 123 feet, while a TDI SEL needed 124 feet.
Interior Design and Special Features
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, as even good-sized adults will have room to stretch out their legs. The seatback cushion 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 competitors -- and a large pass-through gives you plenty of room to haul bulkier items when the 60/40 seats are folded.
The quality of the VW Passat's interior materials is among the best in the class. The overall cabin design is decidedly upscale, while the layout of gauges and controls is refreshingly simple. The premium Fender audio system has been tuned to the acoustics of the interior and will please even hard-core audiophiles. Our only significant complaint relates to the optional navigation systems. The SE models have a lower-cost navigation unit with a small touchscreen display. You get a usefully larger screen in the SEL, but we've found this higher-end interface slower to process commands whether you're changing a radio station or entering a destination.
The 2014 Volkswagen Passat's character depends a great deal on which engine is under the hood. Although performance from the 2.5-liter five-cylinder is fully adequate, we think most buyers will appreciate the new 1.8T engine's smoother power delivery, increased fuel economy and extra thrust for passing. We haven't yet performance-tested a Passat 1.8T, but in the real world, it also feels a bit quicker than the TDI models. However, the turbocharged 2.0-liter diesel has lively low-end power and returns truly extraordinary fuel economy and fuel range. For those who care more about power than mpg, the 3.6-liter V6 engine delivers much more enthusiastic acceleration.
The DSG automated manual transmission that's available with the TDI engine and standard with the V6 generally feels like a regular automatic transmission and, in some cases, it's better -- it provides quick downshifts in highway passing situations. One negative is the lackadaisical throttle response on DSG-equipped Passats and on 2.5 models with the regular automatic transmission: There's a noticeable delay between the time the pedal is pressed and when the engine actually responds. Most owners get used to this behavior in time, but if it bothers you, the automatic-equipped Passat 1.8T is worth a try, as we observed minimal delay in engine response when accelerating off the line in a preproduction test car.
On the highway, all 2014 Volkswagen Passats are impressively quiet and comfortable, snuffing out bumps large and small. Around turns, the steering is reasonably precise, although there's not much feel for the road and some drivers find it a tad heavy at low speeds. Overall, though, the Passat earns high marks for its relaxed, refined demeanor in everyday driving.