- The new Volkswagen Passat features the same haptic-controlled wheel, but VW says it has buttons on the wheel.
- Volkswagen often shares parts across multiple models, and it's very likely the new Passat's interior could be in other U.S.-spec VWs.
- VW has kept climate and volume controls as touch-sensitive sliders.
New Volkswagen Passat Interior Proves VW Hasn't Learned Its Lesson
The new Passat's interior doesn't bode well for future Volkswagen products
In October 2022, Volkswagen admitted it made a mistake with the touch-sensitive buttons found in models like the VW Golf, ID. Buzz and more. Thomas Schafer, VW CEO, said this in a LinkedIn post: “We are sharpening our portfolio and our design, plus creating a new simplicity in operating our vehicles. For example, we are bringing back the push-button steering wheel! That's what customers want from VW.”
Fast-forward to July 2023, and Volkswagen has shown off some of its interior updates in a press release for the new Passat. Likely, many of the changes featured here will make their way into models we will see on U.S. shores, as we won’t be seeing the Passat here anymore. There is, however, a contradiction.
Volkswagen’s materials explicitly state that the new Passat, and presumably future models in the VW lineup, will have buttons on the wheel. “In addition, the multifunction steering wheel has buttons again — to make operation even easier.”
However, the pictured car does not reflect this. One possible explanation is that Volkswagen has not yet solidified the new wheel’s design and, as a result, did not show a preproduction car with the new design. Another explanation is that Volkswagen has been liberal with the meaning of the word “button,” and that this wheel is the one we can expect on production VWs after the Passat debut this August.
Edmunds has reached out to Volkswagen for clarification on this and has not heard back at the time of publishing. Despite that, other aspects of the Passat’s new interior show that VW maybe hasn’t been listening as well as we’d like to think. In the same press release, the brand states that the Passat’s climate controls (and perhaps those of future VWs) will be controlled with a sliding touch interface attached to a new center screen. “Backlit touch sliders are located underneath the infotainment system display and are used to adjust functions such as the interior temperature and volume,” it reads. Those sliders have come under fire for being hard to use and impossible to see at night. This time they're backlit, and while that's a step in the right direction, it also smacks of a half measure.
So, while VW has potentially solved one headache for its customers, it has ignored another. As we have pointed out across numerous new vehicles, touch-sensitive climate and volume controls can be frustrating, distracting and needlessly fussy. BMW’s iDrive8 infotainment is a fantastic example of this. Moreover, Honda was widely panned for migrating its volume controls to a touch slider a few years back — so much so that it eventually brought back a volume knob to nearly everyone's delight.
Volkswagen stresses that the Passat “systematically implements feedback from Volkswagen customers with the goal of making operation as intuitive as possible,” but it appears that may not be the case. Not only does the ambiguity surrounding the buttons give cause for concern, but the automaker has also made it clear that pushing more features behind a screen is its intent. The new 15-inch screen previewed by the Passat protrudes several inches over the dash screen, and we can’t help but wonder if that will also disrupt visibility for shorter drivers. Without clarification, we can’t help but hope VW’s changes stay in the new Passat rather than bleeding into other vehicles in the lineup.
We’re not huge fans of Volkswagen’s new approach. Knowing the brand’s penchant for sharing materials across its lineups, we fully expect to see this interior — or parts of it — in U.S.-spec models. Should these interiors include touch-sensitive buttons or sliders for key functions, Volkswagen will have proven that it did the exact opposite of listening to its customers, all while very publicly insisting that’s exactly what it was doing.