The Volkswagen Passat has long been a favorite among shoppers looking for a little more luxury and style in their midsize family sedan or wagon. For many drivers, the Passat has traditionally filled the gap between normal, humdrum family cars and financially out-of-reach luxury brands. Displaying a classy, restrained style inside and out, the Volkswagen Passat impresses with quiet competence and refined driving character. A quality cabin and competent handling, along with a supple ride, are typical Passat traits.
The latest Volkswagen Passat is the biggest and most affordable Passat yet, priced considerably lower than before to more closely compete with mainstream family sedans. There has been some cost-cutting to meet that lower price, which means the Passat might be less appealing to aspiring German luxury car owners. Still, we think it has retained enough of its premium feel to make a case for itself as a gateway vehicle. As for used Passats, both second- and third-generation models are very good picks.
Current Volkswagen Passat
The Volkswagen Passat is a front-wheel-drive midsize sedan available in four trim levels: S, R-Line, SE and SEL Premium. Base S models start with a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine (170 horsepower, 184 pound-feet of torque) and a six-speed automatic transmission. Standard features include 16-inch alloy wheels, cloth upholstery, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a collision mitigation system with automatic braking, a 5-inch touchscreen and a six-speaker audio system.
R-Line trims add items such as 19-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, synthetic leather upholstery, a 6.3-inch touchscreen, HD and satellite radio, smartphone integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and unique styling elements.
SE trims build on R-Line features but use smaller 17-inch alloy wheels and forgo the styling treatments. Key features include adaptive cruise control, a sunroof, keyless entry and ignition, and added smartphone integration and functionality. A Technology package adds 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, a hands-free opening trunk (with foot sensor), front and rear parking sensors, heated rear seats, a navigation system and an eight-speaker audio system. SEL Premium trims take the aforementioned features and add features including a self-parking system, leather upholstery, a premium Fender audio system and a lane-departure warning system.
Optional for SE and SEL Premium trims is an optional 3.6-liter V6 engine (280 hp, 258 lb-ft) and a six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission.
We've found that the Passat offers a buttoned-down, predictable driving character. This is not the car to look for if you're seeking some back-roads thrills when alone behind the wheel. But as a roomy car for family, friends or colleagues, the Passat delivers on all counts. There's plenty of rear legroom, a large trunk and a hushed cabin that make it one of the more comfortable and versatile midsize sedans around. We've liked both four- and six-cylinder engines, but sluggish transmission response dampens any kind of verve. The Passat is best thought of as a mid-speed car around town that keeps pace on the highway.
Used Volkswagen Passat Models
The current-generation Volkswagen Passat debuted in 2012, and it is larger and less expensive than the car it replaced and more in line with American expectations for midsize sedans.
Early Passats came standard with a 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine that was phased out midway through the 2014 model year in favor of the current 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. In 2014, a Sport trim level was offered; it came equipped with 19-inch wheels, a rear spoiler and transmission shift paddles.
Changes for 2015 were minor, although the diesel engine got a boost in power, up to 150 hp and 236 lb-ft, an increase of 10 horsepower.
In 2016, the Passat received a mildly revised exterior design, an updated center console and full leather upholstery on upper trims. A rearview camera was made standard, and newly available safety features included a lane departure warning system, blind-spot monitoring and forward collision warning with automatic braking. The R-Line was introduced for 2016, while the Sport trim made a quiet exit. The TDI trim with diesel engine was also placed on hiatus for 2016.
The third-generation Passat was produced from 2006 to '10 in sedan and wagon body styles. It was larger than the car it replaced and Volkswagen made an effort to move it upscale, increasing feature content and price. Perhaps as a result, this Passat wasn't as popular as previous versions, but generous passenger space, a high-quality cabin and strong engines should make it a good used-car pick.
The standard engine for this third-generation Passat was a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produced 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission was standard, and a six-speed automatic was optional. From 2006 to '08, a V6 known as the VR6 was optional. This engine pumped out 280 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque, and it could be had with all-wheel drive in the 3.6 4Motion trim. An automatic transmission was standard for the V6.
There were initially four trim levels: the Value Edition, 2.0T, 3.6 and 3.6 4Motion. Even though the lower trims had steel wheels, other desirable features such as a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, an auxiliary audio jack and high-quality premium vinyl upholstery were standard. The upper trims could be had with luxury features including adaptive xenon headlights, automatic dual-zone climate control and 12-way power-adjustable front seats.
The short-lived Wolfsburg trim level in 2007 added some extra luxuries and visual distinction to the 2.0T model. For the 2008 model year, the trim levels were renamed Turbo, Komfort, Lux and VR6. For the final two years, Volkswagen dropped the V6, reduced the Passat to just a single (Komfort) trim level and discontinued most of the car's upscale features. A new hard-drive-based navigation system did become available, however.
Overall, our road tests of the time had good things to say about this generation of Volkswagen Passat, from the high quality of its fit and finish to the engaging yet fuel-efficient performance of the turbocharged engine. Tuned more for ride comfort, the Passat's suspension nonetheless struck a happy balance between a plush ride and athletic handling dynamics.
The second-generation VW Passat was available from 1998 to 2005. It was a little smaller than the third-generation Passat but was very popular thanks to its tasteful styling, peppy performance and solid German feel. Based on a stretched version of the Audi A4 platform of its day, this Passat offered an unusually upscale feel. From the way the doors shut to the way the car absorbed bumps without drama and confidently carved its way along a winding road, this Passat was a desirable midsize sedan or wagon. It certainly had an effect on our editors; both the sedan and wagon were Edmunds.com Editors Most Wanted award winners for five straight years, from 2000 to '04.
Engine choices included a 1.8-liter turbocharged four called the 1.8T that made up to 170 hp, a silken 190-hp V6 and a short-lived 270-hp eight-cylinder W8. Equipped with the W8, the Passat grew too heavy and expensive to have widespread appeal. During most of the car's run, VW offered 4Motion all-wheel drive as an option on V6 models (it was standard on W8 models). A frugal 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine called the TDI became available in 2004. For used-car shoppers, any Passat should be considered, but those built for 2002 and later are the best choices since they received updated powertrains and beneficial chassis improvements.
The first-generation Volkswagen Passat (1990-'97) sold in North America isn't quite as desirable as its successor. Although space-efficient, this Passat's styling was boxy and a bit strange, especially during the first five years when it had a grille-less nose. The base 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine was not a strong suit in these earlier Passats either; it was described as rough in nature and was taxed with moving this midsize sedan. A few years after its debut, the Passat received more gusto under the hood in the form of the 2.8-liter, narrow-angle VR6.