Used 1996 Volkswagen Passat Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1996

Daytime running lights debut, two new colors are added to the palette, and a new price-leader GLS model powered by a 2.0-liter, 115-horsepower, four-cylinder engine is introduced. Midyear, a Turbo Direct Injection (TDI) diesel model appears in sedan and wagon form.

Vehicle overview

The Passat has never sold well in the United States. Weak engines plagued the early editions, ineffective marketing has played a role, and a muddled brand identity that has defeated sales across the board have all contributed to this car's seemingly invisible presence on the sedan market. Of course, its plain-vanilla styling didn't let the Passat stand out for much recognition other than the lack of a grille on the nose.

Volkswagen has been trying to change things lately, and the Passat has received a good bit of attention. The 2.8-liter V6 that has literally transformed Volkswagen's lineup from staid German sedans to road cars brimming with vitality was transplanted into the Passat. Last year, a revised exterior design gave this Volkswagen more character, and included a grille for the first time. Passats came fully loaded in one trim level for 1995; the only options were an automatic transmission, a sunroof and a CD player. Antilock brakes and traction control were standard equipment. With a singular GLX trim level, fresh styling, and renewed performance ability, Volkswagen focused the Passat's mission, and became the focus of people who appreciate quick, well-equipped German cars. Priced in the low 20's, and equipped with a 10 year/100,000 mile warranty, the Passat GLX was a real bargain.

It seems Volkswagen has decided to fiddle with the Passat recipe again, and we fear that the focus placed on the excellent GLX will become blurred with the arrival of newcomers. Late last year, a bare-bones entry-level Passat GLS debuted with the meager 2.0-liter four cylinder from the Golf. At $18,000, the GLS is no match for the Ford Contour SE, which offers the same tight European driving manners and a whole lot more speed for the same price. Even Volkswagen's own Jetta GLS makes better sense, and you lose little interior room in the swap to the smaller VW sedan.

Later in 1996, a TDI (Turbo Direct Injection) diesel model will arrive. Volkswagen says this is one diesel that will be quick, clean and quiet. We've followed a few test mules around on the streets of Tempe, Arizona and concur; the TDI loses nothing in acceleration ability to the GLS. Still, the hit-and-miss availability of diesel fuel and relatively low prices for gasoline in the United States make us wonder why VW thinks North America needs a diesel Passat.

The GLX is still the one and only Passat to consider, in our opinion. It continues to offer an excellent blend of value, performance and exclusivity, in either sedan or wagon format. So what do you think a fully loaded German sport sedan (or wagon) might cost? The base price of a new Passat GLX is roughly equivalent to the price of a well-equipped Taurus LX. Surprise, surprise. We think you ought to try the Passat whether or not performance is important to you. It's a good car at a fair price, with the ability to put a grin on your face every time you drive it.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.