2016 Volkswagen Passat Review
Pros & Cons
- Roomy cabin
- refined and quiet ride
- powerful and fuel-efficient engines
- top safety scores.
- Touchscreen is smaller than most competitors
- sluggish response from DSG transmission
- fuel-efficient diesel option on hold until emissions issues can be worked out.
Edmunds' Expert Review
The 2016 Volkswagen Passat is a solid choice for those looking for a midsize sedan with a quiet, spacious cabin and a comfortable ride.
When the current-generation Passat was first unveiled for the 2012 model year, Volkswagen purists cried foul. The Audi-lite exterior styling of the outgoing Passat was replaced by more generic sheet metal. The previously high-quality interior materials were downgraded, and similar cuts were made in the engine bay. Gone was the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine and automated clutch transmission shared with the GTI. In its place was an anemic 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine that made it difficult for the Passat to get out of its own way. The Passat's once-vaunted handling supremacy in the midsize class shifted in favor of a comfort-oriented setup that left the sedan clumsy in the corners.
It was a sedan aimed squarely at the mainstream, with a lower price that allowed the Passat to better compete with the Camrys and Accords that dominated the segment. Sales went up and while they lagged behind the class leaders, the Passat still contributed healthily to Volkswagen's bottom line. So when it came time to refresh VW's second best-selling car in the U.S., the automaker characteristically chose to play it safe.
It's hard to tell, but the 2016 Volkswagen Passat received a minor styling refresh this year.
You'd have to be an eagle-eyed Volkswagen aficionado to notice the differences between the 2015 and 2016 models in terms of body styling. Exterior changes are mostly limited to a domed hood, revised headlights, LED taillights and chrome window trim. The upgrades are more apparent from behind the wheel. The top trim level now gets full leather seating rather than a leather/simulated suede combo. Several design elements are borrowed from the 2015 Golf, including a revised steering wheel and instrument cluster.
On SE models with the Technology package, as well as the SEL and SEL Premium trims, smartphone integration comes in the form of an upgraded version of Volkswagen's Car-Net telematics system called App-Connect. Certain smartphone applications, including Spotify and Stitcher, are emulated on the Passat's touchscreen display via Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink. While the new touchscreen that incorporates those features is appreciably faster than the old one, it is noticeably smaller than screens used in almost every other midsize sedan.
Although there's a lot to like about the Passat, it operates in a competitive segment with numerous solid alternatives. The 2016 Ford Fusion and redesigned 2016 Honda Accord are a couple of our favorite midsize sedans, each with impressive styling and a choice of powerful engines. If a sporty midsize is more your style, it doesn't get much better than the 2016 Mazda 6, although an engine upgrade is not available. If you're after a refined and quiet ride, the 2016 Toyota Camry is as silent as they come. The 2016 Kia Optima and 2016 Hyundai Sonata are also good choices that offer a strong value proposition.
2016 Volkswagen Passat models
The 2016 Volkswagen Passat Sedan is offered in five main trim levels: S, R-Line, SE, SEL and SEL Premium.
The base S comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, full power accessories, a rearview camera, dual-zone climate control, height-adjustable front seats (with two-way manual lumbar adjustment for the driver), a 60/40-split folding rear seat, cloth upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a 5-inch touchscreen and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, a USB port and an auxiliary audio jack.
There's a new "R-Line" trim that gives the Passat a sportier look. This is a standard TDI model.
The sporty R-Line adds 19-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and unique exterior and interior styling elements. The R-Line is available with a Comfort package, which includes heated side mirrors, an eight-way power driver seat (with four-way power lumbar), heated front seats and leatherette (premium vinyl) upholstery.
The SE adds the features from the R-Line with Comfort package (minus R-specific trim and the large wheels) and adds 17-inch wheels, a sunroof, a sliding front armrest, rear air-conditioning vents, adaptive cruise control, a 6.3-inch touchscreen, HD and satellite radio, a second USB port, the Car-Net telematics system and a collision mitigation system with automating braking. The optional Technology package adds foglights, automatic wipers, keyless entry and ignition, a hands-free trunk opener with foot sensor, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated rear seats, a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, a navigation system, an eight-speaker sound system and an upgraded version of Car-Net that offers smartphone integration via Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink.
The SEL takes the features from the SE with Technology package and adds 18-inch wheels, an eight-way power passenger seat (with four-way power lumbar), driver memory settings, leather upholstery, a premium Fender audio system and a separate ski pass-through for the 60/40 rear seat.
A Lighting package is available for all trims. It includes foglights (if not already equipped) and LED headlights, taillights and daytime running lights.
The top-of-the-line SEL Premium includes all of the SEL features plus power-folding mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, remote ignition, an automated parallel parking feature, a lane departure warning system and the Lighting package.
Performance & mpg
The 2016 Volkswagen Passat is front-wheel drive and is available with two engines: a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine or a 3.6-liter V6. The four-cylinder is paired to a six-speed automatic transmission, while power is routed through a six-speed automated manual (known as DSG) in the V6.
All trim levels except the V6 SEL Premium come standard with a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. In Edmunds performance testing, the Passat 1.8T SEL went from zero to 60 mph in a quick 7.7 seconds. EPA fuel economy estimates are 29 mpg in combined driving (25 city/38 highway), which is the segment average but slightly behind the Honda Accord and Mazda 6.
The 3.6-liter V6 is available solely on the SEL Premium trim level, and it produces 280 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. In Edmunds testing, the Passat 3.6 SEL Premium made the sprint from zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds. It's rated at 23 mpg in combined driving (20 city/28 highway).
Normally, the Passat would also offer a diesel-powered engine, the TDI. But for now, the 2016 Passat TDI is on hiatus while VW figures out how to make it emissions compliant.
The revised technology interface is one of the Passat's new features. It works well, but the screen is still on the small side.
Standard safety features for the 2016 Volkswagen Passat include antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, a rearview camera, front side airbags and front and rear side curtain airbags. Upper-level trims include a collision mitigation system with automatic braking, a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and a lane departure warning system.
VW's Car-Net telematics system, standard from the SE model on up, includes automatic crash notification, roadside assistance, remote vehicle access, stolen vehicle location, speed alerts and geo-fencing (which allows parents to set boundaries for teenage drivers).
In government crash testing, the Passat scored a perfect five stars overall, with five for frontal-impact protection and five 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. It received the Institute's second-highest rating of "Acceptable" in the small-overlap frontal-offset crash test. The Passat's seat and head restraint design was rated "Good" for whiplash protection in rear impacts.
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 1.8 SEL stopped in a class-average 123 feet, while a TDI SEL took 124 feet.
Excellent materials and plenty of passenger room make the Passat a great family sedan.
We think most buyers will be quite happy with the 1.8-liter engine. It's quick for the segment and delivers good fuel economy. For those who care more about high power than high fuel mileage, the 3.6-liter V6 engine delivers much more enthusiastic acceleration.
The DSG automated manual transmission in the V6 generally feels like a regular automatic transmission. One negative is the DSG's lackadaisical responsiveness. Unless it's in Sport mode, there's a slight delay between the time you press down on the gas pedal and when the engine actually responds. Most owners get used to this quirk in time, or, if they want snappier response, keep it in Sport mode.
On the highway, the Passat is 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.
The front seats are nicely bolstered but are wide enough to not feel confining. In back, the Passat verges on full-size sedan dimensions, as even 6-footers will have room to stretch out their legs. The seatback cushion is fairly upright, however, which can result in taller occupants' heads grazing the roof. The ample trunk can swallow an impressive 15.9 cubic feet of cargo, and you can haul bulkier items when the 60/40 rear seatbacks are folded down.
The quality of the VW Passat's interior materials is among the best in the class. Its overall cabin design is decidedly upscale, while the layout of gauges and controls is refreshingly simple. The premium Fender audio system will please even hard-core audiophiles, and the new infotainment system is faster to respond to inputs and easier to use than the old unit. Smartphones and media players now connect to the system via a USB port, rather than the previous MDI plug. The only downside is the touchscreen's rather small size. Both available screens are disappointingly small and require a certain amount of concentration to operate properly.
Using Apple Carplay or Android Auto is easy with the Passat's new user interface.