Quick Take: 2012 VW Passat (Review)

The American Passat. The de-contented Passat.

I’ve heard a number of names for it and I’ve seen some interesting commentary. Well, I got to spend some time with one, so let’s take a little tour.

The new Passat has taken some flak for the content that VW has taken out, in order to drop the price. It’s also being built in America, which is a new direction for this model.

The 2012 Passat starts at CDN $23,975. I spent a week with the Comfortline trim level Passat, and as tested, it rang in at CDN $32,575.


Exterior/Under The Hood

This is a big car. Seriously big. Like long and wide big. The clean lines are nice, giving it a sleek, quiet and solid presence. It wears VW’s corporate face up front. The Sport option package brought nice 18″ rims and an effective little trunk lid spoiler to the table. This car got a lot of looks, and I think the first impression is big, luxurious, confident, German, Q-ship, and in my opinion, this is the first time the Passat has pulled that off. It’s a substantial vehicle, but with all that said, it doesn’t take any risks to stand out in the crowd. Sadly, that’s typical for many vehicles in this class.

Under the hood, we find VW’s tired 2.5-Litre 5-cylinder. I understand cost-cutting measures to price base Passats within reach, and it’s not a horrible engine (I talked about it when I review the Beetle with the same engine), but it’s easy to imagine how wonderful life would be with another lump pulling this car around. It puts out 170 HP @ 5700 RPM and 177 lb.ft of torque at 4250 RPM, through a 6-speed automatic with manual slapstick mode and paddle shifters. Though these numbers seem low, this big car is surprisingly (almost shockingly) light at 3221 pounds.

For the record, the fuel economy is reasonable – it’s rated at 9.6 L/100 km (24.5 mpg) in the city and 6.7 L/100 km (35 mpg) on the highway. I saw 11.6 L/100 km (20.3 mpg) with no effort to drive efficiently. The Passat has a 70 Litre tank.


Interior/Rear Seats

The bigness continues inside. There’s plenty of head and legroom up front. The front and rear seats are upholstered in lovely leatherette (read: vinyl) and are very comfortable. Both front seats are heated, the driver’s side is power adjustable. I was highly impressed with the amount of bolstering up front – the rear seats could do with more of it. In front of the driver sit two large, easy to read gauges and a very shallow dash with a nice character line running across it. The materials are lovely – a soft-touch, textured dash extends to the doors, and the sculpting and styling throughout is understated but very nice. VW’s often feel very, shall we say, business-like inside, with dark plastics everywhere, but this Teutonic seriousness has been mostly alleviated with the contrasting colors in the Passat. VW’s steering wheels are typically awesome, and so is this one – a fat rim, good diameter size and flat surfaces, with buttons for media, phone, handsfree and the driver information screen.

The centre stack starts with an analog clock at the top, a touchscreen flanked with hard buttons below that, and a dual-zone, automatic climate control system at the bottom. The center console houses the shift lever, a parking brake lever, and an adjustable (fore and aft) armrest.

The rear seat space is simply enormous. Not a single person who had a look or took a seat back there came away less than impressed. Head room is awesome, and leg/knee room is astounding. You get 3 seats, 3 seatbelts and 3 headrests. The middle seat is raised and straddles a large floor tunnel – those factors makes it more of a 2 adults or 3 kids back seat. You get 2 map pockets and a tiny bin at the back of the center console, along with small door bins with bottle holders. The middle seatback flips down to become an armrest with 2 cupholders and a storage bin. If you’re putting kids back there, you get 2 LATCH anchors and a very easy space to access.




The Passat has a nice touchscreen set-up, feeding a Fender audio system with AM, FM, satellite, CD, USB/iPod, auxiliary or Bluetooth streaming sources. All sources sounded great and high volumes are effortless. The screen also houses the nav system.

Of course, power windows, door locks and mirrors are standard – it also has automatic headlights, a power trunk release button and a tilt/slide sunroof overhead. The driver information screen between the gauges is easy to read, and lets you access tons of vehicle settings as well as fuel economy/range, trip meters, etc.

Storage is plentiful in the front. The center console holds a large lidded bin (with a 12V plug) at the front, a deep bin under the armrest (with the auxiliary, USB and another 12V plug) and 2 cupholders under a swing-away lid. There’s a pop-out bin under the left side of the dash, a decent glove box and small door bins with bottle holders. I love that all storage bins are rubberized on the bottom – great detail!

If all that isn’t enough, the trunk is a thing of gargantuan proportions. 16 cubic feet (453 Litres) to be exact. Pop the lid, and it looks like you could easily hold 4 to 5 Sopranos jobs in there. It’s got a nice low load height, and a relatively wide pass-through when you fold the rear seats (they split 60/40).


The Drive

The Passat is a big car, and it feels a bit like that at lower speeds. As you pick up speed, it seems to shed weight, even feeling tossable. Sadly, it’s not in a hurry to get going with this engine, and it’s soft off the line. The 5-sylinder clearly prefers not to be poked or prodded – especially at full throttle. Even at full throttle, it’s not fast, grumpily getting to where you point it and passing at highway speeds is definitely not one of its strong points.

The transmission is very smooth and suits the big sedan, but it hunts for higher gears immediately to save fuel. Put it in Sport mode and it holds gears a bit longer, and the responses feels slightly sharper, but it’s still not a quick car. The manual mode is slow and I think the box is best left to do its own thing.

It’s a smooth car, and if you’re happy sticking to normal everyday driving, you’ll be happy in the Passat. It’s a shame that the engine doesn’t like being pushed (there’s a lag from start and then things surge ahead, and it runs out of breath long before you hit the redline and before it even gets there, you’ll be somewhat annoyed at the sounds it makes). Why is it a shame, you ask? Because the chassis is quite happy when it gets pushed. The car handles very well – although there’s some body roll, it actually feels like it wants to play. Any other car this size would make me want to slow down into a curve – the Passat makes me want to step on it and wants to show me it can take the corner with aplomb. I was always impressed with its confidence around any corner and I absolutely loved the dead pedal – thank you, VW!

The ride, while smooth, is quite firm. It gets a little jiggly and nervous over irregular road surfaces. I was a bit surprised with how much road noise there was – I think that is mostly due to the tires. Otherwise, engine and wind noise levels are very good, remaining almost imperceptible even at highway speeds. This would be a great road trip vehicle, as it cruises effortlessly and comfortably at high speeds. Visibility out of the car is very good.



I wasn’t a big fan of the faux carbon fiber trim that comes as part of the Sport package – it doesn’t show up in the pictures, but in person it seems out of character in this car.

A big German sedan feels like it should come with LED driving lights and HID headlights – but the Passat doesn’t in this trim level.

There aren’t any rear parking distance sensors, which makes backing up a bit nerve-wracking.

The rear seating is very spartan in terms of tech and convenience – no climate zone or even air vents, no 12V plugs, no goodies.

And finally, the analog clock would normally be a classy touch, but this is the least classy analog clock I’ve ever seen in a car. It makes me think Swatch, not beautiful timepiece. It’s too bad.


The Verdict

WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was very high. She loved the looks, loved how easy it was to load kids in the spacious back seats, and she liked how it drives. I probably don’t have to tell you this, but the amount of shopping bags the trunk swallowed up was another big plus for her. My bank account weeps silently, so thanks for nothing, Passat trunk!

I really liked the Passat. You get a lot of car, and the content that VW is purported to have removed didn’t much matter to me. You’ve got most things that really make a difference, and I believe the one or two things I nitpicked about can be added as options. It’s not a stripped-down car, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s well-built, it’s huge inside, it’s got presence on the road, and it drives well.

If it were my money, I’d spend a bit more of it, and I’d definitely upgrade to the TDI – the torquey diesel would be a perfect fit for this car – but the optional gasoline V6 would also be a nice engine. Pick either upgrade engine and it would add some snap to the car – you’d have a great driver’s car, that can hold people in comfort, move tons of cargo and swallow up highway miles for days on end and doesn’t break the bank.

It certainly has competition at this price level, but it’s tough to think of competitors that have it beat in size or in looks. Big sedans that drive well, look smart and come well-equipped for under CDN $33,000? How many can you come up with? There’s a few, but it’s not a very long list. The Nissan Altima, the Hyundai Sonata, the Kia Optima, and a couple more maybe. Does the Passat belong on the list? Absolutely. Does the Passat deserve a look? Without question.

I give the Passat a 7 out of 10, and firmly believe a TDI or V6 model would net a 7.5 out of 10.

Disclosure:  Vehicle was provided by VW.

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