Don't Miss

2016 Volkswagen Passat

Volkswagen-Passat_US-Version_2016_1024x768_wallpaper_01

Base Price: $23,260
Price as Tested: $35,090

Freshened for 2016, the Volkswagen Passat returns for another swing at the midsize big dogs, like Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.

I’m a fan of VWs. My enthusiasm doesn’t reach back to the early days of the original Beetle, but my affection does. Anyone over the age of 45 probably has a fond memory or two of these atrocious, under-powered, machines with heaters so poorly engineered that while your feet baked, every other part of your body from the calves up struggled against frostbite. New or used, they were starter cars for two or three generations of drivers. If your family didn’t own one, a high-school friend did.

Today, I am impressed with VW engineering that almost always translates into a superb driving experience. Caught fudgingVolkswagen-Passat_US-Version_2016_1024x768_wallpaper_0c emissions testing for a couple of its diesel engines, Volkswagen has taken it on the chin of late; although not as much as one might imagine. Year-over-year sales for December were only down 3.3%. Total sales for 2015 were up slightly over 2014.

I’m not nearly as hysterical as some others are over VW’s actions, but I am disappointed. The 1.6 TDI and 2.0 TDI were among my favorite powerplants. Offering terrific acceleration and fuel economy, I’d still buy one today, if I could. But, that’s just little-old, PC-incorrect me.

Because I’m not overly upset at the VW brand, in October I packed my bags and headed to Stowe, Vermont for the media first drive of the 2016 version of this sedan. It was a 24-hour immersion into all things Passat.

Despite VW touting the new Passat as refreshed, you basically need to climb into the cabin before you find a noticeable difference between the 2015 and 2016 editions. VW did make a number of exterior sheetmetal changes – hood, grille, front fenders, trunklid and both bumpers – but these are easy to miss if you aren’t comparing the models side by side.

In the area of technology, a rearview camera is now standard across the board. VW has also made available a few new safety features, like blind-spot alert, lane-departure warning and front-collision warning with automatic braking. The IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) awarded Passat its highest mark of Top Safety Pick + when equipped with the front-collision system.

Volkswagen-Passat_US-Version_2016_1024x768_wallpaper_19Inside, a new gauge cluster highlights the redesigned instrument panel. The center stack hosts the latest VW infotainment system. Full leather seating is now available, too.

Although I only drove Passats armed with the 170-horsepower 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that’s the only engine offered in four of the five Passat trim levels, there is also a 280-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 standard for the top-of-the-line V6 SEL Premium grade. Each engine has a dedicated transmission: The 1.8L uses a driver-shiftable, six-speed automatic to transfer power to the front wheels; while the V6 gets a six-speed automated manual.

Fuel economy with the 1.8L is pretty-darn good with a government-estimated 25 mpg city, 38 highway and 29 combined. With the V6, mileage takes a backseat to performance resulting in 20 mpg city, 28 highway and 23 combined.

Handling isn’t as crisp as the Golf or Jetta, but the Passat still corners with tenacity. The ride is pliant, as well. I was pleased with the performance with the 1.8L. It gets going with resolve and has plenty of go left for passing slower traffic at speed.

A roomy cabin provides Passat with the creds required to be called a family hauler. Its rear seat is particularly spacious. Better-than-average bolstering in the front seats grips occupants when cornering. These seats are a solid compromise between support and comfort. Quality materials carefully assembled characterize Passat’s up-scale interior. Other than the comparatively smallish touchscreen for its interface, this interior can go toe to toe with any competitor in its class. At 15.9 cu.ft., its trunk capacity is about 25-percent larger than a Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

The entry-level S trim comes standard with full power accessories, dual-zone climate control, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Volkswagen-Passat_US-Version_2016_1024x768_wallpaper_0f automatic headlamps, cruise control, six airbags, Bluetooth connectivity, 5-inch touchscreen and a six-speaker audio system with USB port.

By the time you get to the content of my test 1.8 SEL Premium, the list balloons to include the new safety technology mentioned above, adaptive cruise control, navigation system with 6.3-inch touchscreen, keyless entry/ignition, leather heated front/rear seats, leather seating, nine-speaker Fender audio system, power sunroof, folding outboard mirrors, front-and-rear parking sensors, and automatic parallel-park assist.

Passat may not be the first car that jumps to mind when shopping midsize sedans, but it’s certainly worthy of making the list.