By Mary Lowry
Prior to the 2012 model, the Volkswagen Passat midsize sedan was priced out of reach for most VW enthusiasts, and was too enthusiast-oriented to appeal to most American midsize-sedan shoppers. Passat’s pricing also alienated garden-variety shoppers because some other midsize sedans it competes with were considerably less expensive. Passat is in a market segment that includes the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry.
For 2012, Volkswagen rethought Passat and created a new version that lightened up a little on the hardcore German engineering and made the car roomier and more comfortable. VW made these changes specifically with the American market in mind. In another gesture toward turning Passat into a buyer magnet in the U.S., Volkswagen gave it a base price of $19,995 plus destination charge.
The Passat is built in Chattanooga, Tenn., at an assembly plant that is part of a $4 billion investment by Volkswagen in the U.S. market.
After the major revisions last year, Passat is basically unchanged for 2013, but SE and SEL models have a new cupholder design, a revised front stowage area with a hinged cover, and a new center console that includes rear air vents. Additionally, all SEL models now have a rearview backup camera.
The 2013 Volkswagen Passat comes in three trim levels: S, SE, and SEL. Three engines are available: a 2.5-liter five-cylinder generating 170 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque, with a standard five-speed manual transmission or optional six-speed automatic; a 2.0-liter TDI Clean Diesel inline four-cylinder with 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, with a standard six-speed manual transmission or optional DSG (dual-clutch) six-speed automatic; and a 280-horsepower, 3.6-liter VR6 producing 258 lb-ft of torque and paired with the DSG automatic transmission.
City/highway EPA mileage ratings for the five-cylinder engine are 22/32 with a manual transmission and 22/31 with an automatic; 20/28 for the VR6; and 31/43 for the TDI with a manual transmission, 30/40 with an automatic.
Base pricing for the 2013 Passat, including a $795 destination charge, starts at $21,640 for the 2.5 S with manual transmission, and tops out at $34,320 for the 3.6 SEL with Premium package.
My tester was a 3.6 SE with Sunroof and Navigation. That’s the official name of the trim level. With a base price of $30,895 plus a $795 destination charge, standard equipment on this version (in addition to features included on the models priced below it) is the six-speed DSG automatic transmission, 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, V-Tex leatherette seating, eight-way power driver seat, heated front seats, Premium VIII touchscreen radio, Fender premium audio system, chrome dual exhaust, foglights and, of course, a sunroof and navigation.
“Clean” is the word that comes to mind to describe my 2013 Passat tester. Not clean as in nondirty, but clean as in uncluttered. Inside and out, everything is crisp, classic, symmetrical and understated. No silly, unnecessary swirls or swooshes or dramatic effects that are going to look awful in the near future if they don’t already. What Passat’s exterior design lacks in attention-getting now, it will make up for in lack of embarrassment for the driver later. This car will look good for a long time.
The dashboard and center console are so impeccably neat and tidy, it looks like there’s not as much cool stuff on the Passat as there is on other cars. But it’s all there, and maybe even then some. Volkswagen didn’t keep it clean by eliminating buttons and knobs and burying all the controls inside a touchscreen. Crucial items such as simple temperature and audio controls are operated via buttons and knobs. Telematics operation involving the touchscreen is excellently intuitive. It’s as though Volkswagen thinks people driving cars really ought to concentrate on driving, not playing around with unrelated crap. Radical thinking.
Rear-seat legroom is generous enough for two tall adults to ride comfortably in the back seat, yet there’s still enough space for a big, nearly 16 cubic-feet trunk.
Another defining feature of Passat’s interior is the use of high-grade materials assembled with precision. The V-Tex leatherette seat covering is a great alternative to both fabric and leather, for those who don’t want either for whatever reason. The experience inside my tester was appreciably enhanced by a 400-watt Fender Premium Audio System with nine speakers, including a subwoofer mounted in the trunk. And the tester’s finishing touch: easy-clean thick rubber floormats, dressed up with the Passat logo in a contrasting color, keeping Pacific Northwest weather remnants from sullying the new-car ambience.
The navigation system, which I relied on heavily during a test week that included many miles in unfamiliar territory, was an absolute snap to operate, responded instantly to input, and gave guidance with pinpoint accuracy. There are quite a lot of automotive navigation systems about which none of this can be said.
The Americanized Passat’s suspension is a gentler version of what VW purists have come to know and love, but it’s better at absorbing highway bumps and dips, so passengers are treated to a smoother ride. This is still a German-engineered vehicle, however, and road feel hasn’t been reduced to the point of boredom and lifelessness, thank God. Passat still takes the tighter turns of winding roads admirably, especially for a roomy five-passenger sedan, and the powerful VR6 engine keeps Passat’s spirit fully alive.
2013 VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT 3.6 SE WITH SUNROOF AND NAVIGATION
Base price, including destination charge: $31,690
Price as driven: $31,690
Mary Lowry is a freelance automotive writer who has been reviewing cars for more than 20 years. The cars are provided by the manufacturers as a one-week loan for review purposes only. In no way do the manufacturers control the content of the reviews.