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The 2012 Volkswagen Passat is facing a kind of perfect storm of skepticism from long-time fans of the brand. Volkswagen has wasted no chance to tell the world that the company's newest sedan will be custom-tailored to the American market, with styling and packaging tweaks designed to set the vehicle apart from its European counterpart. If that weren't enough, the new North American Passat will also carry the distinction of being the 1st VW product to be built at the automaker's brand-new assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

VW fans have always embraced the German flavor of their vehicles, but as the company pushes toward its (massively ambitious) goal of selling 800,000 units per year by 2018, we can expect to see more market-specific products in our neck of the woods. That trend kicked off with the 2011 Jetta – a vehicle that sacrificed interior materials and suspension refinement to meet a lower price point while growing larger to accommodate American tastes.


Does the Passat share a similar fate? When the sedan 1st debuted at this year's Detroit Auto Show, it came packing a host of styling cues lifted directly from the smaller Jetta. That lead many onlookers (ourselves included) to conclude that in creating its new mid-sized sedan, Volkswagen had simply supersized the Jetta.

There's no denying that the 2012 Passat is cut from the same design cloth as the 2011 Jetta. In fact, when the 2 vehicles are parked next to 1 another, it takes a keen eye to distinguish between the 2. That's thanks in no small part to the fact that Volkswagen has slathered its new familial nose over the fascia, hood and fenders of both vehicles. The look is right at home on the larger Passat, with its slightly aggressive headlights, 3-bar grille and scowling hood. Along the sides of the vehicle, a new crease runs from stem to stern just below the window sills.


The rear of the vehicle is adorned with taillamps that do a smart job of integrating both that crease and additional body lines. While the overall aesthetics of the Passat's exterior is conservative compared to offerings like the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima, the overall effect is incredibly cohesive. Nothing seems tacked on. Instead, the exterior seems to be the product of a singular vision with a focus on getting the details right. No matter where your eyes rest, they're bound to fall on a line that runs nearly uninterrupted around the entire vehicle. It may not raise anyone's pulse, but in the flesh, the 4-door carries itself well.

Base models wear 16-inch steel wheels with plastic covers, though 16-, 17- and 18-inch alloy rollers are also available depending on the trim specification. The options are somewhat smallish by today's standards, but larger sizes look sharp enough rolling down the road.


Indoors, we were happy (relieved?) to find a cabin that has lost very little of its German flavor on its way to the States. While the Jetta swapped most of its softer dash and trim components for well-grained but cheap-feeling plastics, the Passat has held onto higher-quality materials, at least in the places that matter most. The upper portion of the dash is clad in soft-touch goodness, though everything below the copious amounts of faux wood-grain trim is treated to the harder stuff. Still, touches like a leather-wrapped steering wheel in higher trims and excellent seating surfaces go a long way toward making the cabin feel like a quality space. Volkswagen said that it specifically wanted to focus on the vehicle's touch points – that is, where your body actually makes contact with the cabin – and that work has paid off.

For 2012, Volkswagen has built almost 4 additional inches into the Passat, and most of that length has found its way into the rear foot well. Rear passengers are now treated to 39.1 inches of legroom, which is nearly a full inch more than the Toyota Camry and almost 2 inches more than the Honda Accord. For drivers with kids, that translates into miles of motoring bliss without feeling Junior kicking you in the back from his car seat. It also means that even the jolliest of green giants can fit in the back without feeling cramped.


1 of the biggest highlights of the 2012 Passat interior is its sound system. Volkswagen teamed up with Fender to create a 9-speaker audio system that pushes 400 watts of power. We aren't certified audiophiles, but to our ears, the stereo is capable of besting anything else in the segment. While an integrated subwoofer is part of the kit, the bass is never overbearing. Instead, deeper tones are nearly seamlessly integrated into the music. The system is standard on SEL models and optional on both S and SE trims.

Volkswagen has worked to slim its option sheet to just 16 buildable combinations down from 128 possibilities, and as a result, long-time Passat fans will find a few notable omissions. Buyers will no longer be able to enjoy a wagon version of the vehicle. Likewise, 4Motion all-wheel drive is nowhere to be found. Volkswagen admits it deleted those options to make ordering easier on both dealers and buyers and to focus its products where American shoppers spend the most money. Additionally, the 2012 Passat is only available with 3 engines. Those include a 2.5-liter gasoline 5-cylinder with 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque as well as a 3.6-liter gasoline V6 with 280 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of twist.


The Passat will also be available with a 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel 4-cylinder with 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. That means this 4-door is the only sedan in the mid-sized segment available with an oil-burning engine under its hood, a move that wins it all sorts of points in our book.

The smaller of the gasoline engine options will be available with either a 6-speed DSG automatic transmission or a 5-speed manual gearbox, while the larger V6 can only be had with the dual-clutch cog-swapper. We're happy to report that Volkswagen has left some quirkiness in the Passat line by offering the 2.0 TDI engine with both the DSG and a 6-speed manual option.

You can probably guess which we'd opt for.


We were able to spend time in both a 2.5-liter, DSG-equipped Passat and its 2.0-TDI, DSG counterpart in mixed driving. Though the big German sedan weighs in between 3,300 and 3,400 pounds depending on engine and transmission choices, neither engine has a particularly hard time moving the Passat in any conditions. The 5-cylinder gasoline engine offers similar power to 4-cylinder options in both the Camry and Accord, and as such, there's enough grunt on hand to keep the vehicle on pace with the rest of traffic. The 6-speed dual-clutch transmission offers quick, smooth shifts with excellent logic for choosing the right gear at the right time, though expect to downshift a gear or 2 for long grades or quick acceleration.

VW says that while the EPA hasn't finished its fuel economy evaluation for the Passat, the company expects the 2.5-liter powered sedan to see 21 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway in manual guise and 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway with the DSG of our tester. Those numbers put the base entry around three mpg behind the Hyundai Sonata on the combined scale and 1.5 mpg behind a comparably equipped Honda Accord.


Of course, if fuel economy is your concern, the 2.0-liter TDI is the engine to have. While down on horsepower compared to the larger-displacement gasoline engine, the 4-cylinder lump kicks out a walloping 59 more pound-feet of torque. As a result, the TDI-equipped Passat feels and drives like a sedan you want to spend time in. The 2.5-liter plays Justin Bieber to the diesel 4-door's Barry White – both are plenty successful, but after a while, you only really want to listen to 1 of the 2.

As in other applications, all that torque comes on at a low 1,750 rpm, which means you're rewarded with an addictive amount of low-end grunt that pulls with a vengeance. As in the Jetta TDI, the 2.0-liter engine is quiet both inside and out, producing marginally more engine noise than its petrol counterparts. If this is beginning to read like a love letter to the little oil-sucker, it's not by mistake. All told, VW expects to see 31 mpg city and 43 mpg highway for a total of 37 mpg combined. Remarkably, those are all better numbers than the official ones for the smaller 2011 Jetta TDI, which scores 30/42/34 mpg from the EPA. We encountered just over 40 mpg combined during our time behind the wheel of the Passat TDI.


If there's a downside to going diesel, it lies in the fact that the Passat requires a urea exhaust additive to combat particulate emissions. The automaker says that the special tank only needs to be filled every 10,000 miles, even though the vehicle can theoretically make it 50,000 miles before running dry.

Unlike the Jetta, the Passat still comes with a 4-link independent suspension out back, which, while more expensive to manufacture, makes for an incredibly solid-feeling vehicle no matter the condition of the pavement. Volkswagen turned us loose on a lengthy jaunt through Tennessee that covered everything from highway stints to twisting mountain passes and small-town traffic, and the suspension nearly delivered the coveted Goldilocks sweet spot of not-too-harsh, not-too-soft driving. Pavement imperfections were dispatched with just a little more float than we'd like, though understeer and body roll were both kept to a minimum in more athletic circumstances. This is a family sedan, after all.


Volkswagen hasn't announced pricing for the 2012 Passat just yet, but the company says that it's aiming for a price point in the low-$20K range with topped-out models landing in the lower- to mid-$30K range. Those numbers would be in line with the Honda Accord, which starts at $21,180 without destination, though they sit a good bit north of metal like the Toyota Camry at $19,820 and Hyundai Sonata at $19,395. The last Passat carried a base MSRP of $26,995 in 2010, though given the German automaker's recent insistence on being price competitive, we wouldn't be surprised to see the 2012 model land well below that figure.

Exactly where the company plans to price its newest sedan will play heavily on how successful it manages to be in a segment that's fiercely competitive. Thanks to reworked machines from Korean and domestic manufacturers, big players from Nissan, Honda and Toyota have found themselves defending their respective thrones in America. The 2012 Passat underscores the fact that Volkswagen plans to be a legitimate player in this fray for the 1st time in the nameplate's history – even if not every brand purist chooses to go along for the ride.
 

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I miss the days when Passats were distinguishable from Jettas. I'll tell you one thing, Volkswagen knows how to make a steering wheel.
 

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I'm not feeling this new passat or any of the past ones.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Price


Earlier this year Leftlane brought you the 1st official and live images of the all-new, heavily redesigned U.S. market Passat straight from the show floor of the Detroit Auto show.

The only thing missing at the time in Volkswagen’s press materials was pricing for its Camry/Accord/Fusion/Sonata/Malibu-fighting Passat. Today, we have that pricing, including the staggeringly lower than last year’s base price of $19,995 plus $770 destination (or $20,765 for all intents and purposes).

So how did VW do it? For starters the new model is packaged quite differently, following the same plan as the newer, cheaper and less sophisticated Jetta (compared to the previous generation). As a result, VW is able to grab buyer’s attention with markedly lower starting prices, along with wider price ranges across the model lineup.

The base Passat will for example take a step or 2 backwards from the standard 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and direct-shift gearbox (DSG) that came as standard equipment for the previous model year, instead starting with a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter 5-cylinder that churns out just 170 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque, matched to a 5-speed manual transmission.

While a directly comparable 2012 model cannot be specced out due to the total removal of the 2.0T engine, the next-closest option would come from the mid-level 2.5-liter TDI good for 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, which starts at $28,665 – slightly more than a comparable 2010 model.

Models range from a 2.5 S base model with a manual transmission and a $20,765 sticker price (add $2,695 for an automatic), to $30,665 for the SEL Premium automatic which still has the 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine. Stepping up to the TDI will put the base price at $26,765 for a manual, rising to $32,965 for the SEL Premium TDI. The Passat range is topped by a 3.6-liter V6, also known as the VR6, which boasts 280 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, starting at $29,765, and topping out at $33,720 before individual options.

All told, Passat is available in 15 different preset package/engine combinations. VW says that the main reason it was able to bring the price down was not the change to packaging or features, but rather the switch to local production at VW’s new assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Compared to the outgoing model, the new Passat is considerably different and larger and it shares little more than a name with its European counterpart. The changes also continue underhood, and in total, VW believes it has found the right formula for a successful midsize sedan in the American market.

Styling
Looking much like a larger, wider Jetta, the Passat was penned by VW designer Walter de Silva. It measures in at 191.7 inches long and rides on a 110.4 inch wheelbase.

It’s what is under the hood that counts
Part of the formula that VW is banking on to move some metal comes from a new engine lineup that eschews the traditional use of a 4-cylinder engine as the base models for a 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine, followed by a 2.0-liter TDI clean diesel and topped off with a sporty 3.6-liter VR6 engine.

The base 2.5-liter will be good for 170 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque, and comes standard with a 5-speed manual transmission. For those who prefer not to row their own gears, VW also has an optional 6-speed automatic available.

For those willing to drop a little more coin for a lot more fuel economy, the 2.0-liter TDI is certainly the engine of choice in the Passat. The only diesel in its segment, the Passat TDI is expected to net 43 mpg on the highway, according to VW. Combined with a fuel tank just short of 20 gallons, VW says it should have no problem driving 800 miles on a single tank of fuel. Rated at 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft. of torque, the 4-cylinder diesel engine is seemingly ubiquitous in VW’s lineup. A 6-speed stick will be standard, while a 6-speed DSG dual clutch automatic will be optional.

Most Passats will probably be delivered with 4 or 5-cylinder engines, but VW will also offer a 3.6-liter VR6 rated at 280 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. of torque. VW estimates fuel economy at 28 mpg on the highway. The VR6 will be exclusively mated to VW’s DSG automatic transmission.

Equipment content
Although it might look and feel like a larger Jetta, VW promises that the Passat is a premium offering. Its wide doors reveal an especially spacious interior, including a huge rear seat area.

Three trim levels will be on offer – S, SE and SEL. Look for more details to arrive closer to launch, but volume SE models will be swathed in VW’s leather-like vinyl and come with switchgear used in the Jetta. Soft touch and hard plastic surfaces abound, although SELs come with richer-looking leather, synthetic suede and real wood trim.

Standard 17-inch wheels can be upgraded to 18s and the Passat will be among the 1st VWs to offer the automaker’s new Fender-developed audio system.

Look for the 2012 Passat to begin arriving in dealers this fall.
 
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