Despite the fact that the Volkswagen Passat is the best-selling VW in history, greater even than the Beetle, it still ranks third in midsize competition, behind the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. After a light refresh for 2016, it hasn’t changed in 2017. It’s assembled in the United States.
It’s a conservative and straightforward car, while still being a fine and handsome one. It’s big for a midsize car, nearly 192 inches long with a 110-inch wheelbase. That enables 117.9 cubic feet of interior space, a bit less than Subaru Legacy’s 119.6 cubic feet.
The Passat does very little wrong. It’s powered by a fairly peppy turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine making 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, mated to a smooth 6-speed automatic, with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive isn’t available, nor is a diesel, because of the whole emissions cheating scandal.
The more powerful engine is a V6 making 280 hp and 258 lb-ft, mated to a 6-speed twin-clutch direct-shift gearbox, or DSG.
The 1.8-liter engine gets 23/34/27 miles per gallon City/Highway/Combined, EPA-rated. That’s fairly efficient for a four-cylinder turbo, but far behind hybrids from Chevy and Toyota. And still behind non-hybrids like the Hyundai Sonata (31 Combined), Chevrolet Malibu (30 Combined), and all-wheel-drive Subaru Legacy (29 Combined).
The V6 gets 20/28/23 mpg, which is closer to V6 competitors.
Premium fuel is recommended, but Regular works. You just get a bit less power and fuel mileage. Those EPA numbers always come from Premium fuel when recommended by the manufacturer.
The NHTSA gives the Passat five stars overall in safety, with four stars in front and rollover crash protection. The IIHS gives the Passat its top Good scores in all of its tests, including the small-overlap front crash test. When equipped with optional active safety features such as forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitors, the Passat is an IIHS Top Safety Pick. A Poor rating for headlamps keep it from Top Safety Pick +.
A rearview camera system is standard, as is a post-collision braking system that helps lessen the severity of secondary collisions.
The 2017 Passat 1.8-liter comes in S ($22,440), SE ($25,495), and SEL ($30,995) models. Also available is the V6 and DSG in SE ($29,295) and SEL ($33,995). There’s also a sporty Passat R-Line ($23,975).
Unlike many base models, the S is well equipped with 16-inch alloy wheels, VW’s newest infotainment with a 5.0-inch display, Bluetooth, a USB port, six-speakers sound system, fabric upholstery, split-folding rear seat. Options include LED headlamps, taillights, fog lamps, and running lamps.
The SE adds rear climate control vents, keyless ignition, leather trim, heated washer nozzles and side mirrors, additional leather and leatherette trim, leatherette upholstery, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, satellite radio, voice control, and an upgraded MIB II infotainment system with 6.3-inch screen VW Car-Net App-Connect.
SEL adds 18-inch alloy wheels, stainless steel pedals, Fender premium audio, power front seats with memory settings, sport seats, and a rear armrest with a pass-through to the trunk.
Upper trim levels of the Passat can include adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, and a new parking assistant.
Last year the Passat got some rough edges smoothed out, including a new grille that’s finely drawn, and domed hood. It’s not all swoopy and edgy or wedgy like other midsize cars are trying to be. It’s not boxy, although the roof is more upright. The surfaces are clean and the lines spare. It’s consistent with the new Golf family.
We like the instrument panel because it’s so simple and clean. Informative and functional, period. Intuitive. Easy to operate. Buttons, switches, and big readable gauges, right where they should be. Wood or metal trims the broad dash.
Big cupholders hide under a flip-up lid next to the handbrake, and a bin ahead of the shift lever is sized to items like hold cell phones and key fobs.
The infotainment system is the latest, called MIB II, with touch controls and proximity sensing. It features telematics, connected via VW Car-Net, and integrated apps for smartphones, including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink.
The front seats aren’t as plush as those in other more upscale VWs, but they offer excellent adjustability, good thigh bolstering and plenty of rearward travel. There’s god legroom in the rear, and even better headroom and ease of entry, thanks to the upright roof. In fact, there’s more space than many full-size sedans.
In the SE model, the seats are faux leather; it’s supple and smooth vinyl. The SEL gets leather and grippy faux suede inserts.
The trunk is spacious, nearly the largest in the class at 15.9 cubic feet. That beats the Accord by 1 cubic foot, but is still half a cubic foot smaller than the Hyundai Sonata. When you compare it to full size cars, it’s almost 3 cubic feet smaller than the Chevy Impala. You can open it by waving your foot under the bumper.
The rear seat drops from the trunk, using levers on the back of the seat. All cars should be so smart.
Visibility is excellent. With lots of glass, folding rear headrests, and slim roof pillars, there’s a broad and open view of the world around the car. A good plus for safety.
With the 170-hp four-cylinder turbo, power comes on early and stays there for most of the rev range. The engine feels quicker than it is, about 8.0 seconds to get from zero to sixty, and it isn’t ever taxed during daily driving. The 6-speed automatic shifts smoothly.
Even with 110 more horsepower on paper, and a strong 258 pound-feet of torque, the V6 (called VR6) doesn’t always feel that much faster than the turbo four. It’s strong and confident, but its acceleration of 6.5 seconds from zero to sixty might not be worth the lower fuel mileage by four miles per gallon, plus the need for Premium fuel.
The V6 is mated to a dual-clutch 6-speed automatic manual transmission, with different gearing than the regular 6-speed automatic in the four cylinder.
The Passat is extremely pleasant to drive, with steering that’s light, accurate and nicely weighted, some of the best steering in the midsize class. The suspension is relatively taut for good control, yet the ride is comfortable.
It’s generally very quiet inside.
The Passat is a strong value, especially with the base four-cylinder engine. Great powertrains, super clean and functional instrumentation. The only thing it might lack is excitement, but it doesn’t lack class. and for sure it doesn’t lack excellent engineering. And if you get excited by everything working, you’ll be happy.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.