Volkswagen’s Tennessee-built midsize Passat sedan received a complete makeover just last year, and it returns for 2017 with a lineup of models ranging from the base S model at $22,440 (plus $820) freight to the top-end SEL V-6 Premium version at $36,835.
But for those who want a Passat with turbo power along with sporty good looks without having to pay anything near a premium price, the R-Line edition ($23,975) could be a great choice.
While the 2017 R-Line model we tested recently was second to the bottom in price among the full Passat line, it didn’t look or drive like a bargain-priced car. It’s exterior actually makes it look like a European luxury sedan in the vein of a Mercedes or Audi.
Under the hood is Volkswagen’s turbocharged 1.8-liter direct-injection four-cylinder gasoline engine, rated at 170 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque. It’s connected to a six-speed automatic transmission.
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This car is not only well-equipped for the price, it’s also a lot more fun to drive than most of the cookie-cutter mass-market midsize sedans that dominate the market.
The Passat we tested was the embodiment of the sport sedan. With its turbocharged engine, precise electro-mechanical power steering and road-hugging suspension, our Passat was miles ahead of the ordinary passenger car.
The Passat stays true to the German automaker's well-documented reputation for creating cars that people enjoy driving, rather than just plain transportation appliances.
For 2017, the R-Line model comes with such standard features as a Composition Media six-speaker touch-screen audio system with USB connectivity, voice control, satellite radio, and Volkswagen’s Car-Net App-Connect technology; Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking (front assist); Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Traffic Alert; a power driver’s seat; V-Tex leatherette seating surfaces; and heated front seats.
Unique exterior cues include R-Line bumpers, grille, air intakes and trim, along with special interior touches such as R-Line trim and doorsill plates.
An optional R-Line Lighting Package brings LED headlights, taillights and daytime running lights, but was not included on our test vehicle.
Other standard exterior features included sporty 19-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, heated/folding/power-adjustable outside mirrors, automatic headlights, variable intermittent wipers with heated washer nozzles, and a chrome-trimmed exhaust outlet.
Our car had the Urano Gray exterior color, a medium gray that gave the car an elegant look. The interior was Moonrock Gray with quartz piping.
Cabin amenities included dual-zone automatic climate control, multi-function leather steering wheel with shift paddles for the transmission, and power driver’s seat/manual front passenger seat (both heated). Cruise control and a rearview camera are also standard.
The front bucket seats were quite comfortable, and there was a center console with a small cubby under the padded armrest and two cupholders. In front of the console-mounted shifter was an open cubby big enough for a couple of smartphones, with a 12-volt outlet. Door pockets front and rear had single bottle holders in each one.
The rear seat was roomy enough for three adults, and there was ample knee and legroom even with the front seats adjusted rearward for long-legged people up front. There was a pull-down center console/armrest in the rear with two cupholders that could be used when the middle position wasn’t needed for a passenger.
Rear passengers had their own heat/air-conditioning vent, at the rear of the front center console.
Surprisingly, the SE model, which starts at $26,280, even comes with Adaptive Cruise Control, a feature normally seen only on high-end models. The SE is in the middle of the Passat lineup. Other models include the 1.8T SE with Technology Package ($28,410); and two top-end SEL versions – the 1.8T ($30,495), and the SEL V-6 Premium ($36,835), which includes a 3.6-liter V-6 engine with 280 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque, mated to a six-speed automatic direct-shift gearbox (DSG).
For 2017, the 1.8-liter turbo gasoline engine is the base powerplant in the Passat. It was introduced three years ago to replace the 2.5-liter five-cylinder. In the R-Line, this engine has EPA ratings of 23 mpg city/34 highway/27 combined with the automatic transmission. We got decent mileage, averaging just under 30 mpg in a mix of highway/rural road driving.
This version of the Passat, the main product of the Chattanooga, Tenn., VW plant, is sold only in North America. Europeans and others around the world have a different version that costs more.
There were no options on our vehicle, but it still came across as more of a premium car than a mid-$20s family sedan. Total sticker price was $24,79, including freight.
Entry and exit are aided by the Passat’s large, wide-opening doors. The split-folding rear seat adds cargo space when needed, but the trunk already has 15.9 cubic feet of space. The trunk lid popped all the way open — standing straight up and out of the way — whenever I pushed the button on the driver's door or on the remote.
With last year’s redesign, the Passat got a new dashboard, along with integrated two-tone decor panels. The instrument panel is similar to that of the VW Golf, with two large dials and a display screen between them.
The new steering wheel has a flat bottom, which helps boost the car’s sporty image. Volkswagen says the new frameless rearview mirror is “an understated touch of elegance.”
Other interior features include chrome trim around the air vents, upper door trim, cupholders, and shift lever, which help give the car a premium feel.
Despite the 170-horsepower rating, the 1.8-liter turbo was more than adequate even on the mountain grades, and the cruise control had no problem holding the precise highway speed I set it to.
I also encountered some rain, and the car handled well on the slick pavement, even through some (very shallow) standing water.
Passat also comes with Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and audio streaming, and a tilt-telescopic steering column. Other standard features include power windows, insulated glass, and outside temperature display with frost warning. The R-Line model does not have pushbutton start, however. That takes an upgrade to the SE model.
Among safety features is VW’s Intelligent Crash Response System, which automatically shuts off the fuel supply and electronic equipment upon impact, while also unlocking the doors and disconnecting the battery from the alternator. The hazard lights also switch on.
Also included are a tire-pressure monitoring system, electronic stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake assist, six air bags, and a rigid body structure.
The rearview camera system projected its image on the dash audio screen, and included guidelines, which are helpful when backing into tight spots. Our audio system did not include navigation.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com, or on Twitter @gchambers3.
2017 Volkswagen Passat
The package: Midsize, four-door, five-passenger, four- or six-cylinder, gasoline-powered, front-wheel-drive sedan.
Highlights: Volkswagen’s U.S.-built Passat debuted for 2012, and got a makeover for 2016. It’s roomier than the model it replaced, and comes with either a four- or six-cylinder engine, along with a variety of amenities and trim levels. It’s also quite fun to drive.
Negatives: No pushbutton start in lower-end models, even though most competitors include this convenient feature.
Engine: 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder, turbocharged (gasoline); normally aspirated 3.6-liter V-6 (gasoline).
Transmission: Six-speed automatic (four-cylinder models); six-speed DSG automatic (V-6).
Power/torque: 170 HP./184 foot-pounds (1.8); 280 HP./258 foot-pounds (V-6).
Length: 191.9 inches.
Curb weight range: 3,263-3,571 pounds.
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock, all models.
Trunk volume: 15.9 cubic feet.
Side air bags: Front seat-mounted, roof-mounted side-curtain for both rows, standard.
Electronic stability control: Standard.
Fuel capacity/type: 18.5 gallons/unleaded regular.
EPA fuel economy: 23 mpg city/34 highway/27 combined (1.8 engine); 20/28/23 (V-6).
Major competitors: Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Nissan Maxima, Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda6, Hyundai Azera, Kia Optima, Subaru Legacy, Volvo S60.
Base price range: $22,440-$36,835, plus $820 freight.
Price as tested: $24,795, including freight (R-Line 1.8T, no options).
On the Road rating: 9.2 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.