While Volkswagen may be having some problems right now dealing with its diesel-engine problems, consumers shouldn’t let that overshadow the good news for 2016: The midsize Passat sedan has been redesigned and updated, making it even more appealing than before.
And I can tell you that with its 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine, the 2016 Passat SE model is not only well-equipped for the $26,280 (plus $820 freight) base price, it’s also a lot more fun to drive than most of the cookie-cutter mass-market midsize sedans that permeate the marketplace.
For those who like to have some excitement while driving a family car, the Passat is an excellent alternative to some of the stalwarts in its class, such as the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
Keeping true to the German automaker’s long-running mission of creating drivers’ cars rather than just plain-vanilla transportation appliances, the Passat we tested was the embodiment of the “sport sedan.”
With its turbocharged engine, precise electro-mechanical power steering and road-hugging suspension, my Passat was miles ahead of the ordinary passenger car.
Besides the sporty performance, the Passat SE looked great, with 17-inch alloy wheels and its Reflex Silver Metallic exterior paint.
The inside is well-crafted, too. We had leatherette seats, heated in the front, along with a power sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, six-speaker audio system, a rearview camera, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter for the six-speed automatic transmission.
Surprisingly, the SE model also comes with Adaptive Cruise Control, a feature normally seen only on high-end models. The SE is in the middle of the Passat lineup – there are also a base S model ($22,440); 1.8T R-Line ($23,975); 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 2016, the 1.8-liter turbo gasoline engine is the base powerplant in the Passat. Rated at 170 horsepower and 184 foot-pounds of torque, it was introduced two years ago to replace the 2.5-liter five-cylinder.
The 1.8-liter engine has EPA ratings of 25 mpg city/38 highway/29 combined with the automatic transmission.
This version of the Passat, the only product so far 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.
We got decent mileage with the 1.8T engine, averaging just over 30 mpg in a mix of highway/rural road driving.
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 $27,100, including freight. This car was as well-equipped and elegant as some premium sedans that cost thousands of dollars more.
There is ample room for up to five passengers, although the middle rear position can be a bit tight for an adult. We had a young teenager in that position for several trips, and didn’t hear any serious complaints.
Entry and exit is 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. A pull-down center armrest with dual cupholders is usable when there is no passenger in the middle rear position.
There is a new dashboard and center console, along with integrated two-tone decor panels. Our tester had the Moonrock Gray interior color scheme with quartz piping. The instrument panel is similar to that of the 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.
The cabin is roomier than many midsize sedans I’ve tested recently, with enough rear-seat legroom to accommodate just about any adult, including those who are close to being all legs.
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.
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, and automatically slowing the car when I came up to a slower vehicle ahead in my lane.
I also encountered some rain, and the car handled well on the slick pavement, even through some (very shallow) standing water.
Passat SE comes with such standard features as a power-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and audio streaming, USB and auxiliary inputs, and a tilt-telescopic steering column.
Other standard features include power windows, insulated glass, and outside temperature display with frost warning.
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. Sixteen-inch wheels are standard, but 17- and 18-inch alloy wheels are available.
The rearview camera system projected its image on the 6.3-inch dash audio screen, and included guide lines, which are helpful when backing into tight spots.
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.
Rear passengers had their own heat/air-conditioning vent, at the rear of the front center console.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @gchambers3.
2016 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: Middle position in rear seat can get tight for adults.
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: 25 mpg city/38 highway/29 combined (1.8); 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, Chrysler 200, Volvo S60.
Base price range: $22,440-$36,835, plus $820 freight.
Price as tested: $27,100, including freight (1.8T SE, no options).
On the Road rating: 9.2 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.