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2012 Volkswagen Passat SEL V6 Review
Fully-equipped, VW's new family sedan approaches luxury ranks
By Ken Glassman, Photography by Volkswagen, Dec. 12, 2011

Question: How many Germans does it take to build the new Volkswagen Passat? Answer: none!

FAST FACTS

1. All new for 2012 the Passat is designed for American consumers, having grown 3.4-inches end-to-end and offering the best rear seat legroom in its class.

2. The Passat is also now made-in-America and starts at just $19,995. Our SEL Premium test model, however, was priced at $32,950.

3. Engine options include a base 170-hp 2.5L 5-cylinder, a 280-hp V6 and even a 40 mpg highway TDI diesel model.

OK, it’s a trick question, since the 2012 Passat is produced in a new factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Although the car is built here, it was designed in Germany but specifically to appeal to the American market. European Passats are smaller, and Volkswagen believes that we Yankees prefer larger family sedans. The folks back in Germany want this model, and the new Jetta, to become larger volume sellers in the US, with a goal of dramatically increasing sales in the States in the next few years. So they are aiming to compete with stalwart family sedans like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata. 

The Passat is designed to cast a wide net in the pricing department. The base Passat starts at $19,995 with a 5-speed manual transmission, and the standard 2.5 liter, 5-cylinder engine putting out 170 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. At the other end of the pricing spectrum, our test car, a V6 SEL Premium model, starts at $32,950, with eight versions in between. That’s more models than a Victoria’s Secret catalogue.

2012 Volkswagen Passat

POWERFUL V6, IMPRESSIVE DUAL-CLUTCH TRANSMISSION

2012 Volkswagen Passat

The 3.6-liter V6 engine with direct fuel injection puts out a healthy 280 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, and is more than capable of moving the 3,445lb car with alacrity. The power comes on at 2500 rpm and continues to pull all the way up the rev range, giving the Passat a strong sporty feel.  Fuel mileage figures are 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.

Unlike the lesser models, with a 5-speed automatic transmission, the Premium model has a 6-Speed DSG transmission with a Sport Mode, and manual shift on the console, or a pair of paddle shifters on the steering wheel. This is a splendid, smooth shifting transmission. However, 1st gear in the regular Drive mode is designed to short shift for fuel economy purposes, and if you try to accelerate quickly, there is a slight dead spot between 1st and 2nd gear changes. If you drop it into Sport mode, however, it allows first gear to wind up higher in the rev range and the Passat takes off quite nicely. Also, Sport mode holds each gear longer for improved acceleration. And if you choose to shift gears yourself, each tap of the paddles makes the transmission shift instantly with virtually no lag time, either up or down, and without the usual hesitation most cars exhibit. 

COMFORTABLE YET ATHLETIC

While tooling around on our favorite back roads, this Passat feels taut and responsive and quite athletic for a family sedan. There is some vague steering feel on center, but once dialed into a turn, effort increases and steering response is quick. The car tracks well with moderate body lean and remains composed even if the road surface gets dodgy. For highway droning, the ride is cushy, but not wallowy, so it’s very comfortable while still maintaining its feel for the road. When the road gets bumpy over pot holes and broken pavement, the suspension is up to the task of isolating the occupants from the worst of it, and still feels bank vault solid. The brake pedal is soft, but the stoppers work well and have decent feel. Compared to the Accord or Camry, this Passat feels sportier and more fun to drive, almost as much as the Regal.

2012 Volkswagen Passat

LUXURY GOODS, SIMPLE GERMAN DESIGN

The cabin is handsome, if not luxurious, on the Premium model, and is a major upgrade when compared to the lower line models. It won’t win any awards for style, but it’s a clean look. German’s don’t do warm and fuzzy, but they do functionality quite well, and that’s what you’ll find on this Passat. All the controls feel good to the touch, and are placed where you would expect to find them. The HVAC controls are of the three knob variety and easy to use.

2012 Volkswagen Passat

The 8-way power leather seats with suede-like center sections are comfortable, with decent bolstering. They’re also 3-position heated and quite effective for both the seat bottom and seat back.  Soft materials grace the top of the dash, as well as the integrated door armrests and center console lid, which slides forward to use as a comfortable arm rest. 

2012 Volkswagen Passat

The glove box is large and there is also good storage in the door pockets and the console, which has a 12-volt outlet, a USB port and iPod integration. Another large storage compartment is situated at the lower portion of the center stack. Wood trim on all the doors, across the dash, and down the center stack and surrounding the gear shift area warms up the cabin a bit, and a moonroof offers a light and airy atmosphere.

Dominating the top of the center stack is a large NAV screen, and the GPS system is a good one, and easy to operate. The dash is well lit, as are all the controls with red accent lights on all window, door lock, steering wheel switches, etc. But, perhaps as a bow to the American tastes, this car has less red on the driver’s gauges and the info screen between the two large round dials, which is easier on the eyes. Steering wheel controls for the sound system and telephone are present, as well as to toggle through the trip computer on the dash’s info screen. I do, however, still find Volkswagen’s placement of the cruise controls on the turn signal stalk to be inconvenient to operate, and wish those controls were located on the steering wheel.

LINCOLN-LIKE BACK SEAT

Compared to the 2011 car, the 2012 model is 3.4-inches longer, and half an inch wider and taller. But it is the class leading interior dimensions, especially in the rear seating area, that make the Passat stand out. Rear seat leg room is spacious, and made even better by the design of the front seat cushions which allows for the rear seat passengers to place their feet underneath the front seats with plenty of wiggle room. Shoulder room is also plentiful, headroom is good, and the rear seats are comfortable. 

2012 Volkswagen Passat

The trunk is very large, with nearly 16 cubic feet, and the 60/40 split back seats fold down with releases in the trunk, for even more carrying capacity.  There is also a ski pass through when the center armrest is lowered.

SUBTLE STYLING

Exterior styling matches the interior.  That is, handsome and classic, but somewhat bland and generic 4-door sedan looking. It will neither offend, nor inspire. We wish the same designers who penned the rakish Volkswagen CC had a hand in this car. If you parked a silver Accord, Camry, and Passat next to each other in the mall parking lot, it would be hard to pick this one out from any distance, without pressing the key fob button to see which tail lights flashed.  Presumably the designers assumed that since Americans have purchased so many blandly styled Japanese sedans that they didn’t feel it was necessary to push the styling envelope on the Passat. But while they view the trendy look of the CC as only for niche cars with low volume, they believe that moderation is the way to larger sales volume in this segment.  Only time will tell if they’re right. 

2012 Volkswagen Passat

The test car had no optional equipment, nor did it need to, with the SEL V6 coming rather highly contented. The amenities are plentiful as standard items and include traction and stability controls, front and rear side curtain airbags, dual zone heating and air, keyless entry with push button start, an excellent Fender sound system, Satellite radio, Bluetooth, an auto dimming rear view mirror, Home Link, heated outside mirrors, heated windshield washer nozzles, fog lights, 18-inch wheels and more. 

THE VERDICT

The new Passat V6 SEL Premium offers a solid, German engineered family sedan that is fun to drive and with a lot of amenities.  Targeted at American consumers with more size, when fully-loaded it’s like a less expensive alternative to a smaller Audi.

LOVE IT
  • Strong engine
  • Class leading interior passenger space
  • Solid, athletic feel
LEAVE IT
  • Bland styling
  • Poorly placed cruise controls
  • Folks may not want to drive a $33,000 car that can be mistaken for a $19,995 car

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