2016 Volkswagen Passat Review

Entirely Competent, Unexpectedly Conflicted

For weeks now, any news about Volkswagen has been dominated by the company’s ongoing emissions dustup; anything else this German automaker is involved with or working on has been obscured by a diesel smokescreen.

Even though recent headlines have focused almost exclusively on its TDI troubles, believe it or not, VW continues to build cars and develop new technology. Clearing the air, they’ve quietly updated their Passat midsize sedan for 2016 to keep up with rivals in this highly competitive segment.

It’s New. Can You Tell?

The current generation of this car debuted four or five years ago to a collective yawn from automotive reviewers and pundits alike. Many decried the Passat’s styling, which admittedly was rather sleepy, even by four-door standards. And for better or worse, this lack of visual stimulation continues with the 2016 model.

2016 Volkswagen Passat 002

However, just because it lacks flashy design elements and curbside pizzazz doesn’t mean it’s unattractive. I find the Passat to be quite handsome, in a wholesome, Protestant work ethic sort of way. With restrained simplicity, there’s a certain honesty to its design that brings to mind a church pastor, a Bible-thumping pulpiteer with four wheels and room for five.

The 2016 Passat is new from the A-pillar forward, gaining a fresh and more sculpted hood, slimmer headlamps and an even a more substantial grille. Front and rear, LED lighting is available.

2016 Volkswagen Passat 04

Aside from these changes, the car also gains a new rear bumper and trunk lid, the latter of which features a wider license plate cutout. An R-Line trim is also new this model year, which adds unique rocker panels, an updated front bumper and unique 19-inch wheels, among other things.

Inside, designers made a number of minor changes to the Passat’s cockpit as well. Its instrument cluster and steering wheel are new, borrowing cues from the company’s Golf models. The dashboard’s upper portion has been subtly reworked and brightening things up a little in what is otherwise a thoroughly Germanic cabin is a sprinkling of chrome accents.

2016 Volkswagen Passat Gauges 02

Overall, the 2016 Passat is clean and elegant, if still a little boring. However, this is a design that will withstand the test of time. These cars should look handsome 20 years from now. Will, say, a “fluidic sculpture” Hyundai Sonata survive as well? I suspect not.

Powertrain Prowess

Two engines are offered in this car and both of them feature sparkplugs. If you were hoping for a compression-ignition option, you’re going to have to wait. VW has withdrawn its emissions certification from the EPA for TDI models and, consequently, it’s unknown when they’ll be available again.

2016 Volkswagen Passat Engine 06

In happier news, both of the Passat’s gasoline-burning propulsion units are refined and economical. Serving the entry-level market is a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, the only force-fed base engine in the segment. It delivers a more-than-adequate 170 horses along with 184 lb-ft of maximum torque. As for transmissions, the only one available is a six-speed automatic equipped with a torque converter.

If something with additional cylinders is more your style, then Volkswagen is happy to offer you a narrow-angle V6. This 3.6-liter six-shooter delivers a snarly 110 more horses than its four-cylinder brother. Torque clocks in at an impressive 258 lb-ft when rapidly oxidizing premium-grade gasoline.

2016 Volkswagen Passat Engine 05

Further enhancing this bent-six’s performance is a dual-clutch automatic. It may have the same number of ratios as the 1.8T’s gearbox, but it shifts much quicker; unexpectedly, it’s also more refined.

Space Ship

Like its exterior, the 2016 Passat’s cabin is essentially the same as today’s model and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s cleanly styled, solidly constructed and more spacious than a shipping container.

Its overall design theme may be minimalistic, but the interior decorating makes up for some of this insipidness. Most of the materials are high quality, especially the large swath of soft plastic the upper dashboard is constructed of. It’s nicely grained and wonderfully squishy to the touch should you prod it with an inquisitive digit.

2016 Volkswagen Passat Interior 02

Regrettably, the Passat’s hard materials aren’t quite as luxurious. Some of the injection-molded components look a bit too shiny, especially in cars with black interiors, though this isn’t as noticeable with beige trimmings.

But one area where the Passat trumps rival sedans is in backseat space. Its aft accommodations are simply epic; Paul Bunyan could stretch out in this car.

2016 Volkswagen Passat Back Seat 02

Likewise, its trunk is vast, measuring 15.9 cubic feet. Making this space particularly useful is a low lift-over height and a wide opening.

Despite the generosity of its cabin, this car’s seats aren’t all that comfortable. They’re too hard and flat to truly coddle your backside. Bolstering really isn’t needed in a sedan of this class since drivers are more concerned about cutting consumption than carving corners, but a little bit of contouring would go a long way to improving things.

2016  Volkswagen Passat Back Seat 01

Additionally, the Passat is a front-wheel-drive car, so why does it have such a giant hump in the rear floor? This hungry monster devours foot space that should belong to the center passenger. Why does this tunnel have to be so large?

Advanced Technology

Like other cars, Volkswagen has fitted its Passat with many of the latest driver-assistance features. A rear-view camera is standard, as is automatic post-collision braking. Of course, if they really want to be on the leading edge, customers can also opt for things like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and park assist.

2016 Volkswagen Passat Clock 01

Beyond all of these goodies, this sedan is also available with a new generation of infotainment technology. Three different head units are offered and they come with either a 5- or 6.3-inch display. Depending on the version, pinch-to-zoom is included for natural interaction. In addition to this, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink technologies are supported for plug-and-play smartphone integration.

The Drive

Given the Passat’s spacious cabin and generous exterior dimensions, it should come as no surprise that this machine drives like a large car. Evaluating a 1.8T SE model revealed a suspension setup that seemed a little under-damped; large inputs such as hitting a dip in the road at speed resulted in a bit of extra up-and-down body movements, an encore presentation of the initial impact.

2016 Volkswagen Passat Front 011

As for steering, the Passat’s is a little too light, never quite getting heavy enough. Of course, you want low-effort turning at parking lot speeds, but a bit of extra heft would be appreciated to provide a more connected feel once underway

Like the company’s larger 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the Passat’s one-eight is incredibly smooth; in fact, it produces less perceptible vibration than the larger V6.

Despite its petite displacement, this engine provides a broad operating range, really coming on strong at about 3,000 rpm and pulling with vigor until about five grand on the tachometer. The 1.8T is powerful enough, though not entirely eager. However, if you opt for this engine, as the vast majority of Passat buyers probably will, you’ll do just fine.

2016 Volkswagen Passat Rear 05

The four-cylinder engine may be super refined, but its transmission isn’t quite as well mannered. This six-speed slushbox can feel a bit ragged at times, with abrupt, ill-timed shifts. It wasn’t an issue with every gear-change, but it happened often enough during my drive to cause concern. Curiously, the DSG automatic in V6-powered cars is markedly more refined, a total role reversal. Usually it’s dual-clutch units on the receiving end of scorn, but not in this instance.

Adding another feather to its cap, the Passat is remarkably fuel efficient. Models with the turbo engine sticker at 25 miles per gallon city, 38 highway and 29 combined. Six-cylinder models are a good bit less economical, returning 20 around town and 28 on the interstate, figures that make for an average of 23 mpg.

In real-world testing a Passat 1.8T SE returned an indicated average of 32 mpg, which is certainly praiseworthy.

The Verdict: 2016 Volkswagen Passat Review

With an unusual blend of plusses and minuses, the 2016 Volkswagen Passat may seem a bit conflicted. Fortunately, none of its shortcomings are necessarily deal breakers.

2016 Volkswagen Passat 06

Furthering its appeal, pricing remains essentially unchanged from last year. A base model with the four-cylinder engine and starts at $22,440. The 1.8T SE with the technology package we evaluated cost a little less than 30 grand, including $820 in delivery fees. Six-cylinder models start at north of $37,000.

If interior space, economical operation and innocuous design matter, this VW could be the car for you. However, if driving dynamics, style and overall refinement are more important there are probably better options.

Got something to say? Jump on our Volkswagen Passat Forum and let your voice be heard!

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  • Chuck Hawks

    Hi Craig,
    A nice overall review that covers most high points and is seemingly up front and honest. Nicely done.
    I am compelled to throw a couple corrections out there:
    – An obvious mistype of the combined fuel economy for the 4 banger – it’s 29MPG combined, not the 25 you listed lower in the article (you did mention the correct number in Fast Facts.)
    – Technically, the pricing for the V6 version “starts” below $37K ($36,835) before destination fee… I know it’s knit picking since no one is going to evade the destination charge. But to say it “starts north of” 37K might be a little misleading, especially since the VR6 is currently only available in the SEL Premium trim, meaning there’s basically nothing in the way of options that can be added to the car – it already has them all by default.

    As someone who’s got about 4000+ miles in one of these vehicles (in SE with Technology trim), I agree with you on the reflectiveness of the ‘piano black’ plastic trim pieces – especially the console just in front of the shift lever. It occasionally catches my eye while driving when it reflects something from outside – since it appears something is moving down there (distracting.) I have also wondered myself why the tunnel is as large as it is, especially in the back seat when it’s a FWD vehicle. I can’t imagine the exhaust needs that much space…
    Not having seen one on a lift with the tunnel panels removed, I have no idea what’s up with that.

    I have to disagree on the seats. I find them significantly more comfortable than prior years and VW listened to their customers’ feedback on this, increasing the padding and bolstering in the seats. My personal 2013 Passat SEL Premium’s (TDI no less) seats are much harder and less comfy over time when on long trips. I have driven the 2016 that I’m currently on the road with for 7-hour stretches at a time with absolutely no discomfort whatsoever. I am not a big guy and don’t know your stature, so maybe that’s the difference(?). I find the additional bolstering to be better as well as being a retired pro-racer, I do carve the corners. I can also tell you that all the folks I’ve presented this car to over the past 3 weeks have had nothing but very positive things to say about the seats (and the whole car, for that matter.)

    Another point that I see differently is the suspension. It appears that you had an SEL Premium model to do your test with, which has larger wheels and therefore lower profile tires. My SE w/Tech has 1-inch smaller diameter wheels/higher profile tires but I would think that this would only exacerbate the “encore presentation” that you mention for road imperfections. I have not noticed such and find the car to handle quite deftly for what it is – a LARGE midsize family sedan.

    The lighter steering is something that again, VW was responding to customer feedback around. I, like you would prefer a tad less boost to give the car a more sporty feel but alas, the mfg must follow the customer’s lead in order to stay competitive.

    I too have found that the 6-speed Tiptronic automatic tranny tends to be occasionally rough or gritty with its shifts. Which, as you stated is polar from the norm – the DSG in the new Passat is exceptionally smooth. I’m personally not a big fan of the DSG dual clutch MANUAL transmission that APPEARS/INTERFACES) as an automatic (I really wish VW would settle on how they want to present DSG… ugh…) that exists in my personal 2013 Passat. This reversal is rather out of character. The strange shift behavior SHOULD dissipate over time as the transmission learns the style of the primary driver. I have noticed that my program car has gotten better over those 4000 miles I’ve driven it – but the characteristic does rear its head every now and then.

    Thanks to the new features (especially the new MIB2 Infotainment system!) and the evolution in styling (and the lighting package!! Wow!), which isn’t over the top as the car is literally only 4 model years old… I think this is a great car that provides ample reasons to shop it when in the market for a midsized sedan (that is more than full-sized in reality.)

    Again, thanks for the good review and sorry if the length of my tome response seems like another review altogether. 🙂
    Happy Motoring and keep ’em coming!

  • mchan1

    The reviewer forgot to mention whether or not the Passat has the proprietary jack/cable for the infotainment system or a USB port, the former which many people hate?
    Also, why a small clock in the middle console?
    I’ve noticed that the seats stunk not only in the Passat but the new 2015 Golf as well which is why I gave up on the Golf for another car.
    It’s still relatively pricey compared to other auto maker’s models and you have to deal with the lousy VW sales/service dealership people, at least in my area.

  • craigcole

    Hi Chuck,
    Thanks for the great comment! I’ve changed the average fuel economy figure you pointed out. Damn typos!

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  • timjb31

    I have owned 2 Passats: prior 2001.5 GLX V6 sedan fwd stick, and my current 2005 GLX wagon Tiptronic 4Motion V6. Both have had superb build quality and performance/handling. The ’05 has had a fair share of CEL and engine management issues. Which does give me pause about buying another VW. Had a 2013 Passat 1.8T rental a couple of years ago and liked it a lot. One HUGE negative that wold deter me and many others I suspect: out of ~8 trims/packages, roughly 5 have vinyl seats as the ONLY choice. The base model has cloth. The 2 SEL Premium models have leather. VW at least make cloth a no-cost option or leather an added cost option on the trims with vinyl. I don’t know a single person anywhere that desires VINYL seats. Get a clue! I will NEVER buy ANY car with vinyl seats!!!

  • phil

    Is anyone seriously still considering buying a VW these days lol

  • mikeammo

    Kakkkakaa Phil idiot. Yes! I have owned two Passats Phil and never had an issue none no issue with either car…

  • Isend2C

    Since the 2016 Malibu debuted with the 1.5T as the base engine this year should that line maybe be changed?

    I think that any midsized sedan with numerous shortcomings isn’t taking the segment seriously enough. The Accord has almost no faults, and the Mazda6 is so often praised (But I want more power than a lame base engine) and even the Ford Fusion is a stronger contender than this. However, I’ve never been a huge fan of VW, especially not since they decided to offer us lame American-ized versions of good, competent Euro models.