Big on Technology, Lacks Charisma
A mid-size sedan isn't a car that enthusiasts actively go out searching for (though, Tesla would beg to differ). The key to finding the right sedan for you and your family is looking at the numbers—mpg, price, etc—and making an educated decision. For most buyers, that decision comes in the form of the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. Two of the most well-respected sedans around.
But for the rest of the segment, cars like Passat are constantly pushing to dethrone the traditional favorites, and lay claim to the sales crown. For 2016, an all-new (refreshed) Passat, Volkswagen hopes, will be the Camry-killer they've been looking to build all along.
Vanilla Ice Cream—Hold the Vanilla The refresh you see here isn't very refreshing. Put the previous generation and current generation side by side and it's hard to tell the two apart. Volkswagen's German sensibility is failing them here, as it continues to spill over into other cars in the lineup (read; Golf). The one positive thing we can say about the exterior design is that no one can actually say it's ugly. It's not. But Volkswagen designers tried exceedingly hard to make "a car," with no dramatics or creativity involved. It's a sad departure from Volkswagen products of lore.
Keeping With the Times Good news: technology on the Passat is finally up to par. Gone is Volkswagen's useless pre-fit cable, in its place a standard USB. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink (Google it) are adapted to the touchscreen systems. Even passengers in the back seats can utilize the infotainment systems from a USB located in the rear. When it comes to safety, Volkswagen spared no expense. Adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, rear traffic alert, lane assist, park assist, and (gasps for air) park alert are all available SE trims and above. That's good news for the driver and passengers that will undoubtedly be riding in comfort. Big leather seats paired with a class-leading 39.1-inches of rear legroom gives anyone inside plenty to be excited about. Things like faux wood paneling and cheap plastic fitments are unfortunate, though, not all that unexpected. Overall, the interior is still a nice place to be and loaded with technology.
Efficiency or Competency? Volkswagen fitted the Passat with two engines: a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder turbo, and a 3.6-liter naturally-aspirated V6. Both have positive and negative aspects to them. Let's start with the former. The 1.8-liter engine returns a respectable 25 city / 38 highway mpg. But the 170 horsepower under the hood and the standard six-speed automatic have no desire to get you anywhere quickly. For comparison's sake, it's the least powerful car in the segment—and feels like it. The 3.6-liter V6, on the other hand, inspires confidence. Get on the gas hard and all 280 horses come to life ready and able to do their job. Even the 6-speed DSG makes you believe—if just for a second—that it's a halfway sporty vehicle. Downside? It's returning a dismal 20 city / 28 highway mpg. If this were 2002, that would be completely acceptable. But it's not.
Autonomous, Almost The critiques of this car are heavy and long-winded, but at least one aspect gives us hope as to why someone might buy it over the competition. With the use of all the driver aids mentioned, the car can, to an extent, drive itself. Note: don't try this at home. The adaptive cruise control and lane assist work together in perfect harmony to keep the vehicle centered and composed. Without touching the wheel (again, don't try this), the Passat was able to navigate a few curvy Vermont roads on its own. It kept a perfect pace with the car in front of it, never once feeling jumpy or confused, and read even difficult lane lines without fault. It's very much best-in-class when it comes to driver assists and ease of use.
The Verdict In a world where the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord reign supreme, and the competition continually grows more advanced, the Passat struggles. Things like interior space, comfort, and driver assists keep it relevant in the conversation, but the entirety of the car leaves much to be desired. Starting at $22,240, it remains one of the cheaper cars in the segment, and features everything you'd expect technology-wise in 2015. But at the end of the day, this refresh isn't doing much to draw new buyers. If your heart is set on Passat, you might want to wait until an all-new car, on an all-new platform, arrives in 2019. Specs Engine: 1.8L 4-Cylinder Turbo / 3.6L V6 Horsepower: 170 / 280 MPG: 38 combined / 28 combined Price (base): $22,440 Positives Advanced driver aids Comfortable Interior Negatives Extremely dull 4-cylinder engine is lifeless No TDI yet (for obvious reasons)