The Passat has been transformed from bumper to bumper, and the transformation is remarkable. The completely redesigned Volkswagen Passat is bigger, a better value and has lost some of its German accent since coming to America. Now built in a new plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., it seems to have picked up a southern drawl and it’s still a mighty fine automobile.
Yes, the “das auto” gang has gone mainstream USA and the new Passat competes head-on against the likes of the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata. In these volatile and changing financial times, if you want to compete with the big boys it can be both cost-effective and safer to produce high-volume products in major markets.
While the new Passat is bigger in almost every way, it retains upmarket premium qualities and technical delights that make a VW, well, a VW. A major one being its TDI Clean Diesel engine, which in the Passat is an award-winning turbocharged 2.0-litre that offers great fuel economy and produces an amazing 236 lbs.-ft of torque at 1,750 rpm.
In addition to the reintroduction of the TDI edition, probably the sweetest piece of news for Canadian consumers is its lower price. Passat now starts at just $23,975, which is $3,800 lower than the 2010 edition. Besides TDI, there are 2.5-litre and 3.6-litre V6 engine versions.
The TDI (starting at $27,475) is of particular importance to Canadians, where VW expects that it will account for about 45 per cent of new Passat sales. The V6 is expected to outsell the TDI in the U.S., but when you look at the fuel economy numbers and then drive the TDI, it’s easy to understand why Canadians love it.
The Passat TDI differs from the Jetta TDI in that it comes with the extra-clean Ad-Blue exhaust emissions system. Service intervals are every 15,000 kilometres and there’s a warning system that alerts the driver when its fluid level is getting low. The 2.5-litre and TDI versions of the new Passat come in Treadline, Treadline+, Comfortline and Highline trim levels. The V6 Passat only comes in Comfortline and Highline trim levels. My test TDI Passat was a Trendline+ edition that came without any options and a list price of $28,875.
While VW obviously wasn’t trying to push design boundaries with the new Passat, it’s also a design that few will dislike. Plus, trademark VW design cues give it some distinguishing elements. The big changes are dimensional, including a wheelbase that’s almost nine centimetres longer than its predecessor. Looking a little closer, there’s a subtle character crease that runs from the trailing edge of the headlight rearward, above the door handles, and connects with the wraparound tail light assembly.
While seating capacity remains the same, the cabin space is greatly enhanced, especially for rear-seat occupants. Large doors also allow them to get in or out easier. In addition, the doors are sculptured on the inside to allow extra shoulder room and make it a genuine five-seat sedan. Volkswagen interiors are generally top in class and the new Passat is no exception. Nothing flashy, it’s just a calm, functional layout with good materials. My test Passat TDI was the basic version, yet the cabin had a more upscale ambience and its cloth upholstery had a durable feel.
Laser seam-welding helps create the Passat’s extra rigid body structure, which also comes with six standard airbags. Unique to VW is an Intelligent Crash Response System (ICRS). It automatically springs into action following a serious collision, cuts off fuel supply, unlocks doors, disconnects the battery from the alternator and turns on the hazard warning lights.
Historically, diesel fuel has been cheaper to buy than regular gasoline, but these days it seems to be more expensive, and I’m not sure why. I paid $1.36/litre and at the same station regular gasoline was $1.30/litre at. An extra five to six cents per litre for diesel appears to be typical these days, but just like gasoline, its price fluctuates.
That said, the torque-rich TDI engine makes the most of every litre of diesel and provides outstanding fuel economy. The tachometer turns red at 5,000 rpm (vs. 7,000 for the gasoline version) and with transmission in “D” shifts are made at about 2,000 rpm. Slipping the DSG transmission down into its “S” mode ups the shift pattern to around 3,000 rpm and makes it move in a more urgent, sporty style. On the highway, the new Passat is exceptionally quiet and comfortable and its softer suspension is better tuned for the rigours of U.S. interstate highway travel. Yes, it’s lost some agility and handling sharpness, but overall it’s still a very good driving experience that many will view as an improvement.
The new roomier and more affordable 2012 Volkswagen Passat has adapted to life in America. The TDI engine edition is still unique in the marketplace and it offers outstanding fuel economy and terrific pulling power.