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Passat: Unusual features to a mainstream segment

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Passat: Unusual features to a mainstream segment

The 2012 Passat

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POSTED May 2, 2012 7:06 p.m.

The 2012 Passat is Volkswagen's first German-American offspring that satisfies for its European sensitivity and U.S.-spec comfort and compliance. The new model was re-engineered to meet the demands and expectations of this country, and it is the first model built at the new factory in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The planners got into my head — the collective head of U.S. drivers — and delivered a car that I would like. This is not a diluted sedan to accommodate unsophisticated driving requirements. It is somewhat unique for a standard six-speed manual transmission, and the Passat is the only midsize sedan with a diesel-engine option. Premium models have entry-luxury refinement and accommodations.

The new model is a full-fledged midsize sedan. It is 4.1 inches longer than before, most of which went to rear legroom (huge at 39.1 inches) and trunk space. The wheelbase is 3.7 inches longer, which gives a more settled, large-car ride. But a taut suspension and reserved curb weight (3,166 to 3,459 pounds) help the Passat carve through corners.

Sold in three trim levels and three engine and transmission choices, starting prices range from $20,765 to $33,750 for the 280-hp V-6, including free scheduled maintenance for three years or 36,000 miles. Standard features include automatic air conditioning, Bluetooth phone connection and eight-way adjustable driver's seat.

The Passat engine family is a three-bears situation. The base 2.5-liter five-cylinder may be too small for some and the V-6 too much, but the diesel is just right. The 2.0-liter, four-cylinder TDI is a mighty-mite with V-6 power and 236 foot-pounds of torque at a low 1,750 rpm. The DSG has a Sport model that gives much sharpened and pleasing punch.

The TDI diesel, today's test car, would be my choice and I expect it will make many new converts to this alternative fuel choice. It has fuel economy of 31/43 mpg city/hwy with the manual or 30/40 with the six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox, an automated manual. I drove more than 500 miles in my week of testing and got a low of 35.3 around town and 48.8 on the highway with the DSG, according to the onboard mileage counter.

Electric power steering is light to the touch but with a sport-tuned response. The four-wheel disc braking is absolute, but it can be grabby until the driver adapts.

An American midsize sedan is judged on its comfort, interior spaciousness, trunk size, back seat room, fuel economy, performance and styling. VW worked the numbers to have top ratings in the specifications and created a crisp and conservative environment devoid of style gimmicks. Sightlines are clear from all angles and entry and exit is wide open with a high hip point for comfortable access. A rearview camera is not available but always appreciated for its third dimension of driveway and parking-lot awareness. 40.6-inches of front headroom is outstanding and contributes to a wide and spacious atmosphere. Controls, switches and buttons are ergonomically correct and intuitive. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has good heft and grips in the right places to assert confidence. Back-seat space is gracious, with a fold-down center armrest, ski-pass through and a 60/40 split folding seatback to expand the wide and low trunk space of 15.9 cubic feet.

Ride quality on the highway is steady, but there is tire noise on stretches of concrete interstate. And back-seat occupants agreed that there was less rear soundproofing than in the front.

The Passat leaves an overall impression of sportiness, down to the handbrake lever and not a foot-pumper. And while Volkswagen did achieve American size matters, it kept the European driving attitude.


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