It turns out the new 2012 Volkswagen Passat is the peoples’ car, after all.
What it is: A populist reincarnation of the German automaker’s upscale sedan.
Base prices range from $19,995 to $32,950; mileage ranges from 20 miles per gallon in the city to 32 miles per gallon on the highway.
What’s worth knowing: Volkswagen has ambitious plans, with aggressive efforts underway to seize share in the U. S. market and perhaps become the world’s biggest automaker. So it’s been retooling its lineup to maximize its appeal to mainstream buyers at all levels. The Passat, freshly redesigned, is now several thousand dollars cheaper than it used to be, which puts it in direct competition with the most popular family sedans on the market. One sign VW’s expansion plan is working: Motor Trend named the Passat its 2012 Car of the Year.
What’s good: The Passat has a handsome, well-designed cabin and the nimble road manners of a smaller, lighter car. The dash is highly functional without being cluttered, and an easy-to-use touch-screen sound system is standard on most trim lines. The rear seat has copious legroom and the trunk is spacious too. In addition to several gas-powered models, there’s a turbodiesel that averages 30 MPG city and 40 MPG highway. For folks who want to buy American, the Passat is assembled at VW’s new plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
What’s bad: Base prices are for models that have a 5-speed manual transmission, with an automatic adding about $1,100 to the price. And the $19,995 starter price excludes some features that give the Passat its panache, like the touch-screen audio system and an adjustable front armrest. Also, the bland styling doesn’t make much of a statement.
How it stacks up: The family-sedan market is crowded, with several terrific offerings. The Accord and Camry and proven, reliable go-to vehicles. The Hyundai Sonata/Kia Optima twins offer better mileage and more features for the money. The Mazda6 and Suzuki Kizashi are sportier, while the Subaru Legacy’s all-wheel drive makes it the most reassuring foul-weather four-door. The Passat’s standout quality is a tad more stateliness than competing models offer.
What to do if you want one: The SE trim line, which starts at about $24,000, may represent the best value, with a full suite of sensible features but few expensive add-ons. Give the 5-speed manual transmission a try, if you can drive one. And stick with the standard 5-cylinder engine unless you’re willing to pay up for extra horsepower you’ll rarely need, and extra fuel you don’t need to burn.