2012 Volkswagen Passat 2.5 SE (USA)

 photo Picture020_zpsceb0eafc.jpg  photo Picture082_zps67f05f27.jpg  photo Picture118_zps4754dff2.jpg  photo Picture081_zpsd3a9c822.jpg  photo Picture088_zps13fd738e.jpg 
   photo Picture121_zps82a3bc33.jpg  photo Picture123_zps686529e3.jpg  photo Picture114_zpsd4a27c31.jpg  photo Picture113_zps218de120.jpg  photo Picture119_zpsf25e4c44.jpg  photo Picture110_zps76d01e91.jpg   photo Picture117_zpsece26615.jpg
 photo Picture108_zps7c2f703b.jpg  photo Picture115_zps465f763a.jpg  photo Picture109_zps080e5910.jpg  photo Picture041_zpscaa66493.jpg  photo Picture102_zps9dad8da1.jpg
   photo Picture116_zpse4ff38cf.jpg  photo Picture107_zps30ea6400.jpg  photo Picture097_zps7d25631c.jpg  photo Picture105_zps61b2c311.jpg  photo Picture104_zps4012259a.jpg  photo Picture103_zps21469afe.jpg  photo Picture100_zps9e38c04f.jpg
 photo Picture101_zps71de60a1.jpg  photo Picture099_zps2d31e270.jpg  photo Picture098_zpsfee8fb6a.jpg  photo Picture094_zpse63400ec.jpg  photo Picture091_zps790dbfdb.jpg  photo Picture122_zps63803aa1.jpg  photo Picture089_zps4fef4394.jpg   photo Picture080_zpse96d3eaa.jpg  photo Picture079_zpsa53f38c8.jpg  photo Picture077_zps79784984.jpg 
 photo Picture071_zps269fa59b.jpg  photo Picture075_zpsd24c34d3.jpg  photo Picture013_zps3b72c37b.jpg  photo Picture021_zps643291bc.jpg  photo Picture051_zpsd00798ca.jpg  photo Picture056_zps94047977.jpg  photo Picture066_zps2e79f43f.jpg
   photo Picture059_zps759ad7dd.jpg  photo Picture058_zps62b7fac4.jpg  photo Picture053_zpsc4b8297d.jpg  photo Picture052_zpsd6f04e90.jpg  photo Picture050_zpsaa6804a0.jpg
 photo Picture046_zps59228d44.jpg  photo Picture045_zps3b80704b.jpg  photo Picture039_zps5e2e603b.jpg
 photo Picture036_zps05d88459.jpg  photo Picture030_zps7873b9b6.jpg  photo Picture043_zps1430d645.jpg  photo Picture044_zps3111cdee.jpg photo Picture026_zps5d0edd4b.jpg  photo Picture055_zps450cad16.jpg  photo Picture047_zpseb599ea7.jpg
 photo Picture024_zps7662d2c5.jpg  photo Picture033_zps85fa8cab.jpg  photo Picture017_zps8c16f609.jpg  photo Picture031_zpsedddd9f5.jpg  photo Picture025_zps0f08c2fe.jpg 
In a matter of weeks, the Passat will celebrate its 40th birthday. In that time, the first of VW’s front engined front wheel drive cars, which literally saved the company that had stuck with the Beetle for too long, has been seen in five different models, or seven if you count the extensive facelift to the third generation and believe that the current model really was “all new” when launched in 2010. Although it has been a huge commercial success for VW, right from the beginning, it has always had to live in the shadow of its far more successful smaller brother, the Golf, which has always outsold it by a significant margin. Even in America, where larger cars almost always sell more strongly than smaller ones, the Passat has not been VW’s best selling car, with that honour going to the Jetta. The first American market Passats were given the odd name of Dasher, but VW soon changed this, and have used the same moniker for what is essentially the same car as the one familiar to Europeans. However, when the current Euro Passat was facelifted (or replaced if you believe VW’s PR speak), the decision was taken to try to bolster American sales by building a Passat that was more in tune with perceived American needs. The result was a completely different car, which although sharing a lot of VW DNA in terms of looks and componentry, and partially based on the same platform as the European cars, is unique to the American, Canadian and Mexican markets, built in the Chattanooga plant. Following the lead set by the Jetta, VW decided that the quality of its cars had too high a price for the American consumer, who appeared simply not prepared to pay the necessary premium. So out went expensive things like independent rear suspension (“they’ll either not notice, or not care”!) and a lot of the interior plastics were downgraded. In return, US customers got a bigger car with more space in it, and a lower price. It worked with the Jetta, where sales rocketed, and it would appear also to have worked with the Passat, which notched up over 117,000 sales in the US in 2012. It certainly impressed the journalists at Motor Trend, who liked the car so much that they awarded it their coveted “Motor Trend Car of the Year” for 2012. Perhaps because this is now “an American car” and also thanks to its cheaper price tag, the Passat now features in the Hertz rental fleet. It is classified as a “Full Size” car (Group F), which places it alongside the Camry, Altima, Fusion, Sonata, Optima and Malibu. Having just tested both the latest Nissan Altima and Hyundai Sonata, and been impressed by both, getting behind the wheel of the Passat gave me an ideal opportunity to see if the German/American alternative is at least as worthy, or better.

 photo Picture096_zps77448385.jpg  photo Picture095_zpsf20743fa.jpg  photo Picture086_zpsa0ee1082.jpg  photo Picture093_zps88c3f917.jpg  photo Picture092_zps13080153.jpg  photo Picture090_zps467ebd5c.jpg  photo Picture084_zps89a5d8c9.jpg
 photo Picture038_zps1ae7c699.jpg  photo Picture027_zpsf9ee6d38.jpg  photo Picture037_zpsee15ec89.jpg  photo Picture029_zps57eb0946.jpg  photo Picture034_zps7f332a09.jpg

US market Passats are available with three different engines. Top of the range is the 280 bhp V6 3.6 litre engine, and the unusual choice for the US market is the 2.0 TDi unit putting out 140 bhp, but  these do not feature in the rental models, which come instead with the very familiar 2.5 litre 5 cylinder unit. I’d previously experienced this unit in the old model Jetta and Beetle and had enjoyed the fact that there are occasions when it does sound distinctively different from your more commonly found 4 or 6 cylinder machine. Standard transmission for this unit is a five speed manual, but as with all rental cars, the six speed Tiptronic automatic box featured in my test car.  With “only” 170 bhp and the large body of the Passat, you might fear that this would not be a quick car, and indeed, there were times when I needed a sudden burst of acceleration to pull out around a slow vehicle when I had to work the engine quite hard, probably harder than you might expect to get that speed increase. Noise levels rise a lot as a consequence, but the Passat always delivered. Driven mode sedately, it is fine, and there is always that off-beat thrum that you can hear at moderate revs. Otherwise this is a refined unit, and freeway cruising is quiet, with just a trace of wind noise audible. As with its recently sampled rivals, fuel economy was better than I would have predicted. I took the Passat on a similar route to the Sonata, and it was not quite so parsimonious, using 10.4 gallons over 314 miles, equating to 30.1 mpg US, or 36 mpg Imperial, a commendable figure indeed. The acid test was always going to be the other driving dynamics as this is where VW has taken cost out with a simpler specification than in Euro Passat. The steering is not as light or vague as in some of its competitors, though it lacks the sharpness and precision that is needed to take class honours in a European spec car (ie to rival a Mondeo), but it did mean that manoeuvering the Passat was as easy as piloting it on the freeway and other roads. I took the Passat up onto the canyons up above Los Angeles to see how it coped with the swooping bendy roads, and the answer was that it was not bad. Again, it lacks the ultimate prowess of a Mondeo, with quite a lot of understeer becoming evident on the tighter twists and turns, but compared with US market alternatives, it is not wide of the mark. Thanks no doubt to the long wheelbase and the soft suspension, it rides well, tackling California’s notoriously deteriorated road surfaces without undue discomfort. The brakes needed quite a firm application of pressure on the pedal but otherwise worked well. I was quite surprised to find a conventional pull up handbrake lever between the seats, as Euro Passat was one of the first cars to convert to the electric nonsense. There is plenty of glass, so visibility is not bad, though the door mirrors are pretty small and have a slightly restricted field of view.

 photo Picture010_zpsb832abfb.jpg  photo Picture012_zpsb6e210fe.jpg  photo Picture016_zps37a88a7c.jpg  photo Picture032_zps068f3c8b.jpg  photo Picture064_zps13504e43.jpg

At first glance, the cabin of the Passat looks very much like any other VW product. Indeed, it has clearly raided the corporate parts bin for many of the individual components that go to make up an interior. There is a standard looking VW steering wheel, and the instrument dials, the column stalks, the audio unit, the air conditioning controls and some of the door furniture are all very familiar looking. However, look a bit harder and poke things, and you soon realise that whilst these elements are the same, the main dash moulding, and the door casings are not. They are far harder than those used in the Wolfsburg cars, and whilst from a distance they do not look bad, they do lack some of the same feeling of quality that defines the modern VW. That said, everything seemed to operate with a welcome precision, and gave you the impression it would last well. There is a single cowl covering the instrument binnacle. In this you will find two large dials for speedometer and rev counter, and the fuel gauge and water temperature are little dials set in the base of the larger ones. The graphics are particularly clear and unfussy making them easy to read. There is a display area for the various on board computer messages between the dials, and you cycle through the rather large number of menus and sub menus with some of the buttons on the right hand steering wheel spoke. Everything is here from average and instant fuel consumption to various warnings that you can set for doors open and speed limits, as well as some vehicle information. The wipers and indicators operate off column stalks which are identical to those in all current VAG Group products, and there is a rotary dial on the left of the dash for the lights. Centre of the dash contains the audio unit, which also looks very familiar, In the test car as well as AM/FM radio and a CD slot, it had an expired XM satellite radio subscription, which was frustrating (but not uncommon in rental cars as the initial deal tends only to be for 90 days), and it also sported a touch sensitive screen which was nice and which made it easier to use. Underneath this unit are the rotary dials and buttons for the air conditioning system, again which are just like those you will find in other VW models. There are repeater buttons on the steering wheel spokes for many audio unit features as well as the cruise control switches and the set up for the on board computer.

 photo Picture006_zpse41a2b4f.jpg  photo Picture005_zpsc42b39ef.jpg  photo Picture008_zpsea32e6a0.jpg  photo Picture011_zpsf9194c16.jpg  photo Picture057_zpsd5e286ef.jpg

On this model, adjustment for the driver’s seat is all electric, and that included a lumbar support as well. It made getting my ideal driving position easy, and thanks to the lumbar control, I was comfortable sitting in the Passat for a long trip on the 10 freeway. I did note that the central armrest is set well back, so certainly someone with my proportions would find it of no use at all, as it was too far behind me. This does not bother me, as I do not like finding an armrest in the way of my elbow anyway.

 photo Picture028_zpsba35485e.jpg  photo Picture076_zps68be2353.jpg  photo Picture078_zps3ac1c7e5.jpg  photo Picture049_zpsd5ea52c8.jpg  photo Picture048_zps6e94ce09.jpg

The biggest gain in a US Passat is the amount of space in it. The car has a longer wheelbase than its competitors, and it shows when you look inside the cabin. With the front seat set to suit my driving position, there was a veritable acre for the person travelling behind, almost rivalling Skoda Superb levels for leg room. Even with the front seats set well back, there is definitely more space in here than any of the competitors listed in the first paragraph of this test report. There is ample width across the car, so three adults would not feel cramped, and headroom is more generous than in some cars with a more sloping rear roofline. There is a central rear armrest which has two cupholders and a lift up lid over a stowage cubby on its upper surface. The boot is also far larger than class average, too, extending a long way back from the rear of the car. It is also quite deep, so you could easily get the luggage for those five adults in here. The rear seat backrests are asymmetrically split and fold forward, though the hole through the backrest is not that large. Inside the cabin, there are bins on all four doors, a reasonable sized glovebox, a cubby under the central armrest, a useful additional cubby on the lower left of the dash above the driver’s knee, and you could use the area in front of the gearlever, sitting on top of the ashtray as space for smaller items such as a phone or camera. Rear seat passengers also get map pockets in the back of the front seats.

 photo Picture007_zps0985ee79.jpg  photo Picture009_zpsadbaf4a9.jpg  photo Picture112_zps319dc038.jpg  photo Picture120_zps2b7da615.jpg  photo Picture040_zpsf952a53b.jpg  photo Picture111_zpsb696cb3c.jpg  photo Picture014_zps5226a403.jpg photo Picture042_zps9c5b63f4.jpg  photo Picture054_zps24786bcc.jpg  photo Picture063_zpseaaf55e8.jpg

US market Passats are offered in S, SE, SEL and SEL Premium variants. The 2.5 models are available in all trims, the TDI is available as the SE and SEL Premium, and the 3.6 litre cars come as the SE with Sunroof and SEL Premium. S equipment includes cloth upholstery, dual zone air conditioning, six-speaker stereo, wireless cell-phone link, split-fold rear seat backs, and a wireless cell-phone link. The S is available with an Appearance Pack that adds 16″ alloy wheels and a centre arm rest for the back-seat. My test car, slightly surprisingly for a rental machine was the next model up the range, the SE. This adds quite a bit of extra equipment including 17″ alloys, a leather like vinyl upholstery, power driver seat, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio and phone controls, heated side-view mirrors, and a stereo with touchscreen controls. Optional packs are the SE with Sunroof, and the SE with Sunroof and Nav which comes with a built-in navigation system and VW’s “Media Device Interface” (MDI) that adds a USB port and a cable for iPod integration into the car’s audio system. The 2.5 SEL adds additional chrome exterior trim, interior footwell lighting, upgraded navigation system, “Fender” audio system, sport seats, rearview camera, and a rear-seat pass through. The top 5 cylinder Passat is the 2.5L SEL Premium. Choosing this model means you get leather upholstery, keyless entry, push-button start, foglamps, power passenger seat, and a memory function for the power driver seat. Similar equipment distinctions apply between the different models in the 2.0 TDi cars, though the TDI SE with Sunroof and Nav. It adds 18″ alloy wheels, chrome-trimmed side mouldings, and fog lamps.  The top TDI model is the SEL Premium. Its features include leather upholstery, sport seats, upgraded navigation system, wood grain interior trim, rearview camera, and the Fender audio system. Top of the range are the V6 powered 3.6 litre models. The lineup starts with the 3.6 SE with Sunroof. Standard equipment includes 18″ alloys, the leather-like vinyl upholstery, sunroof, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, Fender audio system, and foglamps. The SE with Sunroof and Nav adds the sunroof and navigation system, along with MDI and the iPod cable. The 3.6 SEL Premium includes leather seating, wood grain trim, additional chrome interior accents, power passenger seat, rearview camera, upgraded navigation system, and keyless entry with push-button starting. Start price for the basic 2.5S is a whisker over the magic $20,000, at $20,485, though by the time you add the automatic gearbox, that will be a further $2460. Even so, that is absolutely in line with its market competitors, a price point that VW could not achieve with its German made predecessor.

 photo Picture087_zps6142aaa5.jpg  photo Picture085_zps97b8e419.jpg  photo Picture083_zpsb9e1b95b.jpg  photo Picture106_zps1f5eb64c.jpg  photo Picture019_zps84566706.jpg

Commercial success these days more than ever is all about fitness for purpose. So, how does the US market Passat score? It clearly is not as sophisticated as the European market models, so objectively you could say that it is a “miss”, but on reflection, I don’t think that is right. Assessed against what matters in the market where it is sold, it has to be compared not against the Mondeo, the Insignia, the Peugeot 508 and Toyota Avensis, but against its US market competition, of Camry, Malibu and Altima and the like. The acid test is this: when you are at the rental facility and there is a line of all the main competitors in this class, and at Hertz with the exception of the Accord which they rarely stock, this will probably hold true, and you have to pick one, which will you go for? It’s quite a hard choice, now, as standards have improved noticeably in the last few years, but on the evidence of this test, and especially if the badge on the back said “SE” and not “S”, I think I could easily sway to taking the Passat. Yet again, VW would appear to have judged what the market wants and responded accordingly, No wonder they are on such a roll.

 photo Picture004_zpsbcca9e51.jpg  photo Picture003_zps8831d53f.jpg  photo Picture002_zps2cd16bcb.jpg  photo Picture001_zps28ed74ec.jpg  photo Picture015_zps92796849.jpg  photo Picture018_zpsac5ce243.jpg  photo Picture023_zps9d267db6.jpg  photo Picture022_zps3d3ff28f.jpg
 photo Picture074_zps4c93ba95.jpg  photo Picture073_zps5dc0860b.jpg  photo Picture072_zps6f4167ee.jpg  photo Picture070_zps1cd959aa.jpg  photo Picture069_zps0b9476b3.jpg  photo Picture068_zps38de9284.jpg  photo Picture067_zpsd6c098d7.jpg   photo Picture065_zps90f58615.jpg  photo Picture062_zpsbcf56790.jpg  photo Picture061_zps69c826b4.jpg  photo Picture060_zpsac333f10.jpg

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *