Passat takes swings at mid-size family heavyweights
Volkswagen’s 2012 Passat enters a particularly difficult market a particularly difficult time. The mid-sized/ mid-priced/ mid-level family four-door class has never been more crowded, and the field has never boasted as many exceptional cars from virtually every manufacturer.
When you’re fighting against Accord, Camry, Malibu, Fusion, Legacy, and Altima – and those are just the one I can think of off the top of my head – it’s going to be a hard slog, but VW is coming out swinging with the Passat; touting it as “all-new” for 2012.
And on its website (www.vw.ca - perhaps the easiest-to-remember website in the world), the company is also touting it as Motor Trend magazine’s Car of the Year. Which for some reason, it is, apparently.
Now, it wouldn’t be the Li’l Wadie Ozeroff Car of the Year – that honour would go to the Toyota Camry, if such a prize existed (and it doesn’t, because the title is trademarked by another group; and there wouldn’t be any prize money or tangible benefits, anyway. No soapstone polar bear statue with its name emblazoned on it; no advertising benefits; just a politely worded-letter to the company), but the Passat makes a case for itself.
Well-styled inside and out, it’s a pleasant car in which to sit, in a minimalist way. The interior of my Autonet tester is done in a mostly-grey motif with black accents on the dash and shifter, with a glass roof overhead.
Nothing is unpleasant to they eye or to the touch, and I like VW’s simple gauge layout; tachometer and speedo split by a digital multi-information display. My favourite is a handy combination of range, outside temperature, time and digital speedometer, positioned front and center between the analog dials for easy reading.
You can scroll through a variety of onboard monitoring info via steering-mounted thumb-buttons that take some getting used to, but it isn’t that bad.
There are a number of buttons centered on and around the steering rig, which is good in that it allows a driver to keep hands on the wheel, but in my Comfortline-trim test car it verges on overkill. Paddle shifters behind the wheel allow for driver-selected gearing when the six-speed automatic is in Sport mode, and behind those are the multi-purpose stalks used to operate cruise control, wipers, headlights and washers.
The Comfortline trim of my testmobile (which would be VW’s middle trim in the hierarchy that starts at ‘Trendline; and ends with ‘Highline’) also benefits from a couple option packages. A $2,000 Technology Package bolsters the sound system, upgrading it to Fender Premium audio; and brings a navigation system to the car.
The Sport Package ($1,050) improves the interior with sport bucket seats and carbon fibre trim, and balances the exterior proportions and curb appeal with 18-inch wheels; and it is in the exterior appeal that the Passat really shines - this is a darn good looking car, by any standard.
It’s engine, a 2.5 litre five cylinder gasoline powerplant delivers 170 horses and peaks at 177 lb.-ft. of torque; numbers that are pretty middle of the road for this segment (except that the VW uses five cylinders to get them, where other manufacturers use four).
The Passat would have to come with the company’s top-of-the-line 2.0L diesel engine (and in Highline trim, though that would push the price up) in order to make the short list for the Li’l Wadie Ozeroff Car of the Year award, but it is an overall nice package of design capped with a level of performance adequate for a daily-driver.
As it stands, my 2012 test car, with the described options and at the Comfortline level, would sit on the showroom floor with a sticker of $32,575 before freight and taxes.
2012 Volkswagen Passat
Trim level: Comfortline
Price as tested (before taxes): $32,575
Options on test vehicle: Technology pkg. ($2,150) inc. navigation system, Fender premium audio; auto transmission ($1,400); Sport pkg. ($1,050) inc.: 18-inch wheels with all-season tires, carbon interior trim, sport seats.
Configuration: front engine/ front-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 2.5L 5-cyl./ 6-spd auto. with sequential shift
Power/torque: 170 hp/ 177 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): regular (70L)
Fuel economy ratings: 9.6 L/100km city; 6.7 L/100km hwy
Observed fuel economy: 9.2 L/100km over 380 km
Warranties: 4 years/80,000 km (basic); 5 years/ 100,000 km (powertrain)
Competitors: Chevrolet Malibu; Ford Fusion; Honda Accord; Hyundai Sonata; Toyota Camry.
Strengths: capable engine; good pedal feel; decent accelerator and brake response.
Weaknesses: no keyless start; rear seats don’t fold; not a lot of foot-room in rear seats