Volkswagen didn’t exactly bless the current Passat with the most glamorous bodywork. Though large, and echoing the Audi A8’s super sedan presence while parked and storming the left lane, there’s nothing exciting about it. And, that gets the Passat’s biggest problem out of the way up-front. Step beyond grandma’s polished fenders, and you’ll find one of the best cars in its class. Stir in new features for 2017 and you’re drinking a fancy martini.
There’s a certain upscale elegance to the Passat, especially with revisions made last year. A more expressive front shines with thinner LED headlights and running lamps while the rear is graced with LED taillights blazing a unique signature at night. From a distance, the Passat looks like a Jetta. Up close, it’s large and in charge. Look closer and you notice a more muscular hood and neatly tailored bodylines with complex stampings. Anchor it with 18-inch alloys.
Unless we’re talking about a Duesenberg or Ferrari, cars aren’t best enjoyed from the outside. Sliding in, you notice how roomy the Passat is – more full-size than mid-size. Heated leather seats front and rear, dual-zone automatic climate control, power moonroof, and ambient footwell lighting are a start to the Passat’s comforts. The dash, seats, and doors crib '80s Mercedes – which means they’re simply styled, but with long-distance ergonomics.
Listening to Elvis’ new album, “The Wonder of You,” with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was pure joy through the Fender audio system that connects with iThings via USB or Bluetooth. The latest touchscreen is very easy to use with colorful icons and can be swiped like an iPad or voice controlled. Proper volume and tuning knobs below are as they should be. Keyless entry and starting makes accessing the Passat a cinch.
As a true German sedan, safety is top-of-class. Forward Collison Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking are now standard. Our car also had Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control that automatically keeps a safe distance, rearview camera, and semi-autonomous parallel parking system. Rain-sensing wipers keep the windshield clear automatically.
I’ve driven the Passat with diesel and turbocharged four-cylinder engines, but real gusto streams from the 3.6-liter V6 that delivers 280 horsepower to the front wheels through a six-speed DSG automatic transmission. At 20/28-MPG city/hwy, the V6 gives up 6 MPG over the turbo-four, but gains an additional 110 horsepower. The four-cylinder is not underpowered, but the V6 is the way to get your kicks.
Every time I test a Passat, I just want to find wide open highway and give it a good flog. With any engine, VW’s big sedan craves the left lane where it can lock onto the horizon and get you and there quickly. The chassis is a bump eraser and is light on its four-wheel independent suspension to sachet through corners and undulating backroads. Handling belies its size, standing up to any car in its class. It may still look like the three boxes your dishes arrived in, but it’s a grand way to travel.
You can certainly buy a more expressive mid-size sedan, but you won’t find one that’s better able to stretch continents and do so while making passengers feel like they’re traveling first class in a car costing twice its price. All that, and it’s assembled near Chattanooga, Tennessee in a LEED® Platinum-certified manufacturing plant. A base price of $22,440, or $34,815 lavishly equipped, makes the Passat a tough competitor for cars like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Maxima, Chevy Malibu, and Subaru Legacy.
2017 VW Passat V6 SEL
- Five-passenger, FWD Sedan
- Powertrain: 280hp 3.6-liter V6, 6-spd auto trans
- Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
- Wheels f/r: 18”/18” alloy
- Brakes f/r: disc/disc
- Must-have features: Interior, Performance
- Fuel economy: 20/28 mpg city/hwy
- Assembly: Chattanooga, TN
- Base/as-tested price: $22,440/34,815