CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee–Cruising the gently-rolling back roads through Lynchburg, Tennessee, our route winds and undulates through sleepy towns and past hillsides studded with round hay bales. The air is so thick in the 98-degree heat that it hangs in dense, lazy blue skeins on the hilltops.
At the wheel, I gradually become aware of a slight buzzing sound, barely audible yet strangely at odds with the otherwise whisper-quiet passage of the brand-new vehicle we're travelling in.
Curious, we lower a window and become enveloped in the great, cacophonous roar of a thousand buzzing chainsaws. Like something out of a sci-fi nightmare, it's the thirteen-year, cyclical invasion of the cicadas, a two-inch insect whose relentless drone fills the air with a 100-decibel wall of sound. We hurriedly raise the window and return to our well-insulated sanctuary.
It speaks volumes about the soundproofing quality of the new 2012 Volkswagen Passat; we hardly noticed it for the rest of our drive.
The Passat is indeed quiet. Built right here in Tennessee, it's the first Volkswagen produced in North America since the ill-fated, Pennsylvania-built Rabbit of the late 70s, early 80s. Although German-engineered, it's built for North Americans, by North Americans. The Passat is probably more domestic than most of its home-grown counterparts; other than the engines which are imported from Germany and Mexico, more than 90% of its raw materials are sourced from the US.
Volkswagen has seen unprecedented success with the compact Jetta, which comprises 48% of the brand's business and was largely responsible for this May being the best month in the company's history.
But they have never really been able to crack the mid-size market, lagging far behind the heavy-hitters like Accord, Camry, Fusion and Sonata. Volkswagen is hoping to change that with the new Passat. It's built to North-American tastes (read: large) with volumes of interior space, larger seats and plenty of cupholders.
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