It's so popular that Volkswagen recently announced it will add 800 jobs at its Tennessee plant to increase production of the new Passat, the largest Passat ever, to 170,000 units annually by 2013. The increase is expected to expand the plant's workforce to 3,500 by year end.
All new for 2012
Volkswagen focused their sights on North American proclivity when planning the 2012 Passat and that bias is broadly reflected in this large-for-a-mid-size four-door sedan. Despite its domestic bent and US manufacture, the Passat retains much of its Euro genetics, which permeate the vehicle's clean design language and pleasing driving dynamics.
While some might find the orderly form and function of the 2012 Passat a little too compliant, I think VW nailed it. The car projects elegance and symmetry from all angles. I parked my tester next to a 2012 Ford Fusion, and by contrast, the Fusion appeared disjointed and less harmonious than the Passat, yet I've always viewed the Fusion as tidy and together.
The methodical design language is spoken within the Passat as well. Its cabin architecture and layout is remarkably logical yet inviting and appealing. In addition to these attributes, the living space is impeccably assembled and lined with upscale materials, and plenty of them.
If size matters -- and that's a debate best averted -- the 2012 Passat's interior real estate is king. Outside of the fabled VW Phaeton, the new Passat must contain the longest, widest cabin in the company's sedan chronicles.
And if there's an aspect of the airy interior that deserves greater emphasis, it would be the seats. I've always liked dropping my butt into a VW perch, and the optional sport seats in my tester reaffirmed why. The ribbed leather seating surfacing provides outstanding support without subjecting flesh and bone to board-like firmness.
And it's from such comfort that the driving dynamics of this Euro-domestic cross can best be experienced.
Base engine tepidness
While Volkswagen has some delightful engines in their repertoire of powerplants, I don't consider the Passat's 2.5L 5-banger among them. Fortunately, that's the base engine for this vehicle; a high-performance V6 and a turbo-diesel I-4 are optional and would definitely advance the character of this car considerably.
Nonetheless, the 170-hp I-5 is competent, if not a little lethargic. It's suitably refined and while it won't cause heart palpitations, it provides the Passat with sufficient pull to satisfy most, but anyone with a passion for performance will be underwhelmed --count me among the latter.
Although a 5-speed manual gearbox is available, the optional 6-speed automatic is a good choice unless rowing your own is a must. Thanks to my tester's $1,050 Sport Package, it was equipped with shift paddles that made the manual stick largely obsolete. Both the V6 engine and the diesel alternative are hooked to VW's more exotic, DSG 6-speed automatic gearbox. Either drivetrain would be well worth the extra two to four thousand dollars over the "as tested" setup.
My tester was also equipped with the Technology Package, which included navigation and premium Fender audio.
Behind the wheel
Although we think of Volkswagens as German automobiles, the 2012 Passat is built in the US by Americans.
Despite the incongruity, the car exhibits softened European driving dynamics. Yes, it has a Euro-feel to it but I found its ride quality to be oriented more toward comfortable commuting than autobahn rivalry. Not so with the brakes though. The Passat's 4-wheel disc brakes feel decidedly German in their performance, which is to say responsive, direct and linear.
The big sedan isn't as nimble and quick on its feet as the smaller VW Jetta, but the car remains composed and predictable through corners and when emergency maneuvers are undertaken. Overall, the 2012 Passat provides a pleasant operating experience that feels more upscale than its entry price of $23,975 would suggest.
Wrapping the 2012 Passat
Despite its mid-size sedan classification, the 2012 Passat is -- at least on the inside -- a full-size sedan. It delivers quasi-Euro driving dynamics but perhaps more importantly, it can transport five adults in exceptional comfort, and when have we heard that about VW sedans of late?
This is a well-engineered vehicle that deserves a place on everyone's list of prospective sedans, whether at the value end of the scale or the more prestigious end. There's a lot to this sedan, giving buyers plenty of range and choices.
My generously equipped Comfortline edition tipped the register at a reasonable $32,575.
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