2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T R-Line — A winner in a shrinking segment

By Paul Borden

(November 13, 2017) One can never be sure — there are always grammar nazis around ready to jump on you for the slightest misuse of a term — but I think I have this right. One of the ironies in the automotive world today is that the better manufacturers are making sedans, the fewer the public seems to be interested in buying.

If that doesn't fit the exact definition of the term “ironic” or “irony,” please take your complaint elsewhere because that’s not the point here. Just reread the part of the second paragraph that starts with the words “… that the better,” which is the gist of today’s review.

Yes, we are headed into a country where crossovers and SUVs overrun our streets, if we haven’t gotten there already. The family sedan? Not so much.

Consider, the latest U.S. sales numbers show that last October seven of the top 10 selling family sedans — Honda Civic and Accord, Toyota Camry and Corolla, Nissan Sentra and Altima, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Elantra, and Chevrolet Malibu and Cruze — all showed declining numbers for the month over the same time period last year.

Same thing for year-to-date sales comparing 2017 to 2016. They are down anywhere from 2.3 to 22.6 percent for seven of the top 10.

To be fair here, sales of seven of the top-10 selling SUVs were also down for October, but only two of the top 10 were down for the year-to-date.

As a segment, passenger car sales were down 600,000 units over the same time a year ago, according to data compiled on the website goodcarbadcar.net.

Analyzing the reasons for all this is something that is beyond my pay grade. I’m just here to say that, despite the declining sales numbers, it appears to me that the choices in the affordable sedan segment long dominated by the likes of the Toyota Camry and Corolla and Honda’s Civic and Accord are more varied than ever.

If you don’t like the Japanese imports, you have many other quality options for sensible, comfortable, and affordable family transportation.

I would include the 2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T R-Line high in that group.

The R-Line is one of four trim lines VW offers on the Passat for 2017. The German manufacturer — though the Passat comes out of the VW assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. — calls it the “most sporting variant” of the group with 19-inch wheels, unique rocker panels and grille, a different front bumper, and chrome-tipped exhaust among distinguishing marks.

Other standard equipment includes 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support (manual for the passenger), leatherette seat surfaces, leather-wrapped steering wheel, brake lever, and shift knob, R-line interior trim, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a rearview camera and blindspot monitoring system with rear traffic alert, a six-speaker sound system, and a 6.3-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system.

It also features VW’s Intelligent Crash Response System, which in the event of a crash unlocks all the doors in the car (making for quicker access by emergency responders), activates all the interior lights, and disengages the fuel pump (stopping the engine and reducing the risk of fire) and all high-voltage electronics.

Oh. And the ICRS also turns on the hazard lights to let others know where you are and that you are in trouble. (Three words here to you who turn on your hazard lights when driving in the rain: STOP DOING THAT!)

All that is included in the base MSRP of $24,795 including the $820 destination and delivery charge. That’s a small step up from the $23,260 asking price for the base 1.8T S and well under the $34,715 tag for the top of the line V6 SEL Premium model.

Often, an “R” designation on a car model denotes a vehicle with enhanced performance, but that’s not so much the case with the Passat R-Line. Handling is improve
d, but it comes with a 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine also found in the S, SE, and SEL trips. You can get a V6, which boosts the MSRP up to $30,115 for the SE w/Technology and $34,815 for the SEL Premium.

The 1.8T produces 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, the V6 280/258, respectively. Mated with a 6-speed automatic transmission, the 1.8T is rated at 23 miles-per-gallon city, 34 highway, and 27 combined, which a bit below average for its class, but the overall driving experience is enhanced when the sport mode setting is engaged, which makes up for that.

I just reminded myself that I wasn’t driving a sport sedan and was OK with the 1.8T experience.

The interior is a tad short of luxury class, but easy on the eyes. It is functional, comfortable, quiet and also roomy. Front legroom is over 42 inches, rear just over 39.

The infotainment system is easy to operate (thank you, VW, for providing knobs to adjust volume and surf the radio dial and knobs for the A/C). The touch screen is on the small side, but my test vehicle did not come with navigation so screen size really wasn’t an issue this time.

I’m not sure why VW went back to a pull-lever on the console for the parking brake after earlier models, like the 2007 Passat Wagon my wife drives, operated with the push of a button, but that’s not really a deal breaker. Think of it as exercise.

In short, the Passat 1.8T R-Line is a very capable sedan that provides a choice for the buyer who likes to think outside the box. If it doesn’t stand out from its competitors as exceptional, it does everything well and is a solid entrant in a competitive class.

What I liked about the 2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T R-Line: The cabin is very roomy, and it also has good trunk space for a midsize (15.9 cubic feet).

What didn’t like about the 2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T R-Line: I’d like a little more kick when it comes to throttle response.

Would I buy the 2017 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T R-Line? Yes. My recommendation may be influenced by the good experience I have had with my wife’s Passat Wagon for nearly a decade, but the new sedan stands solidly on its own as well.