A superb value for a German sedan, if you can live with the styling

By Jim Prueter

(August 9, 2018) It may be a surprise many people that the best-selling automotive brand in the world isn’t Toyota or Ford or General Motors. Last year, Volkswagen had record global sales of over 10 million vehicles, knocking Toyota out of the top spot.

Here in the U.S., Volkswagen sales for 2017 grew 5.2 percent for the year with just total 339,676 vehicles sold. That number didn’t even crack the top ten manufacturers, falling behind brands like Hyundai and Subaru.

But that isn’t all bad news, with Volkswagen seemingly turning the corner and reconnecting with the auto buying public. Just over two years ago, Volkswagen admitted that it had used illegal software to cheat on diesel emissions testing, resulting in a federal investigation and lawsuit from customers and dealers. Volkswagen has agreed to pay $22 billion in settlements and fines, along with buying back or fixing diesel models equipped with the illegal software.

Despite the fact that Volkswagen since has announced plans to invest more than $24 billion in zero-emission vehicles and to roll out 80 new electric vehicles across all of its brands by 2025, they still have cars to sell today and updates to help draw consumers to dealer showrooms. Case in point — the flagship 2018 Passat tested here, a mid-sized family sedan with a full-sized car interior.

Designed for American tastes, the Passat is built in Tennessee with a flavoring of European heritage. For the 2018 model year, the big news for the vehicle is a new base powertrain featuring a 2.0-liter four-cylinder 174-horsepower engine that replaces the ubiquitous 1.8-liter four-cylinder that Volkswagen engineers seemingly use in everything except their coffee. The new engine is linked to a six-speed automatic transmission. Combined city-highway EPA fuel economy is 29 mpg.

One would expect the 174-horsepower engine to be fairly anemic to power a mid-size sedan. However, surprisingly, I found the new 2.0-liter engine to be stronger than expected, getting up to speed quickly, even with passengers on-board. I did experience find the mild turbo-lag under full acceleration to be less than satisfying.

The other news for 2018 is a new six-year or 72,000-mile “bumper-to-bumper” limited warranty that’s the best in its class, and a new GT trim level powered by a 280-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 engine.

Passat is offered in six trims, including our tested R-Line Passat that slots just above the base S and below the SE.

Competing for buyer’s attention in an extremely competitive segment that includes the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and other credible models, Passat received its last refresh in 2016. For 2018, Passat is mostly a carryover from that update, when it was given a new front and rear design, an updated instrument panel, center stack and new driver assistance features. Last year, the Passat received a modest change to the front grille, and redesigned front and rear bumpers.

Passat is far behind the best-selling leaders in the mid-sized sedan segment and is mostly considered an also-ran when it comes to sales in the segment. Still, there’s much to like about the Passat, including its large interior and trunk capacity, surprisingly good driving dynamics, and a nicely equipped R-Line model that offers incredible value for the money with affordable German engineering.

Inside, the Passat’s cabin is classic Volkswagen with clean, conservative styling that is far from staid or capricious. We liked the heated V-Tex leatherette seating material, leather wrapped steering wheel that both tilts and telescopes, and the front passenger seat that adjusts six ways, including height adjustment. Other nice and unexpected standard features include one-touch power up and down on all four windows, forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking, and blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert.

The Passat’s rear seat spaciousness has always been one of its biggest advantages with big leg and headroom. However, some of my rear seat passengers complained that the seating position was too upright, wishing for an angle that leaned back a bit more.

Standard technology on our R-Line also included adaptive cruise control, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Bluetooth® connectivity, rearview camera system and VW CAR-NET equipped features for Smartphone integration and interface for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink. It’s not a bad system, however, with technology moving so quickly, the small screen and outdated screen seems almost from another era.

Still, there are things that are obviously cost cutting decisions, such as the manual emergency brake pull handle next to the driver’s seat, no pushbutton or remote starting, a manual lever for dimming the rear view mirror and just one USB port in the entire vehicle.

Overall, the Passat’s conservative German styling looks dated when compared to they stylish new Camry, Accord and Sonata, and defies what turns out to be a very nice-handling midsize sedan especially for fans of solid, well-built European touring cars costing thousands — even tens of thousands of dollars — more.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $25,845
Price as Tested: $27,040
Powertrain: 2.0-Liter 174-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Fuel Economy: 25-mpg City – 36-mpg Highway – 29-mpg Combined
Seating: 5

Crash Test Results: Overall the highest five stars rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Competes With:
Chevrolet Malibu
Ford Fusion
Honda Accord
Hyundai Sonata
Kia Optima
Mazda Mazda6
Nissan Altima
Toyota Camry

Fab Features
Spacious cabin, large trunk
Superb road manners and a quiet cabin
Excellent value for a German sedan