2012 Volkswagen Passat

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — There’s an old saying — “Betting the farm” — in other words, betting it all on one roll of the dice. Volkswagen has done just that with its all-new 2012 midsize Passat. It not only created an entirely new generation of this popular vehicle it also built a factory in Chattanooga just to manufacture it for North American consumption.

The new Passat is a true German-engineered vehicle that speaks fluent English. There’s no mistaking its European design. It has a bold stance and body lines that belie a cookie-cutter approach so often associated with this segment. The only “sedate” body part we could see is the new grille. While nice-looking it could have used a bit more “impudence” to match the “take no prisoners” appearance of the rest of this vehicle.

To say Passat has a roomy interior is to say King Kong was a large animal. The rear-seat leg room in this mid-size sedan matches that generally found in stretched versions of luxury vehicles. There aren’t too many sedans where someone sitting in the rear seat can cross their legs without having to be enrolled in kindergarten. Even with the front seats all the way back there’s plenty of comfort for those behind you.

For those who are fans of wind noise you might want to consider something else. The 2012 Passat doesn’t offer any. VW worked very hard to design its glass in layers to block out as much outside noise as possible and they certainly succeeded. If you don’t want to listen to the constant blather of your fellow passengers you can always turn on the available Fender Premium Audio System that was designed exclusively for Volkswagen. 

The 2012 Passat is available in three trim levels – S, SE and SEL – and three different engine choices. First is a 2.5-liter inline 5-cylinder that puts out 170 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque. It can be mated to a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel estimates are 21 mpg city/32 mpg highway for the manual; 22/31 for the automatic.

Second offering is a 3.6-liter VR6 engine that develops 280 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. It’s only available with the six-speed automatic and fuel economy is rated at 20/28.

The real “Highwayman” is the TDI Clean Diesel. Find us another family sedan that has a maximum cruise range of 795 miles with a fuel capacity of 18.5 gallons. Its numbers are 31/43 — manual or automatic. While 140 horsepower doesn’t sound all that impressive, the same engine with 236 pound-feet of torque is and in all the road variables (rural, highway and passing) we put it through it proved to be a real champ. VW has been a long-time developer of clean diesel technology and the 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder in the 2012 Passat is the latest incarnation.

Pricing for the 2012 Passat is in the ballpark. The base has an MSRP of $19,995; the 2.0-liter TDI Clean Diesel model starts at $25,995; and the 3.6-liter VR6 has a starting price of $28,995. It would be very possible to load up a 2012 Passat and bring the price to within sight of $40,000. Is it a lot of money for a Volkswagen? Perceptibly it is, perhaps. In reality, it’s a steal for a European luxury car that disguises itself as a five-passenger family sedan.

Volkswagen may well have made a good bet.

— Al Vinikour