2016 Volkswagen Passat

STOWE, Vermont — We've marveled over the past few years at the interior space of the Volkswagen Passat — particularly for rear-seat passengers who get a near-limo feeling — and the satisfying driving experience. Introduced as an all-new model in 2012, the Passat is built at the state-of-the-art Chattanooga plant in Tennessee.

The interior living space is amazing especially for a sedan that resides in the mid-sized segment stretching out just 191 inches. We are blown away at the leg and shoulder room, the ease of entering and exiting the car, and the comfort the Passat offers passengers that isn’t available in most mainstream mid-sized offerings.

We discovered at a driving event in Vermont this fall that the car's attributes are intact after a mid-cycle refreshening for the 2016 model year. The headline here is that VW has updated the car is several areas without messing up the many up-level characteristics associated with the Passat since it was reinvented several years ago.

We were somewhat disappointed that the styling changes, which VW attempted to emphasize with a detailed walk-around from both the exterior and interior styling honchos, were so minimal. But that seems to be Volkswagen's modus operandi. The exterior updates are so subtle that we defy anyone outside of a current Passat owner to tell the difference without 2015 and 2016 models parked side-by-side. That being said, VW says that every body panel from the A pillar forward has been changed. The highlight is a somewhat reworked grille and headlight treatment. The taillights have also undergone a facelift.

On the inside, the center console and dashboard have been touched up, the steering wheel has been redesigned, and the rearview mirror has been switched to a frameless design. Important to many people in this age of information, a USB port has been added. And higher-trim Passat models are now compatible with Apple Car Play and Android Auto. A 5.0-inch information screen is standard and a 6.3-inch screen is offered as an option.

Perhaps the most important thing we came away with from our four-hour test drive is that the new Passat maintains its excellent road manners, a supremely easy and enjoyable family sedan to drive. Feedback from the electo-mechanical power steering is good and the sedan delivers a quality ride while maintaining rewarding handling traits.

The engine offerings remain the same with the exception of the diesel, which has been temporarily discontinued until the current engine emission fix is sorted out. There's a wide disparity between the two engines offered for 2016 — VW's award-winning 1.8-liter turbocharged four cylinder making 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet for torque while yielding an excellent 25 mpg city and 38 highway; and the VR6 making 280 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. Gas mileage is measured by the EPA at 20 mpg city and 28 highway for the 6-cylinder.

We think most people will opt for the surprisingly sprightly four cylinder that is considerably less expensive and much more fuel efficient. We have been a fan of that engine since it was introduced a few years ago because of its performance and economy combination. But if you want to smoke much of the mid-sized competition from the stoplight, you will find a winner in the big six-cylinder engine. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

Pricing starts at $23,260 including destination charge for the base car — the same as 2015 — and rises to  $37,655 for the SEL Premium with the V6 engine. Volkswagen says that when new standard content is factored into the equation the base price represents a $1,315 value enhancement.

— Jim Meachen