By non-CL request, a Review of the 2012 VW Passat.
IN A NUTSHELL: A pleasant, affordable mid-size sedan, but with some serious marketing shortcomings.
I recently received a request, from a non-CL friend of mine for a review and advice on the new 2012 Volkswagen Passat. As I often do, even with non-CL requests, I’ll write it up and share it with you guys, in case there is any CL interest in the new Passat.
The Passat, of course, has been in the American market for a number of years, as a European-designed alternative to the ubiquitous mid-sized Toyota Camry and Honda Accord sedans/wagons. Originally known as the VW Quantum in the American market, the original name was later changed to Passat. The Passat, like many German sedans, developed a reputation of being somewhat more of a “Drivers Car” than its Japanese-designed rivals, with a better ride/handling/steering balance, though the Japanese Mazda 6 sedan could compete, to some extent, with the Passat’s road manners.
The Passat, for years, included sedan, wagon, and All-Wheel-Drive 4Motion versions. Its reliability, according to Consumer Reports, though, has been spotty, and seems to vary up and down by model-year and trim-level. Volkswagen-designed vehicles, in general, are not known for good reliability here in America, although a few, here and there, have managed to reach the average-reliability level or even slightly-better-than-average. But, in general, when you buy a VW, you usually can’t expect Toyota/Honda/Subaru levels of reliability, especially in the areas of electronics and hardware. I often, for example, see a lot of VWs running around in the D.C. area with headlights/taillights out from bulb/wiring/relay/socket problems. Just simply replacing bulbs doesn’t always do the trick…..sometimes other repairs are needed as well.
But, despite the generally spotty reliability, Consumer Reports has generally liked the car, and continually rates it highly, especially when some model years and trim-levels have been average or better in reliability. At one time, not long ago, it was CR’s highest-rated family sedan…above the Camry and Accord, until the reliability once again dropped.
For 2012, the all-new Passat has been totally resigned, and is now starting to arrive at American dealerships. But, IMO, it now suffers from some serious omissions and marketing goofs. The useful and versatile wagon version, for example, has been dropped from the American market (it is still continued in Europe), and so has the also-versatile All-Wheel-Drive 4-Motion option. Fortunately, the high-mileage TDI direct-injection diesel version is still offered, though it’s hard to tell if the so-called “Tiptronic” automatic listed in the specs is actually the conventional torque-converter automatic or the automatic twin-clutch DSG (Direct-Shift-gearbox)…its actual driving manners suggest the latter (more on that later). Anyhow, for 2012, in the American market, VW offers the Passat in three basic levels…the 2.5, TDI Clean Diesel, and V6, with the SE and SEL trim-levels being option-packages rather than separate trim-lines. The 2.5 models come with an unusual 2.5L in-line 5-cylinder with 170 HP and 177 ft-lbs. of torque, and a choice of a 5-speed manual or 6-speed Tiptronic Sport-shift automatic (a package option). TDI models, as the name suggests, come with the superb 2.0L Turbocharged Direct-Injection in-line diesel four with 140 HP and 236 ft-lbs. of torque….and choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed DSG (Direct-shift-gearbox) automatic transmissions (the DSG, BTW, is one of my favorite transmissions). The V6 model, also as the name suggests, comes with a DOHC 3.6L V6 with 280 HP and 265 ft-lbs. of torque, with the DSG transmission only. Why the superb DSG transmission is not offered with the base 2.5L 5-cylinder, I don’t know….maybe the hardware just won’t fit. All new American-market Passat models, of course, are four-door sedans, with the wagon having been dropped. And all, of course, are now FWD (front-wheel-drive), with the winter-friendly 4Motion models also having been dropped. Base prices start at $19,995 for manual-transmisson 2.5 models and jump to $28,995 for a V6. Prices on new Passats, this year, have dropped some $7000 from last year’s, models, primarily from VW’s having moved American-market Passat production out of high-priced German plants to a much lower-cost plant in Chattanooga, TN, so now the car is assembled with American labor…..with some foreign-sourced parts. According to VW officials, though, while the wagons seem to out of the American market for the forseeable future (a dumb decision, IMO), AWD 4Motion models may (?) be offered again if sufficient buyer-interest is there (I sure would choose one if I were buying a Passat…and I would probably get the wagon if offered).
The VW/Subaru shop I as at for the review (the same VW/Subaru shop I bought my own Outback at, so everybody there knows me) had a few new 2012 Passats in stock, although they just started to arrive last week and there weren’t a whole lot to choose from. But parked right out front was a new 2.5 SE model with automatic and a TDI model with the DSG automatic. Since the review request was from a lady doesn’t have a huge amount to spend on a new car, I chose the less-expensive 2.5 model for the review….it had the Tiptronic automatic (part of the SE-option- package) and listed for around 25K….a reasonable price. It turned out to be a relatively nice, pleasant, mid-sized sedan….but, like with all cars, with a few flaws. Details coming up.
MODEL REVIEWED: 2012 Volkswagen Passat SE-Package (includes automatic transmission)
BASE PRICE: $24,825
Heavy-Duty Trunk Liner: $125
(4) Mojo Mats (Yes, that's what VW calls them): $125
DESTINATION/FREIGHT: $770 (about average for this class of car)
LIST PRICE AS REVIEWED: $25,940
DRIVETRAIN: FWD, Transversely-mounted 2.5L in-line 5-cylinder, 170 HP @ 5700 RPM, Torque 177 ft-lbs. @ 4250 RPM,
6-speed automatic Sportshift transmission.
EPA MILEAGE RATING: 22 City / 31 Highway
EXTERIOR COLOR: Black
INTERIOR: Titan Black V-Tex (Imitation Leather/Vinyl)
Smooth, refined in-line 5-cylinder engine feels torquier than the specs.
Cast-iron engine-block for durability not often seen any more.
Smooth automatic transmission, but quirky in some lower gears.
Reasonably smooth ride.
Good ride-handling combination in the German tradition.
Relatively quick steering response.
Generally flat cornering.
Firm, effective brake-pedal, but with a small amount of initial sponginess.
Good wind-noise control.
Conservative, attractive (IMO) exterior styling.
Side-mirror-mounted turn-signal indicators for safety.
Excellent paint job, even in black (the hardest color to do well).
No extra-charge for metallic paint as is common with German car companies.
Handsome-looking (IMO) alloy wheels on almost all versions.
Classy-looking analog dash-clock.
Good front headroom.
Excellent rear headrom and legroom for a mid-sized sedan, even with the sunroof housing.
Nice interior-trim materials, especially with the wood-tone packages and beige interior.
Softly-padded dash and door-paneled inserts.
Nice, well-done V-Tex imitation leather/vinyl upholstery.
Good stereo-sound quality.
Clear, easy-to-read circular gauges.
Convienient trunk-remote rear-seat releases.
Now built in Chattanooga, TN, with American labor.
3 year/36,000 mile free scheduled-maintenance.
Spotty overall reliability of previous models.
No AWD 4Matic option for the American market is outrageous.
No more wagon model for the American market almost as outrageous.
Quirky first and second transmission gears in full-automatic mode.
Some road noise from the tires.
Exterior sheet metal OK, but not as solid-feeling as on former Passats.
Dull, funeral-home exterior paint colors.
No body-side mouldings for parking-lot door protection.
Manual hood prop-rod instead of nice struts or springs.
Underhood layout-access could be better.
Cloth seats available only with certain exterior colors.
Temporary spare tire instead of a real one.
So-so carpeting in the trunk.
Oddly-shaped side-mirrors OK but could be a little larger.
Some poorly-marked stereo/climate-control *****/buttons and video-screen take getting used-to.
Relatively flimsy-feeling plastic-stalks for wipers and turn-signals.
Very-poorly-located brake-pedal for large feet.
Walking up to the new Passat and viewing it for the first time, I find the exterior styling well-done. Like its smaller-brother VW Jetta, it looks like a car, not a space-ship. Styling, of course, is a subjective matter, and opinions differ on it, but I liked the somewhat conservative lines, without things that I consider Geeky and unattractive like on the new Hyundai Sonata and Elantra. In fact, IMO, this is what the all-new 2011 Sonata should have looked like, and didn't. VW also gave the new Passat a superb-quality paint job, virtually as good as what we typically see on Lexus and Audi models, which rank among the best mass-produced paint-jobs in the industry. Even the black paint job on my test-car was smooth, even, glossy, and pretty-much free of orange-peel.....Black is often the hardest color to get right and avoid the orange-peel ripples. Best of all, VW does not charge extra for some colors on the Passat like many German cars do, and even some American-nameplate ones. Unfortunately, you won't find any bright or cheery shades on the new Passat's color-choice....most of them are definitely on the dull side, and suited for a hearse. Even though the roofline has somewhat of a hump-back shape (like most of today's sedans), it doesn't seem to lower either front or rear-seat headroom.......more on that later. The twin exterior side-mirrors snap/swivel and lock in place smoothly and easily, and, like many European-designed cars, have integrated turn-signals in them for safety. I liked the looks of almost all of the different alloy-wheels on the new Passat, which I thought were nicely-done. The quality of the exterior trim/hardware seems well-done, and is fitted/applied well.
All is not perfect with the exterior, though.....there are a few flies in the ointment. Like many other new-generation cars today, the relentless drive for cost-cutting and weight reduction seems to have resulted in thinner body sheet-metal and tinnier-closing doors that don't feel as solid and substantial as the doors in older Passats. Also like on a lot of new cars, the cost-cutting has omitted body-side mouldings to help protect the paint from parking-lot dings. The twin side-mirrors, though with the nice aforementioned turn-signal indicators for safety, are half-trapezoid-shaped and, IMO, slightly too small for optimum vision. But, overall, a well-done exterior.....VW, IMO, could have done a lot worse.
Pop open the reasonably-solid hood (though, as mentioned, the sheet-metal feels a little thinner than older Passats), and you must fumble with a manual prop-rod to hold it up instead of nice convienient gas-struts or springs....a family sedan, IMO, (and most vehicles) should have struts or springs to hold it up. Under the hood is a nice and reasonably-thick sound-insulation pad (and it works.....more on that later). The 2.5L in-line 5-cylinder engine fits underhood reasonably well, and there is at least a little space (though not a whole lot) around the edges of the block to reach things. But the whole top of the engine, like in many of today's cars, is hidden by a big plastic cover, which prevents quick access. A nice surprise on the engine itself, though, and something you don't see much of anymore, is a nice cast-iron block.....according to the specs, that is also true of the Passat's TDI diesel and 3.6L V6. I'm a big fan of cast-iron blocks myself. Though admittedly heavy, and adding to the weight on the car's front-end which can affect handling and braking, a cast-iron block is rock-solid durable, cheaper to produce, and can usually withstand possible damage/warping from overheating better than lighter (and more common) aluminum blocks. Good move, VW. The battery is over to the right and back slightly, and is covered up, but with a simple-to-remove fabric flap-cover rather then a more-restrictive plastic one. The dipsticks, filler-caps, and fluid-reservoirs are all relatively easy to see and
The interior of the new Passat, overall, IMO, was comfortable and rather pleasant-looking. Like the conservatively-styled exterior, I also liked the conservative styling inside.......again, IMO, this is what the new Hyundai Sonata should have been inside, and isn't. One of the things that my friend was concerned about was headroom...and there is plenty of it, both front and rear, especially on models, like my test-car, without the sunfoof-housing, which typically robs about an inch or so of headroom. With my 6' 2" height and ubiquitous baseball-cap, my cap didn't touch the ceiling at all, even in the back seat (which is unusual in the rear). In addition, there is also plenty of legroom both front ahd rear, even for a guy my size in the back seat when the front-seat is adjusted where I like it. The Passat ads promise good rear-seat room....and it seems to deliver. The front seats are fairly comfortable, reasonably-supportive, and, in my test car, came with a V-Tex imitation Leather/Vinyl which looked and felt more pleasant than the fake-leather used in some BMW and Mercedes models. The V-tex is also easy to clean, especially in black, like on my test-car. Upmarket Passats, of course, come with real leather. Cloth seats are also available on some models, but is tightly-restricted according to exterior color.....another marketing goof, IMO. Both the primary and secondary-gauges are clear, simple, and easy-to-read. The steering wheel is well-shaped, and the leather-wrapping is smooth and comfortable to hold. The sun-visors are effective and have a nice fabric covering, instead of the hard-plastic on many new cars. The ceiling/headliner also has a nice-feeling fabric. All of the interior hardware feels reasonably-solid and durable except for the somewhat flimsy-feeling steering-column stalks for the wipers and turn-signals.....a common problem on a lot of German-designed vehicles. The stereo-sound quality was quite good, though not quite up to luxury-car standards, but its tuning/display functions, with a mixture of video-screen and conventional *****, are a little complex and take some time to learn. Such is also the case with the dual climate-control system buttons/***** and video-screen readouts.....they are also a little complex, with some unmarked *****, and take some learning and getting used to. The upper-dash and some door panel inserts are comfortably soft-padded, and the general trim level/quality seemed well-done. My test-car had a black interior with silver/metallic trim, but I thought that the beige interior with the wood trim (which I pictured above in the images) looked even better.
I had mixed-reviews on the Passat sedan's trunk (and, of course, I missed the much-roomier Passat wagon, which was dropped this year here in the U.S.). Flip open the trunk-lid (like the rest of the body sheet metal, it felt reasonably solid, but a little thinner than last year's lid), and you have a cargo area that, in size/volume, is about average for a mid-size sedan. The humpback-whale roofline, like on most of today's sedans, cuts into the size of the trunk-lid somewhat, but reasonably bulky items can still be loaded into the trunk with relative ease. Two nice, convienient remote pull-levers under the trunk-lid help make it easier to drop down the split-rear seats for added cargo area, if needed. The dark-gray carpet used to cover the floor and sides of the trunk was rather thin and cheap-feeling, though not totally out of line with the car's price. My test-car had a couple of trunk-options....a $95 cargo-net to help hold in bags/packages, and a $125 thick-carpeted custom-fit mat to cover up the standard thin-feeling carpet-fabric on the floor. Under the trunk-floor was (yep, you guessed it) a temporary-spare-tire rather than a real one. On many older VW products, the push-release for the trunk-lid, with a hinge, was built into the big chrome VW-logos on the trunk-lids....on the new Passat, it has a now-conventional fixed-logo and electronic touch-feel release under the deck-lid.
ON THE ROAD:
Start up the in-line 2.5L five-cylinder engine with the typical VW push-button flip-out key and side-column ignition switch (keyless-entry and an engine START/STOP button are an option on the base model and standard on the others). The engine turns over and idles surprisingly smooth and quiet for an engine with 5 cylinders (because of the 4-cycle firing-pulses in the cylinders, it is usually easier to dampen out the vibrations with an even number of cylinders rather than odd). It remains relatively smooth/quiet and refined on the road, with a surprising amount of spunk for a base, non-turbo engine. Even with the 6-speed Tiptronic transmission hooked to it, it has enough power to mildly push you back in the seat, even in third gear where some small low-powered engines engines start to run out of steam. This engine, IMO, has enough power for the added weight/drag of the AWD 4-matic system, if VW would only offer it in the U.S. I think that, like the smaller (and superb) 2.0 Turbo four in some other VW/Audi products was for awhile, the 2.5L seems to be somewhat under-rated in the torque department....it felt, to me, like more than the spec-rated 177 ft-lbs.
The 6-speed automatic used in the base 2.5 model, as I described in the opening-remarks, is not the superb DSG of upmarket models, but the more-conventional, less-complex Tiptronic torque-converter automatic. Unlike some other VW/Audi Tiptronics I've sampled, this one seemed to have a somewhat
quirky feel to it in the lower-gears. First gear, starting from rest, was sluggish for a second or two, then power came on with a rush, with an upshift to second-gear for another second or so, then a quick, almost-immediate upshift to third. Third-gear and up, through sixth, it shifted more normally. That was my only complaint with the otherwise near-flawless drivetrain, though, and the transmission was generally smooth, pleasant, and refined. And, of course, one can shift manually by bumping the Sport-Shift lever, if desired, into the automanual shift-gate....that will hold each gear as long as desired. There are no auto-shift paddles on the steering-column on the base-model Passat, but the auto-shift lever works smoothly and slickly, and the auto-manual shifts themselves are smooth.
The chassis/steering/suspension system, as expected with its German-engineering, is a good combination of ride and handling, though road/steering/tire-feel is not quite up to the level of, say, a BMW 3 or 5-series. Still, steering response is good, with a fairly quick reaction from steering-input, relatively flat cornering, and handling that is quite good for a mid-sized family-sedan with 55-series all-season tires (don't forget, the heavy iron-block engine also adds some front-end weight). Though there is some understeer, the overall handling is closer to neutral. Ride comfort is generally good (the softish 55-series tires help), and bumps are not transmitted harshly into the cabin as they are with a number of today's vehicles. Wind-noise at legal speeds is well-muted, but the tires do transmit some noise from the road-surface, especially on coarse pavement.....perhaps wheel-well sound-insulation was something the bean-counters might skimped a little on to keep costs down. Still, even if not Lexus-quiet, the tires were not that loud, and a long-distance cruise can be taken in this car with a fair amount of comfort. The brakes, in the German sport-sedan tradition, were smooth, firm, and effective, but, to get to that firmness underneath, the brake pedal had about a half-inch of so of sponginess in the initial-travel.......then you felt the brakes start to grab. The pedal, though, had a big problem for big, size-15 circus-clown feet/shoes like mine. The way the pedal was located, your right foot sinks way down below it on the gas pedal, then tends to snag on the side of the brake pedal when you try to raise it. I have that problem, off-and-on, in a number of new-vehicles I test, but it was especially noticeable in the new Passat.
Overall, I was pleased with the new Passat, especially with its good road manners, well-designed chassis, tasteful conservative styling inside and out, and its reasonable/affordable price, which has been reduced quite a bit this year from previous models. VW is aware of its reputation in America for indifferent customer-service and spotty reliability, and is working hard to improve both. But the marketing, this year, has serious problems.....the AWD 4Motion hardware should be an option right now, not at some indeterminate point in the future, since many potential Passat owners live in areas that get bad weather. The loss of the wagon-model this year in the American market, IMO, is outrageous, as the extra-versatility of the wagon for carrying things often comes in handy. There is also some cost-cutting in the thinner body sheet-metal this year and the lack of some simple convieience-items like hood-struts and body-side mouldings. The Passat's all-new design (untested, of course, in the long-run, for durability), and the spotty reliability of some previous versions is a possible source for concern. But VW does, on the other hand, like BMW, provide 3 years/36,000 miles of free factory-recommended service, at no charge to the customer. And if any reliability problems do arise, the 3/36 Bumper-to-Bumper and 5/60 Drivetrain warranties, now on a par with the warranties on many Japanese companies, will, of course, take care of them.
So, in summary, there are lots worse ways to spend one's hard-earned automotive dollars, and the new Passat, except for the quirky first/second gears in the Tiptronic transmission on the 2.5 model and the poorly-placed brake pedal for large feet, is generally a pleasure to drive. If you are willing to take a chance on a brand-new, untested design that has not been proved yet for reliability, it should prove to be a nice all-around mid-size sedan.
And, as always.....Happy Car Shopping.