First Drive: 2016 Volkswagen Passat

To state the obvious, Volkswagen is at a crucial time in their company’s history. Marred by ongoing TDI issues and the additional fallout yet to come, their time and money needs to be well spent. Although the newest Passat was well underway before any of this came to light, it’s now being met with cynicism that has cast a large shadow over the entire brand.  And that’s a real shame, because some have gone as far to call this new Passat the best Volkswagen has ever made.  Recently, we spent some time with the updated 2016 model to see if it’s worthy of that title.

Passat_Exterior_Headlamp

At first glance, those less detail-oriented will struggle to see the difference between the old Passat and the newly redesigned 2016 model. The recipient of an extremely subtle transformation, the new car is completely new from the A-pillar forward, with the most striking of changes occurring in the headlights and new hood, featuring a quasi power-bulge running down the center. While not quite as aggressive a restyling as we’d like, this mild refresh certainly does help to fight the “Beige Camry-fication” of the midsize car market.   Those looking for a slightly tougher appearance will be happy to hear that a R Line version is coming early next year, and that it looks quite good.

Passat_Interior_CarPlay

More than a simple facelift, Volkswagen has made a serious attempt to move the Passat up-market, making chrome accents standard on all trim levels, including optional LED tail and headlights, a heavily revised trunk lid, and offering a host of collision detection and avoidance systems. The interior has received quite a bit of love as well, with new seat materials, two-piece door trim, a very cool frameless rear view mirror and the Golf’s steering wheel, in addition to the brand’s newly released MIB II infotainment system and it’s host of app features.

Passat_Interior_Driver_Seat_Detail

This shift up-market also includes features that you wouldn’t normally find on a vehicle at this price point. Things like Blind Spot Monitor, Lane Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control and automated systems for both parallel and traditional parking are all equipped as standard on select trim levels. In this, Volkswagen has fired a shot across the bow of competition from Honda and Toyota, hoping to lure buyers with a feature-rich offering in a class where pure driving pleasure takes a backseat to more practical desires.

Passat_Exterior_Badge_SEL

But this is not to say that the Passat is simply an appliance. On our DC Metro-area test loop, the 1.8T Passat felt eager to please with appropriately weighted steering, an extremely compliant suspension and decent engine note. No, the new Passat is not cause to break out the Piloti’s and nomex-lined driving gloves, but it certainly will prove to be entertaining enough that those simply seeking its best-in-class 39.1” of rear legroom. Add in the 1.8Ts ability to sip regular unleaded, and the Passat becomes a very compelling argument.

Passat_Exterior_SEL_Motion_Low

In VR6 form though, the car simply feels too soft for our tastes. With over-boosted power steering that requires very little effort and even less feedback, and sound deadening proficient enough to keep the legendary VR6 engine note completely at bay, it’s all gone a bit too far from the Passats we’ve loved before. It also doesn’t help that the six-cylinder Passat comes in at 308 lbs heavier than its 1.8T counterpart, weight that is clearly felt when the tarmac tightens.  And that’s before mentioning our tester’s $37,000 sticker price, a sum that isn’t much by today’s standards, but still seems a bit hard to swallow.

Passat_Exterior_RLine_Front_Angle_Static

In fact, after driving both cars back to back, it seems that the best one to buy also happens to be one of the least expensive iterations.  A 2016 Passat SE with the Technology package, complete with most of the available convenience and technology features can be had for just $28,410.  This includes things like Rear Traffic Alert, App-Connect with Discover Media, Blind Spot Monitor and Volkswagen’s trick “Easy Open Trunk”, which pops the boot using a sensor which detects foot movement under the trunk of the vehicle, similar to what is offered on Ford’s Escape. In fact, the only bits you’d be missing out on when cross-shopping the top of the line SEL Premium, would be Leather seating surfaces, and the aforementioned parking assist features. If the more feature-rich Passat trim levels aren’t something you’re after, the aggressive looking R Line version, which hits dealers early next year, will sticker at just $23,975.

Passat_Exterior_Group2

So has Passat earned the title of ‘best ever?’ From an equipment and technology standpoint- absolutely.  The sheer amount of available and standard equipment that can be had on the latest Passat is simply unmatched by any car to previously wear the badge.  But from a driving standpoint, it’s really difficult to say.  Sure, Volkswagen has kept the car fairly lightweight (1.8T can weigh as little as 3263 lbs), but it becomes quite apparent that this Passat lacks the dynamics we remember from previous iterations.  Regardless of personal preference, though, this is a damn good car.  No, it’s not the most exciting or engaging vehicle the brand has ever sold, but it is a very competent commuter, packed with the safety and infotainment technologies that consumers want. And in this category, that’s the name of the game.

To see more of the 2016 Volkswagen Passat, click here.