2014 Volkswagen Passat Sport

After generations of Passat sedans designed more to European tastes and needs, Volkswagen finally let loose in 2011 with a larger and less costly model engineered specifically with the North American market's tastes in mind. The Chattanooga, TN-built four door launched well on the strength of a couple of awards and serendipitous supply problems for VW's Japanese rivals, but it has since lost some of its sales momentum as a number of newer and fresher-faced competitors have emerged on the scene.

"We are quite aware that we have to do something to keep the car fresh in the market."

VW is keen to recapture some of the Passat's initial momentum, and officials believe it's going to have to dig a little bit deeper than its traditionally minimal midlife retouches in order to put the model on more consumers' shopping lists. We sat down at a roundtable with Michael Horn, VW Group of America CEO and Dr. Heinz-Jakob Neußer, head of VW Group powertrain development at the Geneva Motor Show today, and the executives confirmed that a "big facelift" is coming for the 2016 model year. "We are quite aware that we have to do something to keep the car fresh in the market," said Horn, who notes that the redesigned model will incorporate "a lot of new features, drivers' assistance systems and so forth."

No powertrain alterations were disclosed, but at the very least, there could be some significant visual changes in store. In fact, more significant mid-cycle changes could become the norm for VW, which traditionally has limited its alterations to things like modestly new light fixtures, wheel patterns and paint finishes. VW sees larger changes as a growing necessity, believing that it needs to shift the longer lifecycle philosophy it has had success with in Europe and in China. The expectations of US customers are "a little bit different," argues Dr. Neußer, "...they need a little bit shorter reworks of the car. Perhaps not so deep within the technical side, but more oriented to a fresh outside, to fresh designs. We are actually changing our philosophy on this."

The current Passat's crisply tailored looks have aged well, but they've also been dinged for being too restrained and derivative of the smaller and less expensive North American Jetta. Noting that some competitors have recently been taking bigger aesthetic chances in the historically conservative family sedan segment, Neußer acknowledged, "We are a little more conservative, but very precise. But we will move a little bit more into the direction [of progressive design] ... but not a u-turn, a correction."