2016 Volkswagen Passat First Drive
EngineTurbo 1.8L I4
Power170 HP / 184 LB-FT
0-60 Time8.0 Seconds (est.)
Curb Weight3,263 LBS
MPG25 City / 38 HWY
As Tested Price$29,230
Best Deal Price$33,294
But no Volkswagen suffered so much for its brand's ambitions as the Passat. The B6, sold here in the US from 2006 to 2010, was a fine thing, offering Teutonic style and a sense of solidity in a relatively fun-to-drive package. Then the schism happened. Eager to grow, VW split the Passat line into US- and European-specific models, with the latter riding on VW's modern MQB platform. Here in the States, though, our Passat shared some of its bones with a car that debuted in 2005.
In its attempt to Americanize the Passat, Volkswagen stamped out what allowed it to stand out among the pack. Sales improved, and VW marched toward its lofty sales goals, but enthusiasts just didn't think of the brand the same way anymore.
Enter the 2016 Passat, a vehicle that attempts to reinvigorate VW with Germanic quality. It's still not the European-market B8, but the updated exterior, tweaked interior, and new infotainment and tech will at the very least help this spacious sedan make waves against US-market competitors.
The most obvious part of this update is the Passat's new sheetmetal. Tweaked from the A-pillar forward, it gets a new hood that falls toward freshened, more aggressive headlights, and a more prominent lower grille and foglight surrounds. In back, the taillights use a more angular design as part of a redesigned trunk lid. These updates, along with the optional LED headlights, running lights, and taillights (a $1,095 option on everything but the range-topping SEL Premium, where they are standard) go a long way toward upping the sense of refinement of the Passat's 2016 design, although it's still too anonymous for our tastes.
Changes in the interior are slightly more noticeable. There's a thin-rimmed steering wheel and a reworked, "GTI-inspired" instrument panel. The cabin's overall look is cleaner, with a thin sliver of textured faux aluminum above the fake-wood-accented doors and dash of our tester. Every Passat, meanwhile, is paired with Volkswagen's latest MIB II infotainment system. Available in 5.0- or 6.3-inch touchscreen varieties, VW added functionality for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Owners can also snag increasingly common tech, convenience, and safety items, like post-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and automatic parking assist.
Some of the Passat's cabin materials are still lacking – sections of door panel, center stack, and transmission tunnel are hard, scratchy plastic – but the upper dash is covered in a soft-touch surface, and at the very least, the faux wood looks good. In terms of driver interfaces, the new flat-bottomed steering wheel is a great piece to work, and comes wrapped in high-quality leather. And of course, the back seat is very spacious place, with a better blend of leg and shoulder room than most other vehicles in the segment. The inclusion of a heated second row for 2016 doesn't hurt its appeal, either.
As for big changes, that's about it. There are no significant mechanical updates for 2016. That means the engine lineup remains unchanged, with a 1.8-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder as the base engine, and an optional, 3.6-liter V6 in higher trims. (There's also the 2.0-liter turbodiesel inline-four, but as you all know by now, the TDI model is currently on hold.) We only sampled the 1.8-liter, as the VR6 accounts for just three to five percent of overall sales (yes, we were surprised by that too), and VW only had a pair for us to take on short drive loops.
The 1.8-liter continues to be a real charmer. It only produces 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, but don't let those numbers disappoint you. Volkswagen did a splendid job of keeping the weight down in its four-cylinder Passat. At 3,263 pounds, it's only 240 pounds heavier than a four-door, automatic-equipped Golf, and it's slightly lighter (less than a 75 pounds) than the four-cylinder Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Plus, much like VW's larger 2.0-liter turbo, the smaller 1.8T has an excellent grasp on turbo lag. This engine feels punchy, energetic, and honestly, fun. It's happy to rev, and regardless of where the tach needle falls, there's both power and a pleasant, refined exhaust note.
The manual transmission is officially dead in the US Passat. Instead, there's a perfectly adequate, six-speed automatic. It's middle-of-the-pack in terms of upshift speeds, and drops gears with a minimal amount of hunting. It's a good match to the 1.8T engine, too, keeping the peppy mill from feeling overly frenetic without being slow or dimwitted.
Despite not changing the powertrains, the 2016 Passat boasts a healthy fuel economy improvement. There are additional underbody aerodynamic aids, which bump the coefficient of drag down from 0.293 to 0.285. A clever HVAC compressor and some electrical wizardry in the alternator help contribute to a final rating of 25 miles per gallon city and 38 mpg highway – improvements of 1 city and 2 highway, over similarly equipped 2015 models.
Changes are also absent in the chassis, ride, handling, and steering departments. VW continues to use a strut-type suspension in front with a multi-link rear and an electric power-assisted steering system. The steering is weighted well and aside from an abundance of body roll, the Passat feels good in the bends. Still, it lacks the sort of flickability and precision that was present in the B6 Passat. The flipside, of course, is that VW engineered the new Passat to be incredibly comfortable. Whether it be big, road-spanning potholes or uneven, washboard surfaces, this VW feels poised throughout, soaking up everything the road can throw at it without much complaining.
Prices for the 2016 Passat start at $23,260, although snagging the car shown above, an SE with the Technology pack, will cost $29,230. Considering the content, our Passat's price seems reasonable. A similarly equipped Toyota Camry XLE requires over $32,000, and you have to get the $31,505 Ford Fusion Titanium to even have the chance to add stuff like adaptive cruise control. A Fusion with all this Passat's safety, tech, and navigation costs around $33,000. It's a similar story with the Hyundai Sonata, which rings up to over $33,000 for the non-turbo Limited with both optional packages.
The 2016 Passat offers a lot for the money. But we believe there's enough room for VW to reintroduce some of the old Passat's German-ness to the Chattanooga-built sedan – it could stand to feel more premium and drive a little better, even if that means a slight increase in cost. Still, VW is chasing sales and mass-market appeal right now, and, if buyers recognize its refresh and give it a chance, this Passat has what it takes to be successful in the American market.
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