• Engine
    3.6L VR6
  • Power
    280 HP / 258 LB-FT
  • Transmission
    6-speed DCT automatic
  • Drivetrain
    FWD
  • Seating
    5
  • Cargo
    15.9 CU FT
  • MPG
    19 CITY / 28 HWY
  • Base Price
    $29,995
  • As Tested Price
    $29,995
The Volkswagen Passat is not a sedan known for sportiness. It's very spacious, and it comes in a plain and simple wrapper. That's why it was a bit of surprise when Volkswagen showed a concept for a "GT" version that looked like a big GTI, complete with black grille and red highlights, lower ride height and big wheels. It was even more surprising that the car, which VW said was developed by folks at the company's Tennessee facility playing around with ideas for what a Passat could be, became a production vehicle shown at this year's Detroit Auto Show.

Something has concerned us, though, and that's the fact the Passat GT's only performance upgrades are retuned suspension and a louder exhaust. So despite the GTI looks, it seemed to lack the full complement of GTI-style upgrades. To find out if the Passat GT has any of the sporting chops of its legendary sibling, we took one for a spin in southeast Michigan.

Engine and transmission

Keen readers will notice that the engine and transmission were not listed among the parts upgraded for the Passat GT. It retains the same 3.6-liter narrow-angle V6 (commonly known as the VR6) that you can get in the less-sport-oriented Passat. Thankfully, it's still a reasonably powerful engine with 280 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. That gives it roughly 30 more horsepower than many turbocharged four-cylinder midsize sedans, and a deficit of about 10 to 20 pound-feet of torque to many of those sedans. Still, the Toyota Camry V6's whopping 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque outdo the VW, and the turbocharged Mazda6 with its monstrous 310 pound-feet of torque remains the pulling king.

The unchanged VR6 engine is coupled to the also-unchanged six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. This transmission is the only option for the Passat GT, which may come as a disappointment to those hoping for something that looks like a GTI. The reason for the lack of a manual transmission is that Volkswagen discontinued manuals across the board for this generation, citing a take rate of less than 1 percent. Adding a new manual would've added complexity and cost to the car.

While the powertrain doesn't look particularly exciting on paper, it's actually rather enjoyable in practice. The VR6 is happy to rev, and pulls well right up to redline. It also sounds excellent. This is helped in part by that revised exhaust system that, while not offering any extra power, does give the car extra growl. It's a nice deep tone with a hint of popping, and it sounds natural. The dual-clutch transmission works well, too. It does still have a little hesitation from a stop and at crawling speeds, but once you're on your way, it shifts impressively smoothly and quickly. It's quick to respond in manual mode, too, so it makes for a fun, engaging powertrain when driving briskly.

Ride and handling

As mentioned, about the only significant performance upgrade the Passat GT gets is the new suspension. It has stiffer springs and shocks than normal models. The new suspension also lowers the Passat GT by 0.6 inch.

Behind the wheel, the suspension, like much of the rest of the car, makes the Passat GT sportier, but doesn't go full GTI. Body roll is quite mild, mostly showing up in long, fast corners such as highway ramps. The car feels stable and composed when going through corners, giving you confidence to try them with a bit more speed the next time around. The suspension can't help the steering, though. The helm is weighted decently, but it isn't as sharp as we'd like for a truly sporty car.

What's really impressive is that the Passat GT is genuinely comfortable, the upside of not going full sports sedan. It's smooth for the most part, and while you feel some firmness over larger bumps, the impact is never harsh. We could almost see this suspension being used across the whole Passat line, but if the new Jetta is any indication, normal VW sedan buyers probably want their cars as soft as possible. So if you have even an ounce of desire for a decent-handling car, this is the Passat to consider.

  • Image Credit: Volkswagen
  • Image Credit: Volkswagen
  • Image Credit: Volkswagen
  • Image Credit: Volkswagen
  • Image Credit: Volkswagen
  • Image Credit: Volkswagen
  • Image Credit: Volkswagen
  • Image Credit: Volkswagen
  • Image Credit: Volkswagen
  • Image Credit: Volkswagen
  • Image Credit: Volkswagen
  • Image Credit: Volkswagen
  • Image Credit: Volkswagen
  • Image Credit: Volkswagen
  • Image Credit: Volkswagen
  • Image Credit: Volkswagen
  • Image Credit: Volkswagen
  • Image Credit: Volkswagen
  • Image Credit: Volkswagen

Interior

All VW Passat GTs come with the same interior, which features black plastic and two-tone black and gray leatherette upholstery. There are a few small visual changes including removal of the analog clock on the center stack in favor of a Passat logo, and the addition of a leather-wrapped steering wheel and stainless door sill plates that say "GT." The front seats are heated, and the driver's seat gets power adjustments. Those front seats are pretty comfortable, too, with thick padding that should stay comfortable over the long haul, and some light bolstering for support, if not a huge amount of security in tight turns.

The interior is attractive enough, if a tad dull. It is extremely user-friendly, though. Controls are easy to find and use, and the touchscreen, while a bit small, is straightforward and reasonably responsive. The instrument panel is clean and easy to read, too, though the information screen in the middle is horribly outdated. Only a TI-83 graphing calculator would be jealous of it. Many of the materials fall short, too, consisting of hard, cheap plastics almost everywhere. The obviously fake carbon fiber trim doesn't help either.

Like all other Passats, though, the GT has an advantage in rear passenger comfort. I was able to sit in the back with the driver's seat placed where I had left it, and I still had a good 4 to 6 inches between my knees and the back of the seat. The official measurement for rear leg room is 39.1 inches, which is slightly larger than a number of midsize sedans, but is exceeded by the Honda Accord. It's a shame the front doesn't get as much space, which, at 42.4 inches, is more comparable to the tighter Mazda6 and Ford Fusion. The 15.9-cubic-foot trunk is also par for the course. There's also a caveat to rear passenger comfort. Sitting in the middle will be rather unpleasant due to a very tall and wide center tunnel.

  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips
  • Image Credit: Drew Phillips

Pricing and value

The Passat GT's highlight might actually be its price. It starts at $29,995. Until now, the only way to get a VR6-powered Passat was to get the SEL Premium, which started at a substantial $35,500. It's also substantially less than a Camry V6, and a bit less than the Mazda6 turbo, Kia Optima SX, Honda Accord 2.0T and Chevy Malibu with the 2.0-liter engine. The few cars that are cheaper with similar power are the Ford Fusion SE with the 2.0-liter engine and the Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T.

Though the GT isn't as well-equipped as the SEL Premium, it still comes with a power sunroof, automatic climate control, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic assist, and the heated front seats we already mentioned. The Passat GT, like all VWs save for the e-Golf, also gets a 6-year/72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty that exceeds that of most other automakers. One area where the Passat GT loses out though is fuel economy. It gets 19 mpg in the city, 28 on the highway and 22 combined. Most other midsize sedans with both turbo engines and V6s get over 20 in town and over 30 on the highway.

Conclusion

If you're married to the idea that the Passat GT needs to be a big GTI, this sedan will disappoint you. But if you can let that idea go, the Passat GT is a highly compelling car. It offers good power with a sweet sound at a competitive price. It has handling that will keep you reasonably entertained when the roads get twisty while not punishing you when you're cruising potholed city streets. And it's all wrapped up in an attractive, spacious package. It's a good enough all-'rounder that even people who aren't looking for sporty driving should take it into consideration.

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