2012 Volkswagen Passat Test Drive Review
My father took me along to the dealership when he bought a gold 1974 Volkswagen Sun Bug. His purchase was a response to the gas crisis caused by the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, and he traded in a long, low, dark green 1968 Pontiac Catalina convertible with a fuel-swilling V8 engine.
The dealership was in downtown Chicago, and it had a replica of Herbie the Love Bug in the showroom. The Love Bug was my favorite movie as a kid, so it was no surprise that I thought our new Sun Bug was really cool. It had a manual transmission, and the interior smelled cold, mechanical, and oily, like a serious machine. I loved riding in that car, listening to its air-cooled flat-four chug, watching my dad row the car’s gears, basking in summer sun pouring through the open sunroof, imagining that Germany smelled just like the Sun Bug.
ABOUT OUR 2012 VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT TEST CAR
Fast-forward nearly 40 years, and I’m behind the wheel of the new 2012 Volkswagen Passat 3.6 SEL Premium, the most luxurious version of VW’s mainstream family sedan. It is built in a brand-new assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee rather than in Germany, and is designed specifically for North American consumption. It does not smell cold and mechanical and oily inside. And it does not chug when the throttle is prodded.
Instead, the new Passat is roomy and conservative, just the way midsize sedan buyers like ‘em. Positioned to battle the heavy-hitters from Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, and Toyota, the Passat boasts a generous interior and a large 15.9 cubic-foot trunk, perfectly sized to serve the target customer, and the upscale styling should remain contemporary for years to come. Plus, the Passat is a “Top Safety Pick” according to the IIHS, and received the best overall crash-test rating of 5 Stars from the NHTSA. Add the availability of a turbo-diesel model that gets up to 43 mpg on the highway, and the redesigned Passat is an extremely compelling automobile.
Our test sample, a Passat 3.6 SEL Premium with a window sticker of $32,720, is priced in line with top trim levels of competing models, and the Passat also includes free maintenance for the first three years and 36,000 miles of ownership.
2012 VW PASSAT 3.6 DRIVING IMPRESSIONS
Though assembled in America, our test Passat sources its V6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission from Germany. Volkswagen’s 3.6-liter narrow-angle “VR6” engine produces a uniquely characteristic grumble, one that recalls a Porsche or Subaru boxer powerplant, and generates 280 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque between 2,500 and 5,000 rpm. The V6 provides plenty of power in a straight line, enough that the Passat’s front wheels easy lose grip under hard acceleration, at which point the traction control system activates in subtle yet decisive fashion.
The new 2012 Volkswagen Passat 3.6 is quick, and it’s a surprisingly capable handler. We characterize the handling as surprising because when you drive this family sedan around town, the Passat glides over the road surface, bobbing and woozing over bumps and dips, nearly enough to make someone car sick.
Toss the Passat into a corner, however, and it exhibits unexpected lateral composure. Body roll is limited, the all-season tires grip the pavement without squealing, and they communicate impending loss of adhesion well in advance of the limit. At all times, the Passat delivers clear aural and tactile communication about the road surface even while it soaks up impact harshness like a giant sponge. Really, the Passat’s suspension tuning is remarkable, though we do wish for better control of vertical body motions.
Having learned that we could trust the Passat to round corners with confidence, we stepped up the pace on our regular Santa Monica Mountains test loop. The brakes displayed no fade, but on occasion the brake pedal required a harder push than expected to engage the binders, a characteristic of many VWs. The steering proved responsive, communicative, and perfectly weighted. You might even say faultless.
WE FIND THE PASSAT’S DRIVER’S SEAT TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE
We’ve got no complaints about this Volkswagen’s driving dynamics aside from the soft suspension tuning. That’s not the case, however, when it comes to the Passat’s seats, driving position, and cabin noise on the highway, issues that cropped up on a five-hour highway trip.
Though acceptable, the Passat’s driver’s seat is not nearly as comfortable as one might expect from a car wearing a European brand name. Eight-way power adjustment (including lumbar support) is standard on the SEL Premium model we tested, but when you read between the lines that means the seat lacks individual adjustment for thigh support. As a result, you can choose to sit tall with zero thigh support, or sit low with merely adequate thigh support.
I also had numerous problems with the driving position. I have long arms, long legs, and big feet, and I found the Passat’s pedals to be too close (both in terms of proximity to me and to one another) and the steering wheel, even telescoped to its maximum extended position, to be too far away for comfort. The steering column and pedals are also offset toward the center of the car, adding to discomfort, and the center armrest is also disappointing, sliding forward but without the vertical height adjustment that older VWs provided.
As a result, the Passat is not a car that I want to drive for extended periods of time. It lacks thigh support, I sit with my legs splayed and my arms outstretched, my body is slightly canted toward the center of the car, and my size-12 feet are occasionally incompatible with the pedals.
UPSCALE INTERIOR IS LOUD AND BUZZY ON THE HIGHWAY
Given the Passat’s appealing styling, upscale interior design, and quality materials, you might expect a luxury car experience while underway. Unfortunately, the cabin is not well insulated from road noise. On select paved surfaces, like fresh blacktop, the Passat is quiet. But on many of the roads we traveled it most certainly was not quiet, producing enough road sizzle to require raised voices for conversation. On rougher pavement textures, bits and pieces of the interior would vibrate, creating an aggravating buzzing sound.
SPEEDY DADDY SAYS…
While the redesigned 2012 Volkswagen Passat is now designed specifically for Americans and built in America, its VW badge and Germanic design cues make the car undeniably appealing as an alternative to the usual midsize sedan, and the Passat most certainly retains German-brand cachet to the average buyer. There’s plenty to like about the new Passat. The driver’s seat and driving position are not among them.
– Christian Wardlaw
Exterior Photos of 2012 Volkswagen Passat Copyright 2012 Speedy Daddy Media, Inc.