Four years ago, Volkswagen had the Passat jump the tracks and become a true mid-size sedan by American standards. While it’s definitely been a success, selling better than any Passat before it in the U.S., it’s still not keeping pace with rivals like the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Ford Fusion.
Part of that is likely due to the Passat’s design, which plays it safe in virtually every possible way (yes, including in safety, which is a very good thing); yet for 2016, Volkswagen is clearly giving this rational, sensible sedan a little more appeal in the fine details.
As Volkswagen puts it, the Passat gets a more dynamic presence and sophisticated look, but in truth it involves the usual sorts of things afforded to a mid-cycle refresh—new front and rear styling tweaks, and some revised interior surfaces and details, with a new steering-wheel design, new column-stalk design, and chrome and piano black trim.
Design-wise, the current model had put down a bit of the panache and premium details of the previous-generation model, but there’s evidence VW is working on restoring some of that luster. There’s a little more chrome in back, a new, more substantial four-bar front grille, and a domed hood, all said to give the car a more planted stance. LED headlights and taillights add more elements of sophistication, and a sporty R-Line trim doesn’t crank up the performance in any way but with its black accents, rear diffuser, and unique alloys with Z-rated rubber might help balance out the car seats and cracker crumbs in back.
While Accord, Camry, and Fusion—as well as the Hyundai Sonata, and soon again, the Kia Optima and Chevrolet Malibu—all offer Hybrid variants, the Passat sticks with diesel for its highest-mileage models. Those models sure won’t disappoint in fuel economy and drivability, as their 2.0-liter TDI turbo-diesel engine is expected to continue topping 40 mpg on the highway (ratings may change for 2016 in light of VW’s diesel emissions scandal, however). That engine makes just 140 hp, yet it’s the 236 lb-ft of torque that matters, with easygoing drivability and seemingly effortless passing power.
There are two gasoline engines in the lineup. A 170-hp, 1.8-liter turbocharged, direct-injected four-cylinder engine offers impressive peppiness and torque for its modest ratings, and it now boasts EPA fuel economy ratings of up to 38 mpg highway with the automatic transmission. It’s also worth noting that both the diesel and the four-cylinder have in past years been offered with a choice of manual or automatic transmissions (the TDI with a version of VW’s DSG dual-clutch automatic and the 1.8T with a traditional auto).
At the top of the lineup is the 3.6-liter ‘VR6’ six-cylinder, which remains at 280 hp. It’s strong and smooth, but it’s only offered with an automatic and doesn’t make the Passat feel much quicker than with either of the other engines.
We’ve found the current generation of the Passat to be extremely pleasant-driving, with some of the of the best (light yet accurate and nicely weighted) steering systems in its class. The suspension is relatively taut for good control, yet the ride is comfortable, and this generation of the Passat is generally very quiet inside.
Front-seat accommodations—the driving position and the seats themselves—aren’t quite up to the top standards of other VW products, but they’re arguably better than most in this class. The back seat accommodations in the Passat are particularly good, as the seating itself is adult-sized, and it’s easy to get into and out of thanks to the more formal roofline. For the first time, for 2016, the Passat is offering rear heated seats, and there’s an easy-access feature allowing you to open up the vast trunk with your foot.
The Passat will almost surely carry over its excellent safety scores from both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the federal government. And for 2016, just as with many other mainstream models this year, the Passat is buffing up on its active-safety set. A rearview camera system is standard equipment now, as is a Post-Collision Braking System, helping to reduce (or lessen the severity of) secondary collisions. Upper trim levels of the Passat can include Adaptive Cruise Control, and a new Parking Steering Assistant.
Perhaps the greatest change to the Passat lineup is in the middle of the dash—where the Passat lineup gets VW’s MIB II infotainment system, with capacitive touch controls and proximity sensing, to allow more menu options to display as your hand approaches. This system is built for VW Car-Net connected services, and allows technology for integrated apps via a wide range of smartphones—through support for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink.
As for those trims and models, they’re going to change, although VW still hasn’t detailed in what way. But it has teased that pricing will start at $23,350, including the $910 destination fee, for the base Passat 1.8T S with automatic transmission.
Check back here for more details. The 2016 Volkswagen Passat lineup should reach dealerships later this fall.