The USA-made and optimized Passat is now in its second generation on American roads. The refresh for 2016 brought optional LEDs that are Audi-tastic, new infotainment tech and a few other tweaks.
For 2018, Passat gains an all-new 2.0T engine as standard versus the 1.8-liter turbo from the previous four-cylinder models. The extra pony count is pretty modest – just four extra for a total of 174.
As ever, VW’s turbo models punch above their stats when it comes to real-world pace. This motor is no different – and cuts the sprint time to 60-mph down to one of the quickest among rivals.
Of course, most of these midsizers like Camry or Accord do brisk business by being huge inside, cheap to buy and run, and generally inoffensive in every way.
Is Passat’s German handling and perceived-quality precision enough to lure the masses out of their Altima bubbles?
We hit the roads to find out – and have a video review, about 60 photos and section headings of Exterior, Interior, performance and Pricing.
PERFORMANCE DRIVE REVIEW VIDEO - 2018 VW Passat
Passat has always taken a deeply evolutionary approach to its stying and design. This latest refresh helps Passat look much more expensive and premium from up front: slightly crisper horizontal stacked slats for the grille now stretch the dark silver accent across the tops of the headlamps. This creates a somewhat menacing stare on the roads, even with the very dull standard halogen lights all around.
It is a more angular design template to the surfacing up front that makes most visual impact. Without the LEDs, that is.
When equipped as the top SEL or SE w/Tech option, Passat instantly looks worth $40k to casual observers. For a $29k vehicle, that is pretty impressive.
These LED DRLs are a sharp white line across the upper slice of the headlamp unit. Tiny horizontal blocks of light floating in the indirect-fire area of the lamps are also part of a very chic, unique and classy DRL style. LED low and LED highbeams create a stunning level of night-time visibility. Easily the best midsize lighting performance.
Things improve further when you turn on the blinkers! These amber units lining the bottom of the lamps are some of the brightest and crispest on the road. LED mirror repeaters and full LED brake lights are a nice upgrade over the standard bulbs in base Passats.
With all lights blazing, Passat does look convincingly fresh. With them off or not specced? A different story. We find all the bodywork is carryover, and the only tweak to the rear bumper is a fairly tacky horizontal chrome bump strip across the rear bumper.
Did Passat need a radical design makeover? No, it didn’t. These looks are fairly timeless and will age gracefully. At all times, however, Passat is unique in traffic versus the generic sedans out there. These drivers have a bit of the old VW intellectual or cosmopolitan-ness to choose this vehicle, for sure. That is not a bad image at all.
Inside Passat, it is impossible not to be impressed with the space available. In front hip, shoulder, leg and elbow room, Passat is as large or larger than the Audi A6 wearing double the pricetag.
The back seat is absolutely massive, and massively comfortable. Accord or Subaru Legacy are other midsizers with this type of jumbo legroom available – but Passat always feels biggest.
VW’s tech leatherette material V-tex wraps all the seats and does a good leather-like impression of softness, without wearing out or getting hot like real hides. Our main gripe from the driver’s seat? For some body types and drive positions, the seat’s range of adjustment is not very generous. Yes it can perch shorties up high easily, but it can’t exactly find the perfect spot for my largess.
V-tex also highlights the lack of lateral support from the seats – it does get a little slippery. But will most drivers notice or care? Not really.
The rest of Passat’s cabin is deeply conservative in its designs and materials. Long-lasting and durable plastics meet a handful of soft-touch areas like the dashtop. In general, Passat is slightly somber on design and materials inside.
But for all those hard plastics, there is the incredibly strong sense of cabin quality. This Passat is not going to lose interior bodywork for decades – and that can’t be said of all cars these days. Ahem, Corolla, ahem….
The SE with Technology package brings a number of worthwhile upgrades inside along with the LEDs outside. All Passats have touchscreen display audio, Apple Carplay and android auto as standard. But this model adds integrated navigation, moonroof, active cruise and a few other upgrades. Heated seats front and rear and a half-dozen USB and charge points show how up-to-date this VW really is on the tech front.
As noted in the above video, there are some quirks. Setting the time in the car, for example, takes about five button pushes to accomplish in the mid-cluster screen, and you might not even figure it out at all for a few days.
Also curious is some missing equipment. We quadruple-checked but the SE w/Technology package does not include heated outside mirrors. Such a cheap piece of tech – it is lousy for owners to discover post-sale that their car lacks this basic feature.
What Passat does great it shares with all other VWs from inside: it has a purity of handling and purpose that is missing in rivals.
Here is Passat’s crowning achievement!
This machine drives with such a satisfying, German feel that nothing else can come close at $22k.
You might really expect Passat to feel nose-heavy, overly long or generally floppy versus the tight and taut Golf hatchback. But in reality, Passat has such a ridiculously rigid chassis that you never sense the vehicle’s size around corners or over big bumps.
Passat pulls off an almost impossibly good balance of ride comfort, quietness and overall performance ability. This is a car that grips tenaciously, resists almost all torque steer, and is generally pretty fun to flog.
Full throttle opens up another huge Passat USP. This new 2.0T for 2018 might be about the same on paper versus the old 1.8, but drives much better. Sprint times of an estimated 7.2-seconds to 60-mph are dynamite when paired with 25-city/36-highway MPGs. Yes, Passat 2.0T is slower than V6 Camry. But only 5% of people get the V6 with its $34k+ pricetag.
Where Passat is a rocketship is versus base Camry, base Sonata, Legacy or Mazda6. All those cars are at least a second slower to 60, and in some cases a yawning two seconds behind. This is the difference between hating or loving life on full throttle.
Passat’s one major mechanical nod to keeping the price down is its six-speed Aisin automatic transmission. This torque-converter unit is better than ever for 2018 and we loved driving in S versus D. In D, you need a heavy foot to make progress. But in S, the car is genuinely eager and fairly peppy. Without the jackrabbit off-the-line throttle or funky-aggressive shift points of some Aisin “S” drive modes.
Is DSG a better transmission than this? Yes. Is the V6 Passat likely a world better again than this turbo four? Yes. But this is a price-war midsize battle. And Passat is specced to win.
But surely overpriced?
Nope! Passat is deeply affordable. Base prices of about $22k tumble further with discounts. Our SE with Technology comes in just below $30k for its sticker total. While definitely not fire-sale prices, these are easily about $5k lower than VW’s initial pricing when selling Passats here a decade ago.
Is Passat the car for you? Do you value ruthlessly smart engineering, Euro-tight handling and standard turbo power?
Is a giant back seat a priority, and do you do huge highway miles? For all these Yes answers – you have to seriously consider Passat more and more.
Driving a base Camry or Sonata for an extended period for most enthusiasts is like throwing cold water on car passion. You start to zone out, and make your body and brain go numb to accept merciless understeer, shoddy grip and floppy cornering manners.
Passat will keep your automotive passion flame alive. Yes, it is deeply practical and can compete with the best on size, price and efficiency. And Passat also loves to kiss its redline and zing out of corners like a mega GTI. Not something one could say about most vanilla four-doors out there.