Volkswagen’s marketing and packaging have been quirky over the years, but when it comes to the styling and engineering of its cars, VW is all business. The 2014 Passat, VW’s flagship sedan, fits the mold. But, yes, there is one quirk. It’s easy to get lost plowing through the lineup of this one model.
Our test car, a Night Blue Passat SEL Premium, was well equipped with no options. Its sticker price was $31,715. Powered by VW’s new-for-2014 turbocharged 1.8-liter Four – replacing, albeit gradually, the 2.5-liter inline Five – the SEL Premium is just one of 40 incarnations of the Passat. Moreover, VW has two other models, one very popular – the Jetta and the CC – that actually compete with the Passat at the fringes.
With so many choices, most people are bound to find a Passat that’s to their liking if they’re willing to take the time to thumb through the many selections. Some will walk away disappointed, however, because Volkswagen no longer offers an all-wheel-drive option in the Passat.
For the fuel-economy-minded, the obvious choice is the 2.0-liter, 140-horsepower diesel. It’ll deliver 31 to 43 mpg or more. But diesel fuel costs considerably more than regular unleaded gasoline, and the base TDI starts at $26,675 – almost $6,000 more than the base gasoline-powered Passat.
Our test car was rated at 24 mpg city 34 highway, and at times we did a little better. The Passat is quick off the line and responsive at all times. But to truly enjoy driving this car, one must become accustomed to making a leisurely move from brake to accelerator pedal. The 6-speed automatic transmission slips out of gear when the car is stopped, presumably to save a little fuel, and the Passat starts with a jerk if the driver’s foot moves too fast to the accelerator.
Also available is a 3.6-liter, 280-horsepower V-6 engine. Obviously, it’s much faster than the 170-horsepower 1.8-liter Four. But it comes with an automated manual transmission only. We’ve never driven a Volkswagen with this gearbox, but in general, we’ve found this type of transmission hard to love.
The Passat’s strengths include an unusually roomy interior and trunk for a midsize sedan; a feeling of quality and durability; a smooth, comfortable ride; and responsive performance and handling. Our test car, with several thousand miles on its odometer, truly felt like it would last forever.
After a hiatus in the 2011 model year, the Passat achieved better-than-average reliability scores in Consumer Reports magazine owner surveys upon its return. The Passat earned an “Acceptable” rating in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s tough new small-overlap crash test, and was designated a Top Safety Pick. It also performs well in government crash tests.
The pace of sales has been sluggish; the Passat was 19.3 percent behind the 2013 year-to-date totals, but many automakers got off to a slow start this year because of the unusually cold, snowy weather in much of the country.
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged inline Four, 170 horsepower, 184 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic
Weight: 3,230 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 18×8-in. alloy
Tires: 235/45R18 94H all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Trunk capacity: 15.9 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons
Fuel economy: 24 mpg city, 34 mpg highway
Fuel type: Regular unleaded gasoline