Latest VW mid-size is one classy affair, especially in Highline form.
When we first drove the Passat TDI back in January, my esteemed colleague Adam Allen was forced to agree with others of our ilk who had been deadpanning the car for its lack of interior cohesiveness, with some of the blame being leveled at the fact that the latest Passat is being built in North America as opposed to Germany. This upset me because like Adam, I had always lauded the Passat and its stable-mates for their interiors, and their luxury cousins from Audi also had some of the best for that market, going toe to toe with the likes of Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
That car had the “Trendline +” trim package. Enter my car, which gets the “Highline” trim package and it makes a world of difference. For starters, the seats are finished (mostly) in something fancy called “Vienna Leather”—I don’t care much, however, for the soft fabric inserts to offset the leather; if Vee-Dub was cutting corners to reduce costs, this is one of few aspects of my tester’s interior where it showed, especially since lower trims get seats finished entirely in “Leatherette” (read: ”fake leather”). I know the soft-fabric grips better and offers stability and so forth but I’ve got the top trim here—just give me all leather seating, please. This is no sports car—it may have a great engine (more on this later), but it isn’t a performance vehicle that I’ll be winding through the bends to the point that I’ll be worried about sliding around in my seat.
The rest of the fit and finish is top notch with nice, tight panel gaps and proper leather on all the surfaces that need it—the shift knob, steering wheel, armrests and handbrake are all coated in it, and it’s great; just not in this colour. That cream interior? Not a chance, not when the winters are like they are in most of Canada and we have to deal with mud, salt stains and the like—give me something dark, please (there are only two colour options at this trim level, and thankfully one is dark); I could have been wearing indoor-only slippers while driving (although I don’t recommend this) and the carpets would still have found a way to get dirty.
There are also some faux carbon-fibre inserts as well which aren’t bad but look as fake as they are; I’d go with faux aluminum if I had the choice and save $700 in the process, as that’s the cost of my tester’s Sport Package which includes the carbon trim, 18-inch wheels and a rear spoiler. I would also ask VW to re-vamp the climate control system, already—the fascia on this one, with its old-school dials and somewhat ham-fisted operating habits is hardly removed from my dad’s Passat, and he’s had that car from new in ’03. It’s a step-up from other VW models (I think the system found on the latest Beetle is sourced directly from an old VW parts bin somewhere) thanks to smoother dial operation and a little more streamlining. I’m not saying VW has to go the Ford MyFord Touch route, whereby knobs and dials are strictly prohibited in lieu of touch surfaces, but let’s at least digitize this thing, eh Volkswagen? It is 2012, after all.
On the infotainment front, the 3.6 Highline is loaded to the gills with everything except SatNav—that costs $1,200 if you spec it, which is a little questionable considering this is the top trim and should have Nav as standard. At 6.5 inches, the touchscreen is average-sized but fairly responsive and clear.
What you do get with the Highline is the excellent Pansonic Fender eight-speaker, 400 watt sound system that may not quite turn the Passat into a symphony hall, but is one of the best you’re going to find in the sub-40 grand mid-size sedan segment. Even on low-quality mp3s piped trough your Bluetooth device, the sound is rich and strong—I even heard some things through the Fender system that I hadn’t in anything before; I’ve listened to the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” a million times, but never had I heard Mick’s “WOOH!” in the background at around the 2:40 mark when backup vocalist Merry Clayton’s voice cracks. Nice.
It’s good that you have such great audio as some audio accompaniment on your drive because you aren’t going to get much from the engine. The FSI V6 is a little more vocal that something turbocharged, but it’s nowhere near as loud as the other non-diesel option in the Passat line-up, which is a 2.5-litre five-banger.
Part of the noise reduction can be attributed to increased sound deadening, but a lot has to do with the fact that this is an engine that doesn’t need to be revved that hard to hit peak torque figure. Peak torque of 258 pound-feet (which is more than the diesel) comes at a lowly 2,500 r.p.m., and sticks around until the needle sweeps past the 5,000 mark. Transmission duties, meanwhile, are handled by a six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) that includes a pair of shift-by-yourself paddles that I tried a few times, enjoyed, then never really went back to because the DSG is one of the best autos out there and I was just happy to let it do the work; kind of goes with the luxury of this top-spec Passat.
It’s such a smooth drivetrain that even me, a bonafide diesel enthusiast, would have to seriously consider the V6 over the diesel—both are available with the Highline trim package. Yes, the diesel comes with everything diesels are known for and—in Canada, at least—are respected for (the Yanks still don’t get it when it comes to cars); high torque that’s on tap at almost any gear and at almost any speed, good fuel consumption and reliability. But the V6 gets all that all the while maintaining some strong fuel economy figures; we saw less than 10 on the highway and just over 12 in the city. 280 hp, V6 power and around 10 litres per 100 kilometers in the combined cycle? Yes, please.
And if it’s possible to look good while sipping that fuel, then this Passat will sure help. I liked the Passat from two generations ago (1995-2005) more than I did the last generation (’05-11) and it appears that VW designers did too, as the new car looks much more like that one. Gone are the bloated, rounded environs of the ’05-’11 model, replaced by the chiseled, squared-off corners of the older car.
The 2012 model is a seriously handsome car as a result—not especially exciting with the exception of that chrome-y grille and those 18-inch five-spoke wheels that don’t affect the ride. Unlike the carbon fibre trim, this is a Sport Package feature I would keep; pity you can’t have one without the other. The spoiler is also a nice touch; it’s subtle, but it somehow conveys that Germanic sense of authority that so many well, German, sedans have. And corny bling-tastic naming conventions aside, it looks rather good in “Candy White”, the official name of the colour in which my tester is finished.
Having said all that, as much as I like the smooth-ride provided by the suspension (MacPherson struts with wishbones and coil springs up front, a four-link set-up at the rear), it’s not a terribly involving ride as it’s hampered by some woolly steering. Then again, I said before that this is not a car with which to bait the twisties; it’s there to keep you comfortable and safe around town, which it does thanks to all manners of electronic safety aids like traction control, stability control and six airbags as standard. No more 4Motion all-wheel drive system, though as it was kaiboshed in the Passat after 2011.
I wouldn’t say that the Passat is a particularly exciting car—but then, it probably isn’t supposed to be when you consider the snooze-fests that are its main competition in the form of the Toyota Camry or Chevy Impala—but it’s such a quality affair, such a handsome car that, even though you know its nameplate has an up-market brand of its own, you feel like your driving something that is closer to the luxury world than pretty much any of its competition.
And for less than 40 grand, you can’t help but be impressed by that.
2012 Volkswagen Passat V6 Highline – Specifications
Price as tested: $39,375
Body Type: 4-door, 5-passenger sedan
Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive
Engine: 3.5-litre FSI V6, DOHC, 24 valves
Horsepower: 280 @ 6,200 r.p.m.
Torque (lbs.-ft.): 258 @ 2,500-5,000 r.p.m.
Transmission: 6-speed automatic DSG w/paddle shifters
Curb weight: 1,563 kg (3,446 lbs.)
Fuel consumption: City: 12.2L/100 km (19.3 US mpg)
Highway: 9.8L/100 km (24 US mpg)