Volkswagen’s approach to the modern automobile is much like Apple’s approach to hardware design. Clean lines, crisp angles, purposeful details, and ease of use are commonalities shared by both. Like the MacBook I’m writing on, Volkswagen cars are beautifully simple in appearance with no frivolous extras cluttering the aesthetics.

This holds true with VW’s mid-cycle refresh of its popular Passat. For 2016, the simple lines continue, changed only slightly from 2015, but with an eye on the American market. VW designers say the refresh is targeted towards U.S. buyers. They even went so far as to include a “power dome” in the hood.

Slight as they might be, the changes are there. The interior receives a similarly understated redo, with the dashboard and infotainment system constituting the bulk of the changes. Even the powertrain lineup is relatively unchanged – and that’s only if you count the current absence of a TDI model.

Like Apple, small changes make big waves for Volkswagen, and the 2016 Passat is no different. So much so, in fact, VW flew me to Vermont for some seat time. Twisty roads over mountains and through rock-strewn valleys dotted with farmlands provided the perfect setting for testing Germany’s latest take on an American sedan.

Continue reading for the full driven review

  • 2016 Volkswagen Passat - Driven
  • Year:
    2016
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    inline-4
  • Transmission:
    six-speed automatic
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    170 @ 4800
  • MPG(Cty):
    24 (Est.)
  • MPG(Hwy):
    36 (Est.)
  • Torque @ RPM:
    184 @ 1500
  • Energy:
    Turbocharged (Est.)
  • Displacement:
    1.8 L
  • 0-60 time:
    7.5 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    115 mph
  • Layout:
    Front Engine; Front Drive
  • Price:
    22440
  • Price:
  • car segment:
  • body style:

Exterior

2016 Volkswagen Passat - Driven
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2016 Volkswagen Passat - Driven
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2016 Volkswagen Passat - Driven
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Everything from the A-Pillar forward is new, but it takes seeing the 2015 and 2016 side by side for the changes to become noticeable.

Everything from the A-Pillar forward is new, but it takes seeing the 2015 and 2016 side by side for the changes to become noticeable. VW has shaved off any roundedness found in the 2015’s front fascia and squared it off. The hood now has its “power dome,” lending a more sculpted look. The headlights are now squared off with the grille and feature LED lighting on R-Line and above trims, along with daytime running lights as standard. The lower grille has the same general appearance with its fog lights, but the surrounding body structure has been given creases and bulges. A new chrome accent line now appears under the fog lights as well.

The angular design continues onto the Passat’s rear. New LED taillights feature horizontal accents that help visually widen the car while new reflectors in the bumper carry the theme. Chrome trim carried from the front bumper rearward wraps around the back, giving the car a more premium feel. VW moved the Passat and engine badges down on the trunk lid as well.

New for 2016 is an R-Line package. Slotted above the base S trim package, it adds several exterior treatments like 19-inch alloy wheels, unique bumpers with black accents, a rear diffuser, air intakes, scuff plates, and chrome exhaust tips. The LED headlights and taillights are also an option here.

2016 Volkswagen Passat - Driven
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Interior

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2016 Volkswagen Passat - Driven
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A careful eye is needed once more for discerning the changes here. The most noticeable updates are to the dashboard’s shape and trim. The angular theme strikes again, this time with a horizontal crease above the air vents, traveling across the dash. A new strip of metallic trim is inserted above the wood trim. The metal strip is heavily textured and feels almost like a rough-cut file. Still, it’s pleasant to touch.

Volkswagen didn’t forget about technology either. The infotainment system now includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – both of which worked very well in the demonstrations presented. And unlike some of its competitors, the infotainment system will sync two mobile phones via Bluetooth. This allows folks who have personal and work phones to enjoy hands-free calling on both. The system simply asks what line you’d like to dial from.

All told, the Passat’s interior is a great place to spend time

Thankfully VW has abandoned its outdated method of a proprietary cell phone connector. Now a USB port in the closable compartment ahead of the shifter allows easy charging and data transfer. A second USB port is available for rear-seat passengers.

The R-Line package brings a unique dashboard trim and leather wrapping on the steering wheel, gear shifter, and E-brake handle. Opt for the R-Line Comfort Package, and V-Tex leatherette seats are added, along with a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, and several other upgrades.

Beyond the changes, the Passat’s interior is surprisingly large for its mid-size class. Rear seat legroom is outstanding, as is headroom and elbowroom. The same is true for front occupants. Comfortable seats with plenty of adjustments make long drives enjoyable. Two main cup holders are large enough for most fast-food drinks and secondary cup holders in the door allow for coffee mugs and large water bottles.

All told, the Passat’s interior is a great place to spend time. Extended road trips are no problem and the massive trunk will eat a week’s worth of luggage, no problem.

Drivetrain

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I’ll address the elephant in the room first: the 2016 Passat will launch without its 2.0-liter TDI option. VW is still deeply under investigation for its turbodiesel models and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Despite the new EA288 2.0-liter TDI not being even remotely related to the EA189 2.0-liter TDI that used the emissions-cheating software, the EPA has pulled all of VW’s TDI certifications.

That leave the 2016 Passat with two engine options: the 1.8-liter turbo four-cylinder and the 3.6-liter VR6.

The vast majority of Passats will come equipped with the 1.8-liter. This volume engine is nevertheless impressive, using direct injection and a turbo to create 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. EPA estimates for fuel economy are 25 mpg city, 38 mpg highway, and 29 mpg combined. All three ratings are slightly higher than the 2015 model thanks to improvements in underbody aerodynamics, along with a new energy-saving alternator and air conditioning compressor.

The 3.6-liter VR6 is offered only as an option on the top SEL Premium trim level. The narrow-angle V-6 (10.6 degree V) is naturally aspirated but still kicks out 280 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque when running premium fuel. Regular fuel is acceptable, but slightly decreases the output. Fuel economy is still respectable at 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 23 mpg combined.

Each engine has its own transmission; the 1.8-liter comes with a conventional, six-speed automatic while the VR6 comes with VW’s DSG six-speed auto with paddle shifters.

Driving Impressions

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Volkswagen may say the 2016 Passat is built for the American market, but its German roots clearly show through from behind the wheel. The cabin is church-mouse quite on all but extremely broken pavement, the fit and finish of its interior materials is almost Audi-like, and its ride is exceptionally smooth.

Due to the limited availability of the VR6, I spend my driving time in the 1.8-liter turbo. No need to complain though, as the four-cylinder provided a surprising amount of power throughout its power band. Even at high revs, engine noises are muffled while power is not. The transmission shifts intelligently and in short time. Even on hills, it didn’t hunt for gears.

Body roll is well controlled through moderate turns and brake dive is nearly non-existent. Pot holes and rough pavement are soaked up with surprising ease. Steering feel is solid, though a bit on the numb side. On-center feel is good with almost no play.

The cabin’s design facilitates a pleasant driving experience. Controls are easy to reach and smartly placed, gauges are easy to read, and outward visibility is good.

Safety

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Volkswagen has updated the Passat’s safety features for 2016 as well. Post-Collision Braking is standard, a standard rear-view camera eases backing up, and Adaptive Cruise Control is standard on SE models and up. Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking use the adaptive cruise control’s front-facing radar to warn the driver of obstacles and to actively brake if the driver fails to. If all else fails, a plethora of airbags comes standard. Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Departure Warning, and Rear Traffic Alert are available as well. Upper trim levels also get Park Pilot, VW’s automated parking system that works in both parallel and perpendicular parking spots.

Price

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Despite its German heritage and Audi-like feel, the Passat is reasonably priced. The “base” Passat S carries a lower starting price than The Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Camry. Only the Ford Fusion has a lower starting price at $22,110.

Model Price
2016 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T S $22,440
2016 Volkswagen Passat R-Line $23,975
2016 Volkswagen Passat SE $26,280
2016 Volkswagen Passat SE w/Technology $28,410
2016 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL $30,495
2016 Volkswagen Passat SEL Premium starts $34,270
2016 Volkswagen Passat V6 SEL Premium $36,835

Packages

Lighting Package $1,245
R-Line Lighting Package $1,095

Competition

Toyota Camry

2015 Toyota Camry - Driven High Resolution Exterior
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Mark McNabb had yet another crack at the 2015 Camry, this time in its loaded-up XLE trim level.

The Camry has long been the mid-size sedan to beat. Its sales records are second to none and it offer great transportation with little fuss. That said, some find the Camry too bland, even with its 2015 refresh. Like the Passat, the Camry is available with a four-cylinder or a V-6. In the Toyota’s case, it’s a 2.5-liter inline-four that makes 178 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque, even without a turbo. The V-6 is even more potent at 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet.

Prices for the Camry start at $23,070 and grow into the $30,000 range for the higher trim levels.

Read more about the Toyota Camry here.

Honda Accord

2016 Honda Accord High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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Also hailing from the Land of the Rising Sun, the Accord is a tough competitor in the sales game. It comes with an all-new look for 2016 – one that is decidedly more Acura and upscale. Both a four-cylinder and V-6 are offered, with the four-pot making 185 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. The V-6 brings 278 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque to the table.

Like the Passat, the Accord also offers CarPlay and Android Auto, along with its double-screened dashboard design. Because of this, the Accord is likely the technophile’s choice.

Prices start at $22,105 and top out around $35,000.

Read more about the Honda Accord here.

Conclusion

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The Passat might not be the sales king Volkswagen wants it to be, but VW owners know the secret of its German flair and Audi-like feel topped with a competitive price. That’s not likely to change too much, even with the 2016 update.

Regardless of sales figures, the Passat is still a fantastic sedan that incorporates all the right stuff that makes a mid-sized sedan work: tons of safety equipment, a massive trunk, plenty of room for kids in the back, a catchy design, and variations of favors in the various trim levels. That’s especially true with the new R-Line trim.

While it’s sad the TDI engine is down for the count, the 1.8-liter four-cylinder provides all the power most owners would ever want while still getting respectable gas mileage.

And like Apple used to be a small-scale cult thing until the iPhone, perhaps this updated Passat will be what boosts VW into the main stream of family sedans. Maybe

  • Leave it
    • * Changes are hard to see
    • * No TDI models for a while
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