The Volkswagen Passat is “built in America, for America” at the company’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. Under its plain Jane exterior is the heart of a car that is greater than its simple clothes would suggest. To me, that’s a bit like hiding one’s lamp under a bushel basket.
The Passat’s styling reflects Teutonic simplicity but I think it could be a bit more daring. I guess Volkswagen thinks American buyers prefer understated design. The midsize four-door Passat is available with one of three engines: a 1.8-liter, 170-horsepower four-cylinder; a 2.0-liter, 150-horsepower turbodiesel; and a 3.6-liter, 280-horsepower V-6. Prices range from $21,120 to $35,660 for the top V-6 SEL Premium. I drove a V-6 SEL Premium from Volkswagen’s press fleet.
The 3.6-liter V-6 has long been one of my favorite engines. With its banks of cylinders arranged in a narrower-than-normal V, this engine packs a lot of punch in a package that is not much wider than an inline engine. It develops gobs of torque at low rpm but also revs quickly. It accelerates with the power of a much larger engine. Fuel economy is rated at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway. The transmission is a six-speed dual-clutch automatic that can be shifted manually.
For those who want outstanding fuel economy without giving up drivability the 2.0-liter turbodiesel is the way to go. This engine has almost as much torque as the bigger V-6 but is rated at 30 mpg in the city and 44 on the highway when equipped with a manual transmission. That would give it a range of more than 800 miles of highway driving. Pick the six-speed dual-clutch automatic and the mileage rating drops to 42 mpg. Those numbers are competitive with many hybrids.
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Because the Passat is “specifically tailored for the U.S. market,” according to VW, the interior is big enough for five adults and that means good rear-seat legroom. The doors are wide for easy entry, and the trunk is big.
Volkswagen interiors are designed with a nice combination of textures and materials, and the SEL Premium looks like a luxury car inside. The instrument panel has chrome-ringed gauges similar to those found in the Touareg SUV. Brushed aluminum accents are an attractive counterpoint to soft leather and woodgrain trim. The front seats have good lateral and lumbar support.
Thankfully, audio and climate controls still have knobs and can be operated with gloves on when it’s bitter cold.
Bluetooth connectivity is standard, and the SEL package includes a rearview camera, Sirius satellite radio, navigation system and a premium Fender audio system with eight speakers.
The base price of the test car was $35,660. Destination charges brought the sticker price to $36,480.
Three years or 36,000 miles with a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty. The first year’s service is free.
Tom Strongman’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org
2015 Volkswagen Passat V-6 SEL Premium
Engine: 3.6-liter, 280-horsepower V-6
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 110.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,481 pounds
Base price: $35,660
As driven: $36,480
MPG rating: 20 city, 28 highway