The biggest news for the 2014 Volkswagen Passat is the demise of the 2.5-liter I-5 and a new 1.8-liter turbo four-cylinder in its place. There is almost no change in power (it makes the same 170 hp and ekes out 7 more lb-ft of torque, to 184 lb-ft), and there is also now electrically assisted power steering. VW's OnStar-like Car-Net connectivity system is now available from the Wolfsburg Edition (which continues on from 2013 with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, parking brake, and shift knob) and up, as is the interface for iPods and the like. Certain Passat SE models get keyless access with push-button starting, new "Bristol" eighteen-inch wheels, and two-tone seats. All models except the S trims also receive a backup camera...
If you think the Beetle is the only long-running nameplate in Volkswagen's stable, think again. Volkswagen has been building the Passat since 1973, although it was originally named the Dasher and then the Quantum here in the United States. It wasn't until the third-generation car of the late 1980s that Americans finally received the Passat name on their mid-size Volkswagens. However, it was the fifth-generation Passat that really stood out. Volkswagen's mid-sizer shared its platform and powertrains with the also-then-new Audi A4, and we lauded the Passat in naming it a 1999 All-Star. "In its driving pleasure, its styling, and its quality, the Passat exceeds our expectations and more effectively combines practicality, luxury, and desirability than any other car in its crowded class." The Passat went on to be named an Automobile Magazine All-Star again in 2000, 2001, and 2002.
The sixth-generation follow-up to the much-loved 1996-2005 Passat grew in size and bloat, and despite being a competent driver and having a luxurious cabin, it didn't really keep the flames burning for Passat enthusiasm. After plummeting sales, Volkswagen pulled the plug on the Passat in the U.S. after 2010. Following a one-year hiatus, an all-new Passat emerged for the 2012 model year. The 2012 Passat had been developed under the code name "New Midsize Sedan" (NMS) -- a larger, more spacious, less expensive model that would appeal better to American tastes. The Passat, after all, plays in the same segment as the country's best-selling car, the Toyota Camry, and never even came close to those kinds of volumes. The NMS/seventh-generation Passat has been off to a good start for Volkswagen, moving 117,023 copies in 2012; Volkswagen showed no sign of slowing down in the first half of 2013, selling 55,119 Passats.
We were not predisposed to like the current-generation Passat when it came out for the 2012 model year. In the wake of a newly overhauled and more "Americanized" (read: de-contented) Jetta, the tea leaves for the Passat weren't looking good. Although the Passat's design hovers between handsome and bland, depending on the eye of the beholder, Volkswagen has managed to blend much of the desires of American consumers with the well-sorted dynamics and sturdy feel that buyers have come to expect from the German automaker.
In our 2013 comparison of eight mid-size sedans, we praised the Passat: "When it comes to chassis dynamics, there is no dispute, because the 2013 Passat SE shines where some of the other cars here stumble. West Coast editor Michael Jordan said, 'The Passat might look American but it is utterly like a European car in the way it goes down the road. The long-travel suspension is compliant, and you can feel the wheels stroking up and down as the car rides the bumps.' In addition, the steering is accurate and communicative even if the effort level is very light, and you have a good idea of what's going on at the road surface, which is a core tenet of German chassis tuning."
However, the Passat that participated in our comparison test was equipped with Volkswagen's old 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine, which has been replaced with an all-new 1.8-liter turbocharged I-4 for 2014. The turbo four-cylinder makes the same power as the old five-cylinder (170 hp), which is fine by us. Fuel economy increases substantially in both the city and highway cycles: five-speed-manual-equipped models are rated at 24/35 mpg city/highway, and six-speed-automatic Passats are good for 24/34 mpg; those are increases of 2 mpg city and 3 mpg highway no matter the transmission. Along with the new engine, the Passat also switches from hydraulic to electric power steering -- we hope that won't decrease the amount of communication relayed through the steering wheel.
Buyers looking for more performance from their Passats have two options: power or frugality. Those looking for the former can still opt for the 280-hp, 3.6-liter narrow-angle V-6, which is smooth and vigorous but not as efficient as, say, the V-6 offered in the Honda Accord. Buyers looking to help save the planet (and their wallets) should select the Passat TDI with its 2.0-liter turbo-diesel four-cylinder. We found throughout a recent Four Seasons test that the turbo-diesel engine, rated at just 140 hp, pulled so strongly (thanks to a healthy 236 lb-ft of torque) that we rarely wanted for more power. Better yet, the Passat TDI is rated at 31/41 mpg with the manual and 30/40 mpg with the automatic.
No matter the Passat variant selected, all drivers and passengers can be reassured about their safety. The Passat has earned a five-star overall crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The mid-size Volkswagen also passed the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's new "small overlap front crash test" with an Acceptable rating, earning it a place on the list of Top Safety Pick+ vehicles.
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