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2018 Volkswagen Passat Review

2018 Volkswagen Passat Review
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The 2018 Volkswagen Passat does little wrong, but its stoicism means it isn’t much fun.

The 2018 Volkswagen Passat is a mid-size sedan that’s heavy on practicality but light on personality. It’s roomy, powerful, and well-equipped with advanced safety tech, but the Passat was designed to check boxes and not to thrill consumers.

This year, a larger, more powerful turbo-4 is standard on most Passat trim levels. A new Passat GT variant adds some—but not too much—spice to the lineup and the automaker has shuffled around some standard and optional equipment on each trim level.

The Passat lineup consists of S, SE, SEL, GT, and R-Line trim levels. Most Passats you’ll find on dealer lots have a new 2.0-liter inline-4 engine under their hoods. This turbocharged engine puts out 174 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque and it shuttles power to the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission. Optional on the Passat SEL and standard on the Passat GT is a 3.6-liter V-6 rated at 280 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque also paired to a 6-speed automatic and front-wheel drive.

The 2.0-liter is acceptable for commuter-class commitments; it's smooth from takeoff, with enough power from a standstill to 30 mph. Its broad torque curve quickly serves most of its available power from just off idle, but the engine runs out of ideas quickly. The V-6 is much stronger, but also much thirstier at 22 mpg combined versus 29 for the inline-4.

The Passat’s steering is light but responsive and its chassis delivers a firmer ride than some more softly sprung rivals. Don’t confuse that with sportiness, but the Passat is composed and confidence-inspiring on a curvy road.

Where the Passat excels is inside. Although sized a little narrow compared to the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, the Passat’s interior boasts true stretch-out room in the back seat and mostly high-grade materials. A nearly 16 cubic-foot trunk is another asset.

At the entry level, the Passat S can feel basic—it lacks the heated seats, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility, and keyless ignition we’ve come to expect at around $24,000. Rivals mostly offer more for less. Higher-spec Passats are more loaded, and they’re a better value for the money. In our eyes, the sweet spot is the Passat SE at about $27,000 with its standard automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, synthetic leather upholstery, moonroof, CarPlay/Android Auto, and dual-zone automatic climate control.

Every trim is available with automatic emergency braking and the Passat generally has scored well in crash-testing.

Want to blend in? The 2018 Volkswagen Passat is the sedan for you.

The 2018 Volkswagen Passat’s styling will offend few, thrill fewer. It’s a solid 5 out of 10, a perfectly average sedan with not a single line out of place but no memorable cues inside or out.

Even this year’s new Passat GT won’t raise your heart rate.

The Passat follows a conventional three-box shape and its exterior is dressed up with hints of chrome on higher-spec models. Alloy wheels are standard at every level, but even their designs are hardly inspiring.

The GT channels the company’s Golf GTI with blacked out exterior trim and a thin red line grafted into its grille, but even its 19-inch alloy wheels won’t garner more than a brief second glance. A blacked-out roof hides the standard sunroof and smoked taillights give the Passat GT more presence from behind. 

The Passat is a wallflower, albeit one without a single hair out of place.

It’s much the same story inside with clean lines and a high degree of functionality, but little emotion. Audio and climate controls are grouped separately on the symmetrical dashboard, which makes them easy enough to locate at a quick glance. The cloth trim standard on the Passat S has a nice, thickly woven look and the leatherette fitted to all but the SEL (which has real leather hides) looks like it’s the real McCoy.

The 2018 Volkswagen Passat has good road manners.

The 2018 Volkswagen Passat is available with two engines, but neither turns it into a thrilling sports sedan. We’ve awarded the lineup a single point above average for a comfortable ride.

Most Passats leave the automaker’s Chattanooga, Tenn., assembly plant with a turbo-4 engine. This year, it’s a 2.0-liter unit that’s a little larger but not much more powerful than last year’s 1.8-liter. By the numbers, it checks in with 174 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque, the latter of which comes on at a low 1,500 rpm. A 6-speed automatic shuttles power to the front wheels.

In stop-and-go Los Angeles traffic, the 2.0-liter excelled at the low-speed stuff. Its broad torque comes on convincingly—but not alarmingly—just after takeoff. Press the 2.0-liter turbo-4 into action, and the Passat's prolific 3,300-pound mass pronounces itself.

Despite a bigger displacement and slight horsepower bump (4 hp from last year) the 2.0-liter lost steam accelerating onto interstates. Asking for a passing maneuver required some planning, too; the 6-speed felt up to the task, but the busy turbo still felt breathless from 40 mph to 60 mph.

The new engine is mildly more efficient than the outgoing 1.8-liter turbo, and importantly, more refined. Seeking more speed requires more cylinders.

Included with the Passat GT and optional on the SEL is a 3.6-liter V-6 engine rated at 280 hp and 258 lb-ft—figures VW achieved using premium fuel, not the acceptable regular unleaded. A 6-speed automatic again sends power to the front wheels only. The V-6 is a strong performer that delivers confident passing power, albeit with more underhood grumbling than we’d like to see at these prices.

A turbodiesel was once offered on the Passat, but it’s gone after VW admitted to cheating on federal emissions tests. Don’t look for another Passat TDI any time soon—if ever.
Most Passats share the same suspension tuning, which is relatively taut and delivers good body control without feeling too harsh over rough pavement. Larger alloy wheels like the 19-inch units on the R-Design amplify road imperfections, so shop carefully if you live where the tarmac resembles the moon’s craters.

Though the Passat’s suspension is more for comfortable touring than corner carving, its light, direct steering is a delight to hustle along on a curvy road.

The Passat GT is a homegrown effort, developed by the engineers at the Chattanooga, Tennessee factory where it’s built. Called a “guerilla effort” by a Volkswagen spokesman, the GT’s main claims to fame—exterior styling touches aside—are its enhanced exhaust system, a 0.6-inch drop in the ride height, and firmer springs and dampers. None of those matter all that much, though.

The 3.6-liter V-6’s output is unchanged by the freer-flowing exhaust. The available power is easy to access, just like in the Passat V6 SEL Premium. Instead, it’s the impact on how the V-6 sounds that’s the Passat GT’s biggest success, serving as a pleasant reminder of how nice free-revving, naturally aspirated six-cylinder engines are. The noise is sonorous, especially in the middle of the rev range, with a more prominent note from outside the car, too.

Like the V-6-powered SEL, the Passat GT relies on a 6-speed dual-clutch automatic to send power to the front wheels. Standard wheel-mounted paddle shifters make driving in manual mode a more engaging way to exploit the DSG’s quick-shifting abilities. But those paddles, identical to the setup on the Passat R-Line, are small and don’t feel very premium.

The Passat GT’s mild suspension modifications could have gone further. Not only is the 0.6-inch drop in ride height difficult to spot unless the GT is parked next to a standard model, but firmer springs and dampers have a negligible overall impact on how the car behaves. This is still a well-balanced car with a tight handling character and good body manners.

The firmer suspension sacrifices some ride quality over rougher roads—a fact that’s no doubt enhanced by its standard 19-inch “Tornado” wheels—but ultimately, we aren’t talking about a dramatic change in ride comfort. The Passat GT still errs on the side of smoothness, doing a good job of balancing sporty desires with comfort demands.

Comfort & Quality
A roomy back seat tops the list of the 2018 Volkswagen Passat’s interior virtues.

The 2018 Volkswagen Passat delivers above average interior space, especially for rear-seat passengers and for luggage. Its interior isn’t particularly dressy, even in high-zoot SEL trim, however.

All Passats come standard with a power-adjustable driver’s seat. A full-power passenger seat is included on higher trims. The base Passat S features durable fabric upholstery. Synthetic leather is included on the SE, GT, and SEL, while the SEL’s Premium package includes real leather. VW’s synthetic leather is tough and reasonably convincing, plus it will wear better over time than actual leather.

While the front seats are comfortable, it’s the back seat that earns the Passat its real accolades. It’s positively palatial, with much of the sedan’s nearly 118 cubic-feet of interior volume allocated to row two. Three abreast can be tight, but two passengers will feel like they’re in a small limousine. Similarly, the Passat’s 16 cubic-foot trunk has a wide opening and a flat floor.

Also helping the Passat is its low window line and skinny roof pillars, which offer a terrific view out compared to rivals with increasingly low roof lines. That’s a trade-off for the Passat’s upright, dull exterior styling, and it’s fine with us.

Where the Passat comes up short is its interior finishes. Every Passat we’ve driven has had a tight, quality feel, but chintzy plastics abound. That’s acceptable at the Passat’s lower end, but dressier models easily top $30,000 without any improvement in interior materials.

Good crash test results and a high level of standard and available collision-avoidance tech help the 2018 Volkswagen Passat score well for its safety.

Most versions of the 2018 Volkswagen Passat come from the factory with a high level of advanced safety tech and the four-door has earned good results in crash-testing.

All Passats come with a rearview camera, anti-lock brakes, six airbags, and stability control. Optional on the base Passat S and standard otherwise are automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, and rear cross-traffic alerts. On the Passat S, those features run a reasonable $495.

SE and higher trims include adaptive cruise control.

In government testing, the Passat earns five stars overall—albeit just four stars for rollover and front-crash protection.

The IIHS gave the Passat mostly top "Good" scores on its crash-test battery, but its headlights were rated “Poor” by the agency. 

The Passat doesn’t offer the same impact protection for front seat passengers as it does for drivers, according to the IIHS. VW’s mid-size sedan scored just a “Marginal” rating in the passenger-side small-overlap test, while it earned a “Good” when the same test was conducted on the driver’s side. The IIHS says that this could mean that the Passat was engineered specifically for its test.

The 2018 Volkswagen Passat is available in a wide array of trim levels and a fantastic warranty, but not all represent a great value.

The 2018 Volkswagen Passat is available in five different trim levels, but the value equation varies considerably. Base models are spartan, but the mid-level SE is loaded up with safety, luxury, and convenience features and a reasonable price. Moreover, the entire range now includes a 6-year, 72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty that lifts the Passat to a 7 out of 10 here.

The Passat S is the gateway to the lineup at $23,845, including a mandatory $850 destination charge. It’s not missing much, but rivals almost universally offer more for the money on their base trims. You’ll find power windows and locks, keyless entry, air conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, an audio system with a single USB port and a 5.0-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth, and a rearview camera. Optional—and worth the money—is a $495 package that includes automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, and rear cross-traffic alerts.

For an extra $2,000, the Passat R-Line adds some sporty styling touches, 19-inch alloy wheels, synthetic leather upholstery, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 6.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alerts, and paddle shifters. That’s not much coin for a lot of additional features.

Next, the Passat SE drops the body kit and 19-inch wheels but adds a moonroof, keyless ignition, and 17-inch alloy wheels for a hair over $27,000.

Optional on both R-Line and SE trims is a package with LED headlights. SEs can be further upgraded with the Technology Package that adds navigation, remote start, a trunk that can be opened with a kick under the rear bumper, heated rear seats, and 18-inch alloy wheels for a little over $30,000.

The Passat SEL builds on the SE’s Technology group with real leather upholstery, a Fender-branded audio system, and a power passenger seat for an additional $2,000. Another $3,000 buys the V-6 engine, which seems awfully expensive to us.

This year’s new Passat GT is specified like a Passat SE, except with the V-6 and a firmer suspension. New for 2018, the GT blends the features of the R-Line with some additional content from the SE and the similarly priced SE with Technology. Prices start at $29,995 (including the $850 destination charge), but for that sum the GT adds LED headlights and smoked LED taillights, a sunroof, and two-tone synthetic leather upholstery (not to mention the V-6 and all the aesthetic improvements) to the R-Line bones. Unlike that car, though, there are no option packages to choose from.

All-in, the priciest Passat runs $35,500, but we’d stick with the balanced value of the Passat SE.

This year, the bumper-to-bumper warranty grows to the industry’s best: 6 years or 72,000 miles after the car is sold new, whichever comes first. Unlike big warranties offered by some rivals, VW’s can be transferred to the next owner.

Fuel Economy
The 2018 Volkswagen Passat offers competitive fuel economy, as long as you stick with the turbo-4 engine.

The 2018 Volkswagen Passat sedan is thrifty when powered powered by the standard turbo-4 engine. We can’t say the same about the optional V-6, however.

Our 7 out of 10 score here is calculated from the base engine, which is rated at 25 mpg city, 36 highway, 29 combined. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

That engine comes standard on the Passat S, SE, SEL, and R-Line trim levels and is designed to run on regular unleaded. Optional on the SEL and included with the Passat GT is a 3.6-liter V-6 that guzzles at a rate of 19/28/22 mpg, VW says. The optional V-6 runs on regular fuel, but VW says that owners will achieve better performance when they use premium unleaded.  


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