Volkswagen Passat (NA)


Debut: 2011
Maker: Volkswagen
Predecessor: No


 Published on 25 Jun 2011
All rights reserved. 


Under the leadership of Martin Winterkorn and Ferdinand Piech, Volkswagen group set a very ambitious target: it wants to sell 10 million cars a year and become the world's number one car maker by 2018. To realize that target, it needs to increase sales in all regions. One of the most trickiest is the United States. Although the group has been successful in most parts of the world, its sales remains weak in the USA. Last year, it sold only 358,000 vehicles there. This sounds like a joke compare with Toyota (1.8 million units), Honda (1.2 million units), Nissan (909,000 units) and Hyundai-Kia (894,000 units), let alone domestic players GM (2.2 million units), Ford (1.9 million units) and Chrysler (1.1 million units). Among them, only 257,000 units are attributed to the Volkswagen brand, which is supposed to be a mass market brand like the aforementioned rivals. While this shows its weakness in the US market, in the flip side it implies enormous potential for growth – if Volkswagen can sort out its problems.

The new plan calls for increasing the sales of Volkswagen brand vehicles to 800,000 units in 7 years time. How to do that ? The answer is not unlike those taken by its Japanese and Korean rivals – localization. Volkswagen shall tailor-make its cars for the taste of American, which means more space for less money. It shall offer the kind of product mix that the US market needs. Also, production shall be localized to reduce costs and the risks of currency fluctuation. Three new vehicles will be responsible for this task – the recently launched new Jetta, the new American-market-only Passat (to be discussed here) and a stillborn mid-size SUV. The Jetta is being produced at Mexico, while the other two will be assembled at the company's brand new factory at Chattanooga, Tennessee state of USA.



The North American Passat is very different from the European-designed Passat offered in the rest of the world. It is a lot larger – some 96 mm longer, 15 mm wider and 15 mm taller. Its 2805 mm wheelbase is longer than the European car by nearly 100 mm. So large that I suspect Volkswagen China / SAIC could be interested to use it to replace the aging Santana. The benefit is a lot of cabin room, of course. According to EPA measurement, its rear seats offer 35 mm more legroom, longer than arch-rival Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. The front seats get an extra 25 mm legroom. The trunk is also larger than its rivals. Volkswagen has really listened to the voices of American motorists.

The styling is deliberately conservative. While its European sibling looks sleek and contemporary, the American version is as rectangular as a piece of gold brick. American customers may not be all that conservative – just look at the fast-selling Hyundai Sonata and you will see – but VW apparently chose a more self-restrained path to distinguish itself from the competition. It could be more appealing to higher age groups that prefer understated elegance. A closer inspection to the design details will find the Volkswagen is a well thought-out design with some fine detailing and a high level of refinement. It fails to catch attention at first sight, but hopefully it will grow on you as time goes by.




The interior design is even more conservative. Nevertheless, it is well laid out and intuitive to use. Build quality and material richness are not up to the standards of its European sibling, especially if you look at small details like the interior finishing of glovebox, the cupholders or the less than oily operation of switch gears, but at least it won't give you a cheap feeling like Jetta. Compare with its Japanese rivals, it has a slight edge in the soft-touch plastics, noise insulation and especially the solidity of construction. The German engineering running behind it is still recognizable. Moreover, for the first time the mid-size Volkswagen sedan offers near class-leading space. 5 large guys can sit comfortably.

In the US, the car starts at just over US$20,000, some $7,000 less than the outgoing car. This put it on the same plane as its Japanese rivals. Naturally, cost saving is a big concern in its making. The Passat saves money in various ways. Firstly, production cost in the America is lower than that in the Western Europe, especially taking shipping into account. Save the engines, 90 percent of its components are locally sourced. Secondly, it abandons the sophisticated European-built 2.0 TFSI engine for lower tech and cheaper 2.5-liter inline-5 and 2.0 TDI engines, which are produced in Mexico and US respectively. Only the range-topping 3.6 VR6 is imported from Germany, but then it is expected to be a minority choice. Thirdly, the aforementioned downgrade in exterior sophistication and interior quality helps saving costs. Lastly, by reducing the trim combinations to only 16 from the previous 128, it improves production and sales efficiency.



The cost cut means its dynamics is somewhat compromised. We love the outgoing car's 200hp 2.0 TFSI engine a lot. It could be the most versatile engine in the class, being usefully punchy, flexible, refined and frugal. In contrast, the 170hp 2.5-liter straight-five is nowhere as desirable. It might be a little smoother and more characterful than the Japanese rivals' large four-pot engines, but it is underpowered and far from quiet. Not very frugal too. To many, the 140hp 2.0 TDI common-rail turbo diesel might be a better option, although it costs quite a lot more to purchase. Mind you, it is even slower, but its extra mid-range torque aids real-world overtaking, motorway refinement as well as mileage.

Very few people will choose the flagship 3.6 VR6. As we found before, its on-paper power (280hp) is not completely reflected on its real-world performance, blame to a peaky torque delivery and the extra weight it carries. Not even the very good DSG gearbox could save the game. You will enjoy its smoothness and sound quality though. Still, it may not be worth the extra cost and fuel bills. Anyway, the VR6 is going to extinct sooner or later. I hope by then Volkswagen will bring back the 2.0 TFSI, preferably in higher output form.



The American Passat shares its basic suspensions with the European car, i.e. MacPherson struts up front and multi-link setup at the rear. Predictably, its fine tuning shifts slightly towards the comfort side in order to please American motorists. Despite that, it shows typical European handling, with taut body control and good resistance to understeer. Only a mushy brake pedal and, in the case of 2.5-liter car, a sub-standard hydraulic power steering prevent it from matching the European Passat. However, its best quality is refinement. The ride is smooth and composed, the chassis feels solid and the cabin is significantly quieter than its Japanese and Korean counterparts. As a result, it feels more like a premium product.

Fans of the outgoing Passat might be puzzled with the slightly downgraded styling, build quality, steering and powertrain, but the American version is still good enough to beat its grassroots rivals in the US market, even though I suspect the next generation Accord and Camry may give it a hard time. Volkswagen plans to sell 100,000 units a year in the US from next year. While it is a sharp increase from the 12,500 units registered by the European-designed Passat last year, it is still a conservative target compare with its Asian rivals which managed 300,000 to 400,000 units in good years. Imagine if Volkswagen can build its TFSI engines in the America for the car, its sales potential could be really substantial. Wolfsburg, think about it !
Verdict: 
Specifications





Year
Layout
Chassis
Body
Length / width / height
Wheelbase
Engine
Capacity
Valve gears
Induction
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Transmission

Suspension layout

Suspension features
Tires
Kerb weight

Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)

0-100 mph (sec)
Passat 2.5
2011
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4865 / 1835 / 1485 mm
2805 mm
Inline-5
2480 cc
DOHC 20 valves
-
-
170 hp
177 lbft
5-speed manual or
6-speed automatic
F: strut
R: multi-link
-
215/60R16
5M: 1435 kg
6A: 1460 kg
126 mph (limited)
5M: 8.2 (c)
6A: 8.7 (c) / 8.8*
24.0*
Passat 2.0TDI
2011
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4865 / 1835 / 1485 mm
2805 mm
Inline-4, diesel
1968 cc
DOHC 16 valves
VTG turbo
CDI
140 hp
236 lbft
6-speed manual or
6-speed twin-clutch
F: strut
R: multi-link
-
215/60R16
6M: 1524 kg
DSG: 1540 kg
126 mph (limited)
6M: 8.7 (c)
DSG: 8.6 (c) / 8.6* / 8.7**
25.5*
Passat 3.6 VR6
2011
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4865 / 1835 / 1485 mm
2805 mm
V6, 10.6-degree
3597 cc
DOHC 24 valves, DVVT
VIM
DI
280 hp
258 lbft
6-speed twin-clutch

F: strut
R: multi-link
-
235/45R18
1563 kg

126 mph (limited)
6.5 (c) / 6.3* / 5.7**

15.1* / 14.0**




Performance tested by: *C&D, **MT





Year
Layout
Chassis
Body
Length / width / height
Wheelbase
Engine
Capacity
Valve gears
Induction
Other engine features
Max power
Max torque
Transmission
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Tires
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Passat 1.8TSI
2014
Front-engined, FWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4865 / 1835 / 1485 mm
2805 mm
Inline-4
1798 cc
DOHC 16 valves, VVT
Turbo
DI
170 hp
184 lbft
6-speed automatic
F: strut
R: multi-link
-
235/45R18
1465 kg
126 mph (limited)
7.5*
20.8*


















































Performance tested by: *C&D





AutoZine Rating
Click images for latest rating and comparison with rivals:
Passat (NA) all models

    Copyright© 1997-2014 by Mark Wan @ AutoZine