What is it?
The 2012 Volkswagen Passat, which is a North American-only car, is the linchpin in VW's well-publicized efforts to sell 800,000 cars annually in the United States by 2018.
The new Passat was designed specifically for Americans, with larger seats and more cupholders than models for the rest of the world. Coming in with a base price of "around $20,000"--VW officials would not be more specific on a price--the Passat is aimed squarely at buyers of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, not to mention the Ford Fusion and the Chevrolet Malibu.
So the question is, how much did they take out of the Passat to bring it in at $20,000? Surprisingly, you can't really tell much from just looking at or sitting in the car. The fit and finish on our test cars were superb, and all the surfaces you touch looked and felt good. There are a few bits of hard plastic in the interior, but most 2012 Passat interior surfaces have a soft-touch feel and a matte finish. The ride quality is what you would expect, and the cabin was quiet--all the better to listen to the high-end Fender audio system.
So it would appear VW is taking the approach that more is less, or that they will make up the difference in volume. And of course, by building the cars in the United States, VW can at least hedge its bets in the tumultuous ups and downs of the world currency markets.
What is it like to drive?
This first effort out of the new Volkswagen assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., drives like Passats of the past, which, considering where it's being built, is pretty much what VW execs are hoping for. Make no mistake, despite the bits and pieces being bolted together by folks south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the 2012 VW Passat is German-designed and -engineered and retains all the qualities Volkswagen buyers have enjoyed in the past from German-built cars: firm seats, taught suspension and direct steering.
We were able to drive two of the three engine choices that will be available at launch: the 2.0-liter TDI that makes 140 hp and 236 lb-ft, and the 3.6-liter V6 with 280 hp and 258 lb-ft. The diesel is available with a six-speed manual or a six-speed DSG, while the V6 is available with the six-speed DSG only.
Missing from the mix was the base model 2012 Passat with a 2.5-liter I5 making 170 hp and 177 lb-ft.
Of the two engine choices, we came away liking the VW diesel a lot, although from a performance point of view, the V6 gasoline-powered car is quicker, going from 0 to 62 mph in 6.5 seconds, nearly three seconds quicker than the oil-burner.
With the soaring fuel prices, it's worth noting that the 2012 Volkswagen Passat diesel returns 43 mpg highway, giving the car a range of more than 700 miles. And VW execs said there is no Passat hybrid planned, so the VW TDI remains the best "green" option.
Do I want it?
The U.S.-built 2012 Volkswagen Passat would to be appear a solid player in the midsize wars and, with the diesel option, it brings something unique to the battle.
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