Car Reviews First Tests

2016 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T First Test
 Review

Checking in on our 2012 COTY Champ

Checking in on our 2012 COTY Champ

Fall is upon us, which means it’s about that time to pick our next Car of the Year winner. The Volkswagen Passat isn’t new yet, so it won’t be participating this time around, but we took the opportunity to get reacquainted with the midsizer that took home our coveted Golden Calipers trophy back in 2012.

The Passat changed a bit since then. For starters, the 2.5-liter inline-five was replaced by a 1.8-liter turbo-four, and more recently the diesel engine was pulled from the lineup until VW figures out how to clean up its emissions.

That brings us to the 2016 Passat, which VW refreshed inside and out. Volkswagen is typically averse to flashy styling revisions, so the exterior tweaks are somewhat tough to spot (a more sculpted front fascia, revised rear bumper, and new chrome bits). Meanwhile, the interior showcases a restyled dashboard, a revised instrument panel, and a display screen with sharper graphics. And once again VW proves it has a knack for designing excellent steering wheels—the one in the 2016 Passat’s trickled down from the Golf family.

2016 Volkswagen Passat side profile in motion 02
Interested in the 2017 Volkswagen Passat? On the 2017 Passat, forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking are now standard on all trims, and a new V6 SE w/Technology trim lowers the entry price for the six-cylinder Passat. Also, the R-Line and SE trims now get blind-spot monitoring and a rear cross traffic alert system as standard.

Overall, the interior is simple and well designed. Everything is in its right place, and the existence of good old-fashioned audio and climate-control knobs is comforting in an automotive world that won’t give up on introducing clumsy touch-based systems. The 2016 Passat has also been updated with a next-gen infotainment system featuring an updated touchscreen with swipe and pinch capability.

If roominess is a priority, then the Passat should be high on your list. The rear seats are especially cavernous with plenty of room for legs and shoulders. Passengers also have ample space to haul their stuff thanks to a trunk with a capacity of 15.9 cubic feet, among the biggest in its class. And not only is the Passat’s cabin roomy, but it’s also very quiet, exhibiting little road or engine noise.

Our test car featured the 1.8-liter turbocharged I-4 making 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. The turbo-four may be small, but it feels strong off the line, dishing out the power in a relatively smooth and linear fashion. Shifts from the six-speed auto are crisp and responsive, and a Sport mode is available to keep the engine revving it the upper end of its powerband. That said, aggressive highway lane changers will likely wish for more grunt, especially at speeds over 70 mph (112.7 km/h).  At the track, the powertrain propelled the 3,388-pound test car from 0 to 60 mph in 8.0 seconds flat, which is right in line with competitors such as the Camry (8.5 seconds), Honda Accord (7.5 seconds), and Mazda6 (7.9 seconds). Its quarter-mile time of 16.2 seconds is also class-competitive, edging out the Camry (16.5 seconds) and essentially tied with the Mazda6 (16.1 seconds).

The Mazda6 is usually regarded as the most fun to drive in this segment, although the Passat is pretty good, too. The base-engine Passat transitioned from a hydraulic-assist steering system to an electric one a few years ago. We’ve praised the former, but the latter is decent, as well. Out on the figure eight, the Passat needed 27.6 seconds to complete the course, which is actually 0.6 second off the pace of a 2014 Passat Sport we previously tested. The obvious difference here is tires, with our current test car riding on Bridgestone Potenza RE97 all-seasons versus the slightly grippier Continental ContiProContact rubbers on the Sport model. But for a front-drive family sedan, the Passat is relatively balanced and controlled through the corners.

We also took the opportunity to drop off our test car at the Real MPG labs to see how their numbers stack up against the EPA, which rates the 2016 Passat at 25/29/38 mpg (9.4/8.1/6.2 L/100km) city/combined/highway. Real MPG numbers were lower across the board. In the city, the Passat posted a Real MPG rating of 21.9 mpg (10.7 L/100km) (12.4 percent below the EPA), and Real MPG highway was rated at 36.1 mpg (6.5 L/100km) (5.1 percent below the EPA).

Motor Trend Real MPG Chevron logo 02

Our top-of-the-line Passat 1.8T SEL Premium carries an MSRP of $35,090 USD and is packed with new tech. LED headlights, a hands-free trunk, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. VW also added a long list of advanced driver assistance technology for the 2016 model year, including adaptive cruise control, forward collision prevention, and lane keep assist with active steering. The active steering works well, but oddly enough it doesn’t deactivate when the turn signal is used, which means the system is fighting your steering inputs during lane changes.

Back in 2012, we said, “Volkswagen’s less-boring-than-it-looks, 100-percent-German-driving Passat is Motor Trend‘s Car of the Year.” Today, it’s still clear why it took top honors. It meets all the criteria of a well-rounded midsize sedan, providing plenty of passenger room, a modest but functional interior, and respectable performance. 

2016 Volkswagen Passat SEL (1.8 Premium)
BASE PRICE $35,090
PRICE AS TESTED $35,090
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE 1.8L/170-hp/184-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,388 lb (59/41%)
WHEELBASE 110.4 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 191.9 x 72.2 x 58.5 in
0-60 MPH 8.0 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.2 sec @ 87.0 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 118 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.82 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.6 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 25/38/29 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 135/89 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.66 lb/mile