Upon entering Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit, the message was…
Weeks after the unveiling of the fully revamped 2016 VW Passat in New York City, including some amazing tunes provided by Lenny Kravitz, an event that coincidentally was in sync with initial reports of the company’s diesel testing woes, Volkswagen hosted Be Car Chic and several other local media at its Virginia headquarters for a first drive of its updated flagship sedan.
We hit the suburban roads to test out the Passat’s capabilities. Our chariot was the Passat SE with Technology. Pop on over here to read our thoughts on Apple CarPlay inside the new Passat. Our tester came equipped with VW’s standard Passat 1.8L TSI DOHC engine and its Car-Net technology package, bringing the pricetag to a comparable $28,410 before the $820 destination charge.
Starting with the outside, Volkswagen has enhanced the curb appeal of the Passat without completely overhauling its easily recognizable aesthetic. Exterior updates include a shortened rounded-off hood, revised front grille and bumpers, first-ever LED headlights (for a VW sedan), and more tailored side-view mirrors. Volkswagen now includes its chrome trim line on all models of the 2016 Passat, keeping the accent along the bumpers, rocker panels and windows.
In the rear, the trunk lid has been redesigned to give the new Passat a more European appearance, including the license plate area placed between prominent, angled LED taillights.
Moving inside, seat covers receive a new design, featuring contrasting piping for interiors other than black. This may or may not upset past owners, but no longer will the Passat come with suede seat inserts on the SEL trim level; however, (silver lining) both front and rear passengers can keep their cabooses warmed thanks to available seat heaters.
Volkswagen maintains a clean layout with careful design choices such as the new two-piece door panel décor; in true German carmaker style, the design adds just enough detail without becoming a distraction. The 6.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system displays prominently in the center stack, with tactile controls and knobs for climate control and other oft-used elements easily discoverable and within reach.
Safety remains a top priority for the Passat, a 2016 IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award recipient. VW’s Technology package includes desirable safety features such as adaptive cruise control, front assist with autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert, and an easy-open trunk lid (with the wave of a foot and the cooperation of the smart key).
Perhaps most impressive on this Passat is its integration of three major automotive systems developed for smartphone integration: Apple CarPlay, Google’s Android Auto, and MirrorLink. I’m an Apple user, so I was eager to experiment with CarPlay.
While no changes have been made to the engine or drivetrain for 2016, we found the noise dampening materials made a world of difference in ride quality on both local roads and highway stretches. Volkswagen provides a soft, quiet ride in its 2016 Passat, making it a worthy competitor against the likes of the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion.
Design wise, we think the exterior plays it a little safe, but we don’t expect that to be problematic for the brand. VW owners typically are more focused on performance and a streamlined driver experience than fussy design elements. That being said, we think they’ll appreciate the modern LED headlight and taillight treatment, including the new option on all trim levels for a “Lighting Package” that comes with LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL).
On the road, the 2016 VW Passat felt sturdy and sprightly, handling both straightaways and curves well. Our test drive was fairly brief, but we had no trouble getting comfortable in the driver’s seat. The Passat is just one of those vehicles that becomes familiar quickly, an aspect of cars we find ourselves longing for as the proliferation of new tech features and the growing ubiquity of buttons to manage those features lengthens the time it takes to really get to know a car from the inside out.
Volkswagen has a well-built, well-priced, competitive midsize sedan on its hands. The only question now is will the arrival of the next-gen Passat, and the delay of its TDI at dealerships, be overshadowed by the company’s legal challenges? While diesel powered VW’s are still on hold, we believe the brand will weather the storm, and, as we’ve seen with other carmakers who’ve had their day in the limelight, hopefully, be better for it in the end.