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The Good

An abundance of cabin space, available turbodiesel powerplant, comfortable ride, agile handling and the traditional upscale atmosphere make the 2012 Volkswagen Passat a worthy family automobile.

The Bad

The curiously down-powered 2.5-liter inline 5-cylinder engine, iffy brakes and a somewhat noisy cabin may deter a number of potential owners.

The CarGurus View

Despite a reputation as staid and a bit stuffy, not to mention a history of reliability issues, the redesigned 2012 Passat is positioned to make its mark in the family-sedan niche. The new turbodiesel engine is a welcome uptick in power and efficiency, and a remarkably roomy cabin, as well as plenty of trunk space and a wealth of standard features, ought to give this classy VW some staying power in this fiercely contested market.

At a Glance

After taking a year off for a significant redesign, the new and improved Volkswagen Passat is back for 2012. This reworked, family-friendly, less pretentious 5-passenger sedan has given up its pseudo-luxury status in favor of a presentation that, it’s hoped, will be acceptable to the more practical minded U.S. consumer while at the same time retaining its German underpinnings. Now assembled in Tennessee, VW’s latest Passat variant is poised to overcome a perceived notion that American consumers would rather buy domestically produced autos. In any event, this upscale sedan now offers an extra 4 inches of overall length, resulting in more leg- and headroom, especially in the rear seats, yet a significant weight loss and new sport-tuned suspension add up to a more agile drive with no degradation to its traditionally easy ride.

The new Passat is offered in three renamed variations designated by the three available engines, a base 2.5-liter inline 5-cylinder (I5), a new 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel (TDI) and a potent 3.6-liter V6. Each of the three are further subdivided into four trims, with the entry-level S, lower midlevel SE, upper midlevel SEL and top-shelf SEL Premium all sporting the standard I5 powerplant. Diesel-equipped TDI versions are available in both the TDI SE and TDI SEL Premium trims, while the gasoline-burning V6 will be available in only the SE and SEL Premium trims. All trims are front-wheel-drive (FWD) only, and all sport nearly 16 cubic feet of trunk space. The base S trim, though comparatively under-endowed features-wise, still offers a decent number of standard goodies. Higher trims, though marginally reduced in overall cabin ambiance, still retain much of VW’s traditionally understated interior elegance. The result is a significant price reduction for all trims, with the base S trim dropping nearly $1,500 to a more manageable MSRP in the neighborhood of $20,000.

Shooting for world – or at least U.S. – dominance, the 2012 Passat will have to overcome the likes of Ford’s Fusion and Taurus, Hyundai’s well-wrought Sonata, Honda’s perennially popular Accord and the surprisingly capable Kia Optima. Pricing, performance, features and brand loyalty are pretty much even throughout this segment, thus VW may have to lower its sights a tad, and all comers ought to rate at least a test drive or two before money changes hands.


Three brand-new drivetrains are now available for the 2012 Passat. The base 2.5-liter I5 engine and standard 5-speed manual transmission with brake hill holder are delivered with the S and SE trims. This tepid combo puts out 170 hp at 5,700 rpm and 177 lb-ft of torque at 4,250 rpm, with mileage estimated at 21 mpg city/32 highway. A state-of-the-art Tiptronic 6-speed auto-manual transmission with the highly touted sport mode is available for both the S and SE, and comes standard with the SEL and SEL Premium with a 1 mpg gain in city driving and 1 mpg loss on the highway. All I5-equipped trims are additionally eligible to be delivered as Partial Zero-Emissions Vehicles (PZEV), sporting equipment designed to meet or exceed California’s trend-setting auto emissions standards.

For the SE and SEL trims, there’s an available 3.6-liter variable-valve-timed V6 powerplant that, with the standard Tiptronic 6-speed auto-manual transmission, pounds down 280 hp at 6,200 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque at 2,500 rpm. These ponies are recommended to graze on premium unleaded at a 20/26 clip.

Finally, Volkswagen is proud to offer an available direct-injected 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder (I4) turbodiesel mated with a 6-speed manual transmission in the TDI SE and TDI SEL Premium editions. This combo puts down a rather paltry 140 hp, but a pretty impressive 236 lb-ft of torque. Mileage is estimated at 31/43 with the stick shift, and 30/40 with the 6-speed auto-manual that comes standard in the TDI SEL Premium and is available for the TDI SE.

Most reviews make much of the fact that the 2.5-liter I5, though adequate for most situations, comes up far short of the 200-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder (I4) powerplant that it replaces. One test found the I5 going from 0-60 in just under 9 seconds, pokier than most in the class. Even the much-ballyhooed turbodiesel, with its mere 140 horses, is noted by reviewers as quick enough off the line, but with little in reserve for passing and merging on the highway. Only the V6 gets raves from reviewers as a quick (0-60 in a surprising 6.4 seconds) yet economical engine, well worth the extra money. Virtually all reviewers note that the regular 6-speed auto-manual transmission and its 6-speed auto-manual DSG dual-clutch counterpart perform flawlessly under all conditions. The I5 is described in most reviews as quiet and refined, while the turbodiesel can be a bit noisy on acceleration but tames considerably on the highway.

Ride & Handling

Though it retains its renowned plush ride qualities, the 2012 Passat lineup gets a new sport-tuned suspension that allows drivers just a bit more engagement. A 4-wheel independent suspension is bolstered by MacPherson front struts, front and rear stabilizer bars and a multilink rear suspension. Steering, meanwhile, is described by a number of reviewers as well-balanced and accurate, with a lighter feel to the wheel in I5-equipped trims and a weightier touch in the TDI versions. Though it won’t do particularly well in the Baja 500, VW’s latest midsize sedan certainly ought to hold its own in the daily commute, journeying to grandma’s house or humping the mall circuit. Reviewers also note that the Passat delivers a well-crafted ride, with most bumps and imperfections more audible than jostling. Brakes are described by many reviewers as competent, but some reviews claim a disturbing amount of pedal travel lengthens stopping distances somewhat in non-emergency situations and may take a little getting used to.

The base Passat S trim mounts 16-inch steel wheels, while the gas-burning SE, SEL and and SEL Premium trims roll on 17-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires. Both the TDI SE and TDI SEL Premium, meanwhile, boast 18-inch alloy wheels. Of all the various wheel offerings, reviewers seem to favor the 17-inch size for all-around ride and handling competency.

Cabin & Comfort

Though not quite the master of affordable posh it once was, the 2012 Passat lineup offers enough bells and whistles, not to mention cabin ambiance, to accommodate the typical family voyage. The base S trim, for example, sports standard cloth upholstery, remote power door locks, power windows and outside mirrors and dual-zone climate controls. Cruise control and telescoping tilt-wheel steering eases the drive a bit, while steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls help the eyes stay on the road and a standard trip computer keeps track of the details. Entertainment is provided by an MP3-capable single-CD player with 6 speakers, while phone pre-wiring and Bluetooth hands-free technology is also standard.

The SE and its TDI SE sibling add standard leatherette upholstery, eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats and heated outside mirrors, with a leather steering wheel and rear-seat center armrests thrown in for good measure. Entertainment comes via a 6-CD changer and 8 speakers, all bolstered by Sirius satellite radio and a music memory card slot. The SE V6, meantime, also throws in the highly regarded Fender premium audio system with 9 speakers, including a subwoofer, as well as a power sunroof.

Amping the amenities up a bit more is the upper-echelon SEL, with a standard universal remote garage door opener and simulated wood trim on the dash and doors, as well as front and rear floor mats. Though it sports only a single-CD player, the upper midlevel SEL boasts the 9-speaker Fender premium audio system, as well as a standard hard-drive-based navigation system and dashboard-mounted video monitor.

The flagship SEL Premium and TDI SEL Premium trims tack on standard genuine leather upholstery, an 8-way power-adjustable front passenger seat and memory for up to three drivers' settings.

Options on the S trim include the Appearance package with 6-speed auto-manual transmission, 16-inch alloy wheels and rear center armrest, while the SE can be delivered with an available sunroof and/or hard-drive-based navigation system. Floor mats and various trunk storage goodies are additionally available for all trims, as is a unique Passat lip spoiler.

Most reviewers find cabins in the lower Passat trims to be adequate but short of their 2010 forbears. On the other hand, virtually all reviews agree that interior materials and comfort in the higher trims, though still short of ’10 standards, are on a par with the best of what’s out there, especially with their simulated burled-wood dash and door accents. Reviewers also agree that, with its added dimensions, passenger room is much enhanced, while rear-seat spaciousness is among the best on the market. Many reviews, alas, claim a noticeable amount of wind and road noise, and there are rumblings that front seat cushions could be a bit longer for serious comfort. Visibility is noted by most reviewers as above average all around, while plenty of cubbies, bins and trays, not to mention a generous console and glovebox, provide ample interior stowage.


Traditionally safety-conscious, VW has endowed the 2012 Passat lineup with standard 4-wheel antilock disc brakes (ABS), electronic brakeforce distribution, emergency brake assist, traction control and electronic stability control (ESC). Front and rear head airbags, dual front side-mounted airbags and front head-restraint whiplash protection provide a comfortable measure of occupant safety, and a remote antitheft alarm allows owners some peace of mind when leaving the Passat in the mall parking lot.

Additional standard safety features, lineup-wide, include daytime running lights, turn-signal-integrated mirrors, dusk-sensing headlights and a post-collision safety system. The TDI trims also come equipped with standard front fog/driving lights.

The 2012 Passat has yet to be evaluated by either the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

What Owners Think

Having been available to consumers for only a short time, the reworked 2012 Passat lineup offers little in the way of owner critique. Some rants and raves, however, have been heard regarding the up-sized, yet down-powered 2.5-liter I5 powerplant, with acceleration considered questionable, and fuel efficiency seen as acceptable, if not laudable. The highly anticipated turbodiesel, on the other hand, has those few owners willing to comment praising its mileage figures and power off the line.

Opinion is divided over the Passat’s new look, with some tire kickers lamenting a continued blandness and others comfortable with its tried-and-true familiarity. Finally, reliability has nearly all owners and lookers concerned, though VW claims to have the problem licked.

A casual elegance in its larger cabin, especially in the higher trims, has a few potential owners giving VW’s classy German-bred sedan a second and third look, while the lower price tag and a traditional simplicity in the dash and control layout has started to make believers out of a few others.


Have Laptop. Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.

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2012 Volkswagen Passat Top Comparisons

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