The Chattanooga, Tennessee-built Volkswagen Passat has been a success. With nearly a quarter-million sales since its 2011 introduction as a 2012 model, it dwarfs the market penetration of the previous model.
There’s a comfortable, roomy passenger compartment with rear seating accommodations rivaling those found in larger SUVs and pickups, excellent handling and a price tag thousands of dollars lower than the previous Passat, making the latest generation truly competitive in its segment.
While North America gained a sedan more suited to its preferences, it did give up the 200-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four that made the earlier Passat and Passat CC such pleasures to drive. In its place we got Volkswagen’s naturally aspirated 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine. The five is a good engine with 170 horsepower that provides decent performance in both in-town and highway driving, but the pleasure of feeling the 2.0-liter press-your-back-against-the-seat wasn’t there and it was missed.
New for the 2014 model year is a 1.8-liter turbocharged four that is making its way through the Passat line and will ultimately be the standard powerplant from top to bottom.
While there is no change in horsepower the new turbo provides additional torque and both are available over a wide range of engines speeds. This translates into improved performance equal to or better than the competition in terms of 0-60 and quarter-mile times.
Best of all, the feeling of smooth power that was a major factor in the pleasure of driving the 2.0-liter engine is back. Not surprising as the new engine is a de-stroked version of the 2.0-liter powerplant.
|PASSAT ENGINE COMPARISON|
|Top Speed (mph)||126||110||115|
|EPA City (mpg)||22||22||24|
|EPA Highway (mpg)||31||31||34|
|EPA Combined (mpg)||25||25||28|
We had a unique opportunity to compare the two engines in real-world driving. The first car was a 2014 Passat SEL Premium with the 1.8T; the second was a 2014 Passat SE with the 2.5-liter.
The SEL Premium is as good as it gets unless one opts for the V6 or the TDI diesel. In fact, there are essentially no other factory-installed options. Heated leather power seats, sunroof, touch-screen display with navigation, foglights, rearview camera and a host of other goodies are standard.
The SE is a step up from the base model but it’s still nicely equipped. The automatic transmission is an option but you still have air-conditioning, heated front seats, power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, touchscreen audio system and more that make the SE’s cabin a nice place to be.
Though both engines pulled well, the 1.8T seemed a bit more eager and was a bit quieter, especially when pushed. Not that the 2.5-liter engine is particularly loud (it isn’t), it’s just more noticeable when compared to the turbo.
On our 56-mile test loop both cars performed well with high marks for for power and handling that easily handled everything from freeway merging and passing to back country roads with tight curves and less-than-perfect paving. The turbo was more responsive, which comes in handy when passing an 18-wheeler on a two-lane road.
Even at 75 miles per hour both Passats were well-composed with minimal road noise and comfortable and supportive seating. The Fender audio system performed quite well with everything from classical music to heavy metal.
Even on the more modestly equipped SE, the cabin HVAC system includes vents for the rear-seat passengers.
A car that is such a pleasing highway cruiser is meant to be a part of family vacations and the Passat provides adequate truck space to accommodate our standard luggage load.
One of the very few gripes about the 1.8T Passat is that its top speed is electronically limited to 115 miles per hour. In other markets, the top speed is about 130 with the same engine. This isn’t a huge point as few Passat owners will ever drive the car at any speed close to the max (and the rest shouldn’t) but Volkswagen’s habit of capping the top end for the North American market is a bit frustrating.
Passats equipped with the 1.8-liter engine carry an $830 price premium over those equipped with the five-cylinder but they offer better fuel economy and, unlike the 2.0-liter turbo, they run just fine on regular unleaded.
|VOLKSWAGEN PASSAT SEL PREMIUM|
|Engine:||1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder|
|Transmission/Drivetrain:||6-speed automatic with Tiptronic & Sport Mode|
|Horsepower:||170 hp @ 4,800-6,200 rpm|
|Torque:||184 lb-ft @ 1,500-4,750 rpm|
|Price as tested||$31,715|
|EPA Fuel economy:||32 mpg City; 40 mpg Highway|
|Key standard features:||Dual-zone automatic climate control, Leather seating surfaces, Heated front seats, Premium touchscreen navigation system, Leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, 8-way power front seats including power lumbar and memory for driver’s seat, SiriusXM Traffic with 4-year subscription, SiriusXM Travel Link with 3-month trial subscription, Remote start, Halogen reflector lens foglights with low-speed corner-illuminating feature, 18-inch Bristol alloy wheels, Power tilting/sliding tinted sunroof, Rearview camera|
|Why we’d buy it:||More power, smoother performance, improved fuel economy (compared to 2.5-liter engine). Spacious cabin, well-equipped as standard.|
|Why we wouldn’t:||Speed limiter|