Monday, October 20, 2014

The midsize euro family sedan for everyone?

 After quite a re-design last year, the 2013 VW Passat returns with only a minor shuffling of features, and the Wolfsburg trim. One of the most important things to note is that a rear-view camera is now an option.
     The 2013 VW Passat enjoys a rather unique position, being the only European entry into the family sedan segment. Now, this certainly doesn't mean that VW calls soccer football, and vice versa. Instead, VW calls on its heritage to bring a certain European flair to what some might call a boring segment.

     However, this Passat isn't just beer gardens and lederhosen. VW, believe it or not, acutally builds the Passat in Tennesse, just for the American market. VW seems to know what Americans want, and that's why there is an impressive amount of legroom, meanwhile the trunk is average in size. And if you desire power, the Passat evens comes with an optional 3.6 liter V6, which makes good for about 280 hp. The test unit for this review was equipped like such.

     The lineup starts with the "S" base model (2.5-liter only), which comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, automatic headlights, keyless entry, full power accessories, air-conditioning, a six-way manual driver seat with lumbar adjustment, cloth upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, audio controls on the steering wheel, cruise control, a trip computer, Bluetooth with streaming audio and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio input. An available Appearance package adds a six-speed automatic transmission, 16-inch alloy wheels and a rear-seat center armrest.

     The Wolfsburg includes the features of the S with Appearance package and adds unique 16-inch alloy wheels, leatherette (premium vinyl) upholstery, a six-way power driver seat, heated front seats, satellite radio and a USB/iPod interface.

     Move up to the SE trim level and you get 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome exterior trim, heated mirrors, rear seat air vents, a sliding front armrest, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, upgraded gauges and displays and an eight-speaker sound system with a touchscreen audio interface.

     Options on SE models include a sunroof or the sunroof bundled with a navigation system and iPod integration. TDI SE buyers can add 18-inch alloy wheels and foglights as well. The 3.6L SE comes standard with these options except the navigation system, which remains optional. A nine-speaker Fender audio system is also included.

     The 2.5 SEL models include all of the above (minus the foglights but keeping the 17-inch wheels), plus upgraded front seats, live traffic updates, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera, a rear-seat pass-through and wood interior trim. The 2.5 SEL Premium adds the foglights, keyless ignition/entry, remote ignition, partial leather upholstery and power front seats with driver memory functions. Both the TDI and 3.6L can also be had in SEL guise, but the Premium package is mandatory.

The Passat comes with your choice of 3 very different engines. The entry level 2.5L models is powered by a 2.5 liter inline 5 cylinder engine rated at 170 hp and 177 lb.-ft of torque. Transmission options include a 6-speed manual, and a 6-speed automatic. The setup with the manual is good for EPA estimates of 22 city/32 highway. The automatic drops slightly to 22 city/31 highway, which is average for the class.
Those looking for maximum fuel economy can opt for the TDI, which comes with a 2.0 liter 4 cylinder turbo diesel, which is good for about 140 hp and 236 lb.-ft of torque. It comes with either the 6-speed manual, or the optional 6-speed automated manual transmission (aka, DSG.) EPA fuel economy estimates with the manual transmission are rated 31 city/43 highway, which is amazing. Ratings for the DSG equipped TDI are 30 city/40 highway. In some cases, other car reviews have been able to best those number by around 8 mpg, which puts it solidly in Toytoa Prius range.

     However, if you are looking for maximum forward thurst, look no further than the 3.6L. This powerplant produces 280 hp and 258 lb.-ft of torque. VW's DSG is the standard transmission choice when you equip this engine, and the shifts are quick and crisp. One note to make is that when using the manual mode, shifts a a slight bit slower when using the paddles on the steering wheel, as opposed to the shift lever. Jaunts up to 60 mph from a standstill take about 6.3 seconds, a respectable time for this class, given the size of the car. Fuel economy is rated at 20 city/28 highway.

     Spaciousness is the word to use when you try to describe the cabin of the 2013 VW Passat. Space up front is pretty good, however, the driver seat only adjusts 6 ways, and lacks the seat-bottom lift found in other vehicles in the class. In the back, the Passat is almost in the full-size car class dimensions, allowing most adult passengers to stretch their legs if needed. However, some might argue that the backrest is a smidge too upright for max comfort. Cargo space is rated at a class average 15.9 cubic feet, which is room for a weekend worth of stuff for an interior cabin full of people.

     The quality of the interior materials don't seem to be quite as high as they were in the previous generation Passat, but they do remain among the best in the class, while the design gives off a slightly upscale feel. The layout of the gauges and controls are also simple, and easy to read and understand. Last but not least, the optional Fender audio system has been tuned to the interior accoustics of the Passat, and should please even the most diehard music lover.

     Standard safety features for the 2013 Volkswagen Passat include antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. Models with the manual transmission also gain hill-hold control. In the event of a crash, the Intelligent Crash Response automatically cuts off the fuel supply, unlocks the doors and turns on the hazard flashers.

     In government crash testing, the Passat scored a perfect 5 stars for overall crash protection. In brake testing, the Passat made the stop from 60 mph in about 127 feet, which is slightly longer than average. However, pedal feel was good and easy to modulate pressure. No fade was noted after a few hard stops.

The 2013 VW Passat's character depends largely on what engine you choose. Performance and gas mileage from the 2.5 are average, and will more than likely be the choice for most customers. For performance, I would personally take the 3.6l V6, as it has the power to make the drive fun, but is also quite content to drive around town.

     The DSG transmission works well, though throttle response is on the slow side of things, with a noticeable lag between the time when the pedal is depressed and when the engine actually decides to go to work.

     On the highway, the Passat proves to be a quite comfortable cruiser, snuffing out bumps both large and small. When going around corners, steering response is pretty precise, though one could argue that it is numb on center and a tad heavy at low speeds. Overall, the Passat got high marks for putting up with the tasks for which family sedans are most often used.

     There are a couple downsides to the Passat. We're not fond of the longer-than-average braking distances, for instance, and its lazy throttle response with the automatic transmissions can be irksome. There are also a lot of great choices for a family sedan this year, including the stylish 2013 Ford Fusion, newly redesigned 2013 Honda Accord, value-packed Hyundai Sonata and sharp-handling 2013 Nissan Altima. But all things considered, the European-influenced 2013 Volkswagen Passat comes highly recommended.

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