Drive

Volkswagen Passat gets spruced up for 2016

Light steering and a quick response make for a worthy ride

If you can get over the no-diesel availability, the latest Passat is a good choice.

Jil McIntosh

If you can get over the no-diesel availability, the latest Passat is a good choice.

If a vehicle isn’t quite ready for a complete makeover, automakers will often give it a “refresh” to spruce it up.

That’s what Volkswagen has done with its midsize Passat sedan, which gets a styling update and some interior tweaks. There are some trim level changes as well. The diesel engine isn’t currently offered, with no word on when or if it will return.

Instead, my tester carries a 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which comes in four trim levels starting at $23,295. While you can get a manual transmission in the base trim, everything else uses a six-speed automatic. For those who want something more powerful, a 3.6-litre V6 comes exclusively in the new, top-line Execline trim for $38,295.

Having driven both, I find the smaller engine will be more than enough for most drivers. You get snappy acceleration and quiet cruising, although I did feel the transmission stutter a couple of times when slowing down.
The steering is light but the car responds quickly and accurately, with easy parking-lot manoeuvrability and a solid highway feel.

The new front and rear styling is more angular. It updates nicely while maintaining an overall design that some say is too understated, but which I think is timeless: this car is going to look good 10 years from now. The interior upgrades are more subtle, with a new steering wheel and instrument cluster. The infotainment system is updated for 2016, and Volkswagen has finally added USB ports. My only complaint is with the power mirror switch, which feels cheap and wobbly, and is awkward to use. Other controls are simple and easy, and everything is backlit at night, including the lock and window switches.

As with most German cars, the seats are very firm, but don’t let first impressions turn you off them. They’re very supportive and stay very comfortable on longer drives. Rear-seat legroom is good, and the trunk is huge. Overall, even if you can’t get a diesel anymore, the Passat is worthy of consideration.

THE BASICS
Type:
Four-door, five-passenger midsize sedan
Power:
1.8-litre turbo four-cylinder (170); 3.6-litre V6 (280)
Transmission:
Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic
Price: $23,295 (base), $33,795 (as-tested), plus destination

COOL FEATURES
• Adaptive cruise control.
• Blind spot monitor with cross-traffic alert.
• Auto-dimming rearview mirror.
• Rain-sensing wipers
• Second-row USB port
• Rearview camera on all trim levels.
• Remote starter.

POINTS
• The turbocharged engine takes 87-octane regular-grade gasoline and is rated at a combined city-highway 8.0 L/100 km.
• Smartphone integration with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink on all trim levels.
• The new centre screen has a proximity sensor that brings up icons when your hand gets close to it, and a display with pinch and swipe ability.

MARKET POSITION
• VW stumbled when it cheapened some models to break into the lower-priced U.S. mass market segment. It’s returning to improved interiors and more features to win back its core audience.

THE COMPETITION

Chevrolet Malibu Base price: $21,745

Ford Fusion Base price: $23,249

Toyota Camry Base price: $24,100

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