2017 Volkswagen Passat V6 SEL Premium V6
3.6-liter V6, DOHC (280 horsepower @ 6,200 rpm; 258 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm)
Six-speed dual-clutch automatic, front-wheel drive
20 city / 28 highway / 23 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
11.9 city / 8.5 highway / 10.4 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
25.3 mpg [9.3 L/100 km] (Observed)
Base Price: $23,260 (U.S) / $27,540 (Canada)
As Tested: $34,815 (U.S.) / $40,890 (Canada)
Prices include $820 destination charge in the United States and $1,795 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada.
Time flies. 2017 is the sixth model year for the Chattanooga, Tennessee-built Volkswagen Passat, the Americanized family sedan that aimed for the heart of the market so routinely missed by its forerunners.
The other Passat, the Passat designed more for Europe’s tastes than yours, has since launched in new, eighth-generation form. Yet having lost all of the momentum created by Tennessee’s Passat in 2012, Volkswagen of America forges on with one particularly American cue: displacement.
An optional V6 engine is not entirely outside the midsize norm. In fact, the three best-selling midsize cars in America all currently offer a V6 powerplant. But it has become increasingly normal for competitors to skip the V6 in favor of turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder powerplants. That’s how Chevrolet, Hyundai, Kia, and (until recently) Ford play the game.
The 2017 Volkswagen Passat’s V6 is a 3.6-liter unit with 280 enthusiastic horsepower. All 280 ponies burble melodically at idle, as if to contradict the sober invisibility of the exterior design while heaping shame on the childish intake rasp of competitors’ four-pots.
Horsepower is undeniably intoxicating.
This new Passat, however, even with 280 intoxicating horsepower, is not a new car. And these 3,597 CCs cost a minimum of eight bucks per unit, or nearly ten bucks per CC in the case of our tester.
Unfortunately, there’s no replacement for displacement is only a valid statement if you’re willing to supplement your payment.
America’s perception of Volkswagen was a problem even before the diesel emissions scandal erupted in August 2015. Indeed, the way in which the Passat was perceived prior to the scandal was a problem, as well. Through the first three-quarters of 2015, U.S. Passat volume was down 15 percent, having fallen 11 percent during the same period one year earlier.
It appeared as though there were more people who wanted an affordable Americanized German sedan than there were people who wanted a less affordable German sedan, but maybe not as many members of the former group as originally hoped for.
That’s relevant background, to be sure. But separate that information, if only for the next couple of minutes, from the way in which this car must be judged as a car. Not as a Volkswagen or as a Passat, but as just another midsize sedan competing for your, ahem, $34,815; $3,000 more than the Passat SEL Premium sans V6. (There’s also a Passat V6 in SEL trim at $30,115.)
In numerous ways, the Passat balances its European roots with its traditional middle-America intentions. Ride quality is firm, but only firm enough to compose the 3,571-pounder, never firm enough for wheel impacts to be a bother. In fact, there are moments, thankfully brief, in which a hint of front-end float was evidenced after a mid-corner elevation change.
The steering, too, weights up nicely as it ought to, but only after a broad and disconcerting dead zone is exhibited on the straightahead. It’s as if the current Passat is willing to please the owners of previous Passats, but only after providing a level of familiarity to past owners of Buick LeSabres.
The 3.6-liter V6 quite capably gets its power to the pavement with little fuss, and Volkswagen’s direct-shift gearbox maximizes the available power with sudden shifts. Acceleration figures are comparable to those achieved by V6-engined Camrys and Accords, but the degree of enthusiasm for making hasty progress is distinct in the Passat. Sliding the shifter from D to S clarifies just how keen on making forward progress the Passat really is. Low gears are held, and held, and held, seemingly in anticipation of maximum torque potentially, maybe, possibly being required.
The Passat’s lusty engine isn’t matched by sterling sports sedan dynamics. Granted, having approached the Passat with proper family sedan expectations, you won’t be let down. Nor will you soon be convinced the Passat V6 is a bona fide Audi A4 rival. It isn’t.
There’s too much body roll, lifeless steering on-center, and no significant amount of willingness to suddenly change the direction of nearly 3,600 pounds of metal. Though always on the lookout for an opportunity to go faster in a straight line, the 2017 Volkswagen Passat is not easily confused with a nimble Honda Accord or agile Mazda 6.
Calm, collected, competent? Always. But the Passat V6 is a sprinter that’s much happier in the arrow-straight 100 m than taking the turn in the 200 m.
Thankfully, regardless of the rate at which I overcooked a corner, our tester was equipped with nicely bolstered sport seats that hugged my hips and firmly cushioned my backside. Front seat comfort and visibility is excellent.
The Volkswagen user interface looks like an old system and often operates like an old system, but it’s certainly not complicated. Shuffling through sub-menus for driver assistance settings in the instrument cluster with a button on the end of the signal stalk, on the other hand, is an unnecessarily convoluted task.
To the rear, space for back seat passengers is undeniably expansive. Hopping in to install child seats is a breeze, and once installed, those child seats don’t inhibit space for front occupants. Trunk volume bests the Camry, Accord, and Altima, and access is broad enough for us to slide in an awkwardly-shaped Stiga GT Snowracer with ease.
Nowhere in the cabin is there an overriding sense of Volkswagen’s alleged Americanized decontenting. Buttons and switches work as intended, material quality is up to par, armrests are soft, Fender audio is acceptable.
Apart from some winter-tire hum from the Gislaved NordFrost5 quartet, the Passat is quiet, too, though moments intermittently arise on our rough, winter-beaten, oceanfront roads when the Passat’s structure doesn’t feel quite as stiff as you’d expect. It may be a sensation exacerbated by recent drives in the all-new Honda CR-V and a Cadillac CT6.
It’s not reasonable to expect a car launched in 2011 to feel as profoundly modern as a vehicle launched in 2017. But the 2017 Volkswagen Passat is about to be faced with even stiffer competition from segment stalwarts. The new Toyota Camry, already a beneficiary of immense built-in loyalty, is likely to further highlight any Passat shortcomings. Expect a new Honda Accord shortly, as well.
Those nameplates are at least partially responsible for dramatically reducing Passat demand. Volkswagen’s hope that Chattanooga would meet annual demand for more than 150,000 midsize buyers was initially met with excitement, but production slowdowns had already taken hold by mid-2013.
Today, just as in the 2011 launch period, the 2017 Volkswagen Passat attempts to do more than one thing. First, the Passat endeavors to wear its European heritage on its sleeve. Second, the Passat wants to cater to non-European demands. Third, it must complete the first two tasks without causing the inherent conflict to be too obvious.
Car buyers and car reviewers can’t help but notice the conflict. We can’t simply observe the Volkswagen Passat as an anonymous midsize car. It must also be considered as a Volkswagen. As a Volkswagen Passat.
It’s a difficult rock-and-hard-place situation for Volkswagen of America. To non-believers, the Passat may be more acceptable than previous Passats, but it’s still a Volkswagen. On the other hand, for fans of past Passats, the latest car is a fine vehicle, but it’s not a great Passat.
Refined, immensely spacious, and luxurious and hilariously powerful in V6 SEL Premium form, the 2017 Volkswagen Passat is far from a disappointment. Nevertheless, the Passat lacks a compelling reason for a midsize buyer to step outside the box, an issue that becomes all the more glaring when the nondescript Passat is painted grey and examined on the greyest of grey days.
[Images: © 2017 Timothy Cain]
Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook. The Passat was supplied by Volkswagen Canada in fully-optioned “Highline” trim, equivalent to the V6 SEL Premium.