2017 Volkswagen Passat: Excitement Missing

Strong points
  • Spacious interior
  • Infotainment system easy to use
  • Smooth and powerful
Weak points
  • Bland looks
  • Interior feels cheap
  • Not particularly comfortable
Full report

The Volkswagen Passat competes in one of the most cutthroat segments in the industry, going head to head against other midsize sedans such as the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Mazda6 and Hyundai Sonata. Traditionally, the car has struggled to measure up to the others, but an updated Passat was released for 2016, so I was anxious to see how she would fare.

The exterior of the Passat went from bland to a little less bland after the refresh. The straight-line design language of the German brand is basically the antithesis of what the competition is doing and renders the vehicle into obscurity. The front LED daytime running lights and turn signals are nicely styled, but that technology hasn’t found its way to the rear turn signals or taillights. It’s by no means a poor-looking car, but it lacks the pizazz of many of its rivals. If pizazz is what you desire, an option would be to opt for the trendier Volkswagen CC, which has fancier lines and a coupe-like look to it. Before doing so, consider that the CC should be replaced by the more appropriately named Volkswagen Arteon in 2018.

Usually, if the exterior of a vehicle disappoints, one can look to the interior for solace and redemption. Unfortunately, the Passat’s lack of flair is evident inside too. While I loved the comfortable leather seating and the orange color contrast was nice, the overall design of the dash and control layout left me disappointed. I was a bit puzzled because fresh off testing the incredible Volkswagen Golf GTI and the pampering Volkswagen Touareg SUV, I expected to be similarly impressed with the Passat.

Photo: Danny Geraghty

For one reason or another, the amazing feeling those vehicles gave me didn’t translate here. The 6.33-inch touchscreen is tiny and the climate buttons feel flimsy. The thin, flat-bottomed steering wheel works in a sports car like the GTI, but just doesn’t feel right the roomy sedan. I had trouble finding a comfortable seating position and the hard plastics didn’t allow me to rest any limbs on them in comfort.

One thing the Passat does have in abundance is space. The cabin is very roomy, especially for the rear passengers. Back-seat occupants can even be treated to optional heated cushions, their own air vents and USB connectivity. Despite the small screen, Volkswagen has a very user-intuitive interface. I especially like the fact that most functions can be accomplished with either the touchscreen or a physical button. There seems to be a trend away from physical buttons these days, but it’s nice to have the option.

There are two choices of power plant under the hood of the 2017 Volkswagen Passat: a 1.8-litre TSI turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 170 horsepower and a 3.6-litre V6 with 280 horsepower. No manual option is available, though. On startup, the V6 vibrates the car quite noticeably more than it should. Power delivery is smooth and efficient, and in the end, those 280 horses pack a very nice punch—capable of propelling the sedan to 100 km/h in just 5.7 seconds. The Passat rides confidently at highway speeds and takes turns with elegant ease all while insulating the occupants from outside noise very efficiently.

The 2016 refresh also saw upgrades in the safety department with forward collision warning and automated emergency braking now standard on all trim levels. Other standard safety features consist of a rearview camera, front side airbags as well as front and rear curtain airbags. The Passat also scores very well in crash testing, earning five stars overall.

The base Passat Trendline starts at $25,745 and the Highline V6 tops the scales at $35,745, which is in line with the competition. The problem is that the competition offers looks and comfort on a level that exceed the Passat. With a few tweaks here and there, Volkswagen should be able to remedy everything, but that refresh should have happened last year. There will likely be two more model years of this Passat before a new one is released, and in the meantime, it risks losing sales to more palatable options.

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