Volkswagen may indeed be launching a new midsize sedan, but its name remains quite familiar to American customers. After months of teasing a new four-door colloquially known as NMS, VW officially revealed the finished product, which debuts today at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show, will be known as the 2012 Passat.
Although the U.S.-spec Passat bears considerable resemblance to the European-market model launched last September in Paris, the two aren’t carbon copies of one another. Like the Americanized Jetta launched earlier in 2010, the new car will grow in size (it’s nearly four inches longer than its European sibling, for instance) and shrink in price, allowing it to directly take on the big hitters of the midsize segment.
“[The Passat] is the only car offering accessible German engineering in the midsize segment,” says Toscan Bennett, VW’s vice president for marketing and strategy.
Pricing is still far from finalized, but the Passat’s base price is expected to drop from $30,000 to roughly $20,000. Most of that price reduction stems from the fact that the new Passat, as expected, will be built within VW’s new plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with 85 percent of all parts content sourced from within the United States. Although features like dual-zone climate control and Bluetooth connectivity are standard, there’s also some de-contenting at play. Base models, for instance, will ride on 16-inch steel wheels; 18-inch aluminum rims are optional. The suspension still employs MacPherson struts in front, and a multilink independent setup in back.
The outgoing Passat’s excellent 200-hp, 2.0-liter I-4 and six-speed dual-clutch transmission are dropped in favor of an expanded lineup that, in Bennett’s words, “meets the needs of customers in that segment.” Nevertheless, the choice of powertrains will remain familiar to Volkswagen fans. Base cars employ a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter inline-five-cylinder, paired with either a five-speed manual transaxle or a six-speed automatic. Uplevel models will pair the tried and true 280-horsepower, 3.6-liter VR6 with a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
Perhaps the biggest powertrain surprise lies with the return of a diesel variant. Volkswagen’s 2.0-liter turbo-diesel TDI I-4 is optional, and can be paired with either a six-speed manual or six-speed DSG transmission. Producing the same 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque as it does in the Jetta TDI, the engine should allow the Passat TDI to achieve 43 mpg on the highway, along with providing a range of 800 miles to a tank of fuel. A hybrid Passat variant is expected, but Volkswagen says it has nothing to announce at this point in time.
Along with the bespoke engine lineup, the North American Passat also receives some special cosmetic touches. U.S.-spec cars receive unique headlamps and a new grille design, but the most notable differences lie aft of the B-pillars. American Passats receive new rear doors, allowing designers to incorporate a quarter window into the C-pillar design. Our Passats also eschew the rounded, Phaeton-like rear decklid and tail lamps in favor of a rear end treatment that mixes both Audi and BMW styling cues. European models receive a stoic, CC-like instrument panel, but North American Passats use a new dashboard design (allowing for increased center console storage), along with unique door panel inserts.
VW expects the Passat sedan — no wagon will be offered in North America — to sell in roughly equal numbers to the Jetta. For those keeping score, the company rolled roughly 123,000 Jettas off dealer lots last year, nearly ten times the number of Passats sold in the same timeframe.