Although its mainstream mission and conservative exterior styling have led some staff members to believe the 2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI is bland, so far, everyone who's driven the car during its first month in our Four Seasons test fleet has walked away impressed.
"My first few days with the big VeeDub have already washed away my sour first impressions," wrote assistant editor David Zenlea. "The interior is spacious and, more importantly, feels spacious. So many new cars induce claustrophobia with high doorsills, thick A-pillars, and busy, faux-sporty dashes that wrap around the driver. The Passat has a simple, unadorned dash with minimal trim. It isn't what we've come to expect from Volkswagen, but when you compare it to other midsize sedans, it's still better than most."
While some staffers find the Passat's exterior styling crisp and handsome, others - like creative director Kelly Murphy, find it a bit too plain. "From afar, I can see some beauty in this car, but every time I get closer, it strikes me as an uninteresting sedan designed for middle America. The Passat no longer has the unique appeal it once did. I still hold that the Volkswagen CC is a far superior design, and it's what the Passat should have become."
Still, as Murphy freely admits, the Passat's true beauty is in just how well it drives.
"I'm pleasantly surprised by how well body motions are controlled," notes senior Web editor Phil Floraday. "The Passat still has that fabled German suspension tuning that allows it to be stable at highway speeds and composed in corners." Zenlea agrees, going so far as to describe it as "frisky" - at least when compared to most other midsize competitors. Associate Web editor Jake Holmes commends the 2.0-liter turbo-diesel I-4 not only for its excellent power delivery, but its impressively low NVH levels.
Some of us, however, aren't so enamored of the way the Passat TDI is configured. Volkswagen's content structure, which bundles options into packages, restricts the combinations of features that buyers are able to order. For instance, it's impossible to add the DSG transmission without, at the very least, also adding sunroof. This doesn't sit so well with Floraday: "I imagine VW studied the sales mix of previous Passat options and only offered the most popular (re: profitable) ones this time around. But the lack of standalone options is really annoying. I hate the fact that ordering the DSG transmission requires you to also get the sunroof. The manual transmission/TDI combo isn't very desirable in my book but I'd rather shift for myself than pay extra for features I don't need."
By and large, however, our Passat's first month here in Ann Arbor has been a good one -- leading Zenlea to predict that "this Passat will win our affections over the course of the year." We have eleven more months to see if he's right.