This isn't a sales projection, nor is it the validation of a business case. An Automobile Magazine review isn't the place for that. As automotive savants, we -- and presumably you, too -- are more interested in a car's merits as a car, independent of where it's built, how it's advertised, and what the dealer network looks like. We simply want to know how well machine pairs with man and mission.
But you can't separate the 2012 Volkswagen Passat from its sales target. The car has become exactly what the lofty sales goal demands. Executives won't say exactly how many Passats they hope to move, only that the number has six figures. Last year, only 12,497 Passats rolled off dealer lots in America. And thus the 2012 Passat was born.
Standing twenty feet from it, I am struck by emotions that eat at me in an uncomfortable way -- confusion, concern, skepticism -- as a brand with a definitive image arrives at the lowest common denominators of the American mid-size sedan. There's the sense that with every crease of the sheetmetal, every tenth of an inch of legroom, and every penny of the price, Volkswagen vigilantly calculated how many buyers would be won and how many buyers would be lost.
To fit our tastes (and our waists!), the Ideal American Mid-Size Sedan must be approximately 190 inches long, 72 inches wide, and 58 inches tall. To get there, the Passat has grown by about four inches in length and wheelbase over the outgoing car while adding a half inch in width and height. Dimensionally, it falls between the Honda Accord and the Hyundai Sonata, a car that the VW marketing team seemed to gingerly avoid mentioning in its presentation to journalists.
Of course, it's hard to imagine many buyers cross-shopping the Passat with the new segment standard, since they sit at opposite ends of the style spectrum. Volkswagen has always played it conservatively when it comes to design, but the new Passat (and the 2011 Jetta before it) has taken clean and understated styling to a new level, overshooting the target and instead arriving at anonymous and uninspired. It's enough to make the Toyota Camry look interesting, dynamic, even exciting.
The real price of entry into the mainstream market, however, is...well, the price of entry. And on that front, Volkswagen has taken drastic measures to get into the game, cutting $7000 from the base price. Of a $27,000 car.