Thankfully, the Passat is significantly more refined than the Golf or the Jetta when it comes to wind and road noise. With a well-sorted chassis, a competent suspension, and a quiet cabin, the new Passat's best qualities pertain to ride quality more than to handling. American-centric tuning has softened the suspension, particularly on rebound over gentle undulations, but the Passat drives down the road with a solidity and confidence that speak to its Germanic influence. This car would rather cradle you over a strip of beat-up freeway than weave through mountain roads. Without a doubt, it rides more comfortably and with more composure than the much-ballyhooed Sonata. It also steers far better than the Sonata, and we deeply appreciate that the steering wheel is smaller than the comically large piece in the Jetta.
That's not to say the steering is perfect. In the 2.5-liter Passat, steering effort is strangely heavy at parking-lot speeds, and although the wheels react quickly to on-center adjustments, there isn't much weight or feel in those first few degrees. Bend the Passat into a turn, though, and the effort builds nicely.
The power assist from the TDI model's steering is significantly higher at all speeds, making for a lighter, less connected feel. It's not just tuning or weight distribution or perception. The TDI uses electrically assisted power steering, while the 2.5-liter engine drives a hydraulic pump. In terms of character, the steering systems should be swapped between the two cars, and yet the fact that the base car uses hydraulic assistance is a sore reminder that the dollars, not the drivers, dictated the decisions here. Every serious mid-size competitor will have adopted electric power steering by its next major update. Old Volkswagen -- the brand that valued technology over price -- would have used the fuel-saving feature across the lineup.
Old Volkswagen didn't need to offer cars with the highest fuel economy or the lowest price when the brand was more closely associated with BMW and Audi than it was with Hyundai and Ford. Buyers happily paid a premium for impeccable interiors, progressive technology, and a smart balance of performance and efficiency. But when the company is shooting for the middle of the market, where the sheeple graze from brand to brand based on price, fuel economy, or the latest quality scores, it's going to hurt that Volkswagen can't lay claim to any of that frivolity. Still, the company will likely sell tens of thousands more Passats than it has in the past few years.