First Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Passat

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.

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The car will sell well in the US if the drop in price doesn't show yp too much in the precieved quality of interior, etc.Quiter, cushier, yet controlled ride, much lower price, sounds good to me.Now, if someone would come up with a design that reduces that intrusive console and the rear floor hump in front drive cars. Why???
Tooooo bad VW dumbed down the Jetta and Passat for the American market. VW's plan to sell more of each model could work but in the end VW's image will be hurt because of cost cutting measures. I'll be looking at either a CC or a last generation pre-owned Passat when it's time to replace my '06 GLI.
This is not really my style of car, but I was very, very surprised. For those expressing doubt, go drive one. You think the Sonata is really that good? It is, until you get inside this. Before the key even turns you'll understand the difference.This car will sell because it seems to be what the American public wants, whether we like it or not. Take a look at the best selling cars; are any of them what you really want or drive?
--Really?VW's 170HP 2.5L 5-cyl. makes 30 LESS horsepower while using MORE gas than Hyundai's 200HP GDI 2.4L 4-cyl.? Really?! Wow. Hyundai is really kicking VW's a$$.--
It should be noted that VW in Europe is the most mainstream product out there. Even its name suggests proletarian. The suggestion that VW is traditionally a high-end product makes little sense. Most VWs have historically been nothing more than front-drive family sedans. Perhaps because of high labor costs they have been unable to compete on price in the mainstream segment. Clever marketing more than anything else has been able to mask the manufacturer's shortcomings.
Can anyone say 1997 Camry??
I think this car will sell well, despite its obvious omissions. In fact I think it might attract quite a few Mercedes and BMW shoppers, who have been "outstyled" by their own brands. This Passat, in character, looks very much like some of the German luxury midsize models of the not too distant past. Not a bad pedigree, I say.

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