Few words are applied to cars with such reckless abandon as "Sport." The 2014 Volkswagen Passat Sport is yet another example where the badge misleads. The important nomenclature for the 2014 Volkswagen Passat—which you’ll be hard pressed to find on the car—is “1.8T,” referring to an efficient new turbocharged four-cylinder.
The 1.8T badge has actually adorned the Volkswagen Passat before. An older 1.8-liter turbo-four was employed in the 1998 to 2005 Passat, as well as the 1999 to 2005 Jetta and GTI. But it vanished for several years when Volkswagen switched in the uninspiring 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine. Now a new, direct-injected 1.8T debuts as the base engine for the 2014 Volkswagen Passat, boosting the car's performance and fuel economy.
With the same 170 horsepower as the old 2.5-liter engine but seven extra pound-feet of torque delivered at lower engine speeds, the 1.8T helps the Passat Sport leap away from a stop with more athleticism than before. The engine's focus on low-end delivery is ideal for urban use, so it's of little consequence that it runs out of breath as the revs rise. Most drivers will be more interested in the fact that fuel economy rises 2 mpg in the city and 3 mpg on the highway, compared to the 2.5-liter Passat.
"This feels like the right amount of power for this car," says associate web editor Joey Capparella. "The turbo's fat torque band makes the Passat feel livelier than some rival four-cylinder sedans."
The new engine does, however, give up some character compared to the five-cylinder. "It's not as quiet or as refined as the old engine," says associate web editor Evan McCausland.
The 1.8-liter engine is paired with a torque-converter six-speed automatic, as opposed to the dual-clutch automatic offered with the 2.0-liter turbo-diesel and 3.6-liter VR6. (VW is also offering a five-speed manual with the new four-cylinder). Using the tiny plastic paddle shifters reminds us that this transmission, while good, isn't nearly as snappy as the dual-clutch transmission. And yet the torque-converter automatic’s performance is ideal for a midsize sedan, which is to say it does its job so smoothly and effectively that the majority of owners will never think about it.
The 1.8-liter engine is available across several other trim levels of 2014 Volkswagen Passat—S, SE, Wolfsburg, and SEL—but only the Sport model features 19-inch wheels shod in 235/40/19 Continental ContiProContact tires, a trunk spoiler, aluminum pedals, carbon fiber-look interior trim, and a black-painted roof. It was inspired by the Passat Performance concept shown at the 2013 Detroit auto show, and the production version looks smart out in the real world.
As there are no mechanical updates, though, it's hard to justify calling this a Sport trim. The solid ride and measured handling that we loved in our Four Seasons Passat TDI are present in this car, but the Sport simply doesn't peg the excitement meter. "It's not really sporty at all," says Capparella. If anything, our tester's 19-inch wheels and low-profile tires add some harshness and jostle passengers more than on a standard Passat, although Capparella still found the ride “pillowy.”
Though it's hard to justify paying extra for the Sport trim, the new 1.8-liter engine is a welcome improvement over the old five-cylinder. The Passat— already handsome, spacious, refined, and good to drive—is now slightly peppier and promises fuel-economy comparable to its big-name competitors. It's a much-appreciated improvement without any obvious downsides.
2014 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T Sport
|Price As Tested:||N/A|
|Engine:||1.8L turbo I-4|
|Transmission:||5-speed manual, 6-speed automatic|
|Fuel Economy:||24/34-35 mpg city/highway|
|Cargo Capacity:||15.9 cubic feet|