Built by American workers at a new plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., and “sized for America,” the 2012 Volkswagen Passat is, for all intents and purposes, a new car compared to previous generations.
The prior-generation Passat, which reached our shores in 2010, offered German styling and appointments but couldn’t be bought for less than $27,000. Its newborn American cousin is longer, roomier and, with a starting MSRP of $19,995, ready to compete with established players in the mid-size sedan segment such as Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata and many more.
In addition to cutting shipping costs, VW found savings by deleting the wagon and four-wheel drive options and limiting the choice of engines to three proven powerplants: A 2.5-liter I-4 borrowed from the new Jetta, replaces the base 2.0-liter turbo; VW’s 2.0 TDI Clean Diesel offers 48 mpg on the highway and a one-tank range of up to 800 miles; or power seekers can opt for a 3.6-liter V-6 that delivers 280 hp at 258 lb.-ft. of torque.
There’s no noticeable downgrade in the interior. The new Passat retains its predecessor’s classy look and feel and adds 3.7 inches between the wheels, creating best-in-class rear-seat legroom and plenty of cargo capacity. A standard 60/40 split back seat offers a wide opening to the cavernous trunk.
The base S model comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, keyless entry, automatic dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth compatibility and eight-speaker audio; opting for the Appearance package adds alloy wheels, automatic transmission and a rear-seat center armrest. Safety measures such as a full complement of airbags and Volkswagen’s Intelligent Crash Response system are standard across the lineup.
The SE trim level adds 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome exterior trim, heated front seats and a six-way power driver’s seat, leatherette upholstery and more, plus available options such as bigger wheels, a sunroof and navigation. Opting for the V-6 gets you all those options and a new, nine-speaker Fender audio system. The top-of-the-line SEL editions include all the above, plus keyless remote ignition, foglights, leather-and-faux-suede interior and foglights.
As a company car, the new Passat offers style, craftsmanship and room for four adults of executive height and carriage. It’s not technically an American car, but it’s close.