Sometimes you wonder about coincidences. Do these things happen to everyone?
In December, a 2016 Volkswagen Passat S—the base model—wound up as our test vehicle during some nice late-fall weather back in Boston.
We liked it as a value proposition, citing good performance, economy, styling, and outstanding interior and trunk space.
The downside? The smallish infotainment screen was, well, on the smallish side. And we missed having some of the contemporary driver assistance features such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping warning, and collision mitigation systems.
The Dec. 11 headline got it right: “Style Without the Extras.”
So, fast-forward a couple of months.
Now we’re doing the snowbird thing in Florida for a while.
And, guess what’s sitting in our parking spot? A 2016 VW Passat.This time, instead of the base version (MSRP $23,260, including destination) we’ve got the other end of the lineup, the SEL Premium ($35,090).
In this case, familiarity doesn’t foster contempt; rather, it is very much like driving a different vehicle even though both Passats have the same powertrain: the 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. If there’s a drawback for New England drivers, it’s that the Passat is strictly a front-wheel-drive vehicle.
On the plus side, the Passat gets very good fuel economy. Also, the engine response is quick with lots of low-end torque, seemingly more than its rated 170 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque.
We averaged 34 miles per gallon in colder weather back in Boston but only 32.2 this time, mostly because we got stuck in several long traffic delays. The Passat’s EPA ratings are 25 mpg in city driving, 38 on the highway, and 29 in combined driving.
Despite that similarity—and the same basic ride—this was like driving a near-luxury sedan.
The automatic LED headlights were great on dark nights, and it was nice to have the standard sunroof and rain-sensing wipers.
And technology abounds. This Passat had adaptive cruise control (ACC), front collision assist with autonomous emergency braking, standard rearview camera with park distance control, and lane-departure warning with an aggressive lane-keeping assist system.
The lane-keeping assist did a great job, especially on Southwest Florida’s well-marked lanes. If you neglect to use the directional signal before changing lanes, even to a left- or right-turn lane, the system resists your efforts. How strongly? It got to the point where we were using signals even when there wasn’t another car in sight on the roadway. Call that positive reinforcement for your driving techniques.
Other tech features included blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, keyless entry with push button starting, an upgraded Fender audio system, and larger (6.3 inch) touch screen (it still seemed small).
The high tech driver assistance aids resulted in the Passat earning the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating for 2016. For 2017, the Passat’s headlights kept it from the + designation despite getting a good rating in all crash tests. The IIHS has changed its parameters, but we didn’t see any problems with the lights unless they perhaps were causing glare for oncoming drivers.
Because the Passat is virtually unchanged for 2017, the headlight issue is something VW engineers likely will have corrected as the slightly smaller VW Jetta sedan already has achieved that Top Safety Pick+ rating.
Meanwhile, those headlights blend nicely into a narrow four-bar grille below the domed hood to give the Passat a wide and firmly planted stance. Foglights, instead of adding clutter, nicely balance the front end’s appearance. The approach is the same in the back, where a chrome strip on the trunk connects the taillights, again giving the car a lower, wider appearance.
VW has made forward collision warning and emergency braking standard across all trim lines for 2017 following the growing industry trend that’s seen Toyota make driver assist standard in the RAV4.
This Passat generation has been around since 2012, with regular tweaks and upgrades, and the surprising thing is that you don’t notice more of these cars on the road.
It’s still competitive in a category against the likes of the Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda6, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy, and Toyota Camry.
Inside, the Passat has the feel of a larger, full-size sedan.
Instead of a cockpit-like dashboard, the Passat has a straight-across dash that contributes to the open feel, and the look continues nicely down the center stack and along the front console. The twin gauges with driver information in between them are familiar to VW drivers.
A pleasant combination of leather, vinyl, wood, and aluminum trim give the interior a premium feel.
Both Mrs. G and I liked the leather seats and legroom (both front and rear). Seats were comfortable without being confining.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel has a flat bottom. It took a few turns to get used to the shape but made itself welcome immediately by easing entry into the vehicle.
The optional Fender sound system is excellent, and the infotainment system, despite the size issue (6.3 inches), works well.
VW’s standard Car-Net system offers a vehicle locator app for your smartphone, remote unlocking, stolen vehicle location, and the ability to set geo-fencing and a notification if a pre-set speed limit is exceeded.
For sure, this Passat is not passé.
2016 Volkswagen Passat 1.8T SEL Premium
Price, base/as tested (with destination): $35,090/$35,090. Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 25 city/38 highway/29 combined. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 32.2. Drivetrain: 1.8-liter turbocharged 4 cylinder engine, 6 speed automatic transmission, front-wheel-drive. Body: 5-passenger sedan.
Horsepower: 170. Torque: 184 lb.-ft. Overall length: 191.9 in. Wheelbase: 110.4 in. Height: 58.5 in. Width: 72.2 in. Curb weight: 3,263 lbs.
Performance, economy, styling, interior and cargo space.
Infotainment screen is on the small side.
THE BOTTOM LINE
An interesting, sometimes overlooked, mid-size option.
Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry.
Bill Griffith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MrAutoWriter.