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2013 Volkswagen Passat S Rocky Mountain Review

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2013 Volkswagen Passat

By Dan Poler
Colorado Bureau
The Auto Channel

For quite some time, the Volkswagen Passat filled a very important need in the market: It provided a way for the consumer to buy a German sedan – with all that implies in terms of luxury features and driving characteristics – at a lower price point, thereby bringing a reasonably luxurious midsize sedan into the reach of folks who might not otherwise be able to afford such. It was upscale without being ostentatious about it. Classy, refined, but not over-the-top.

Then Volkswagen completely redesigned the Passat for the 2012 model year. Although designed in Germany, it’s built in the United States for Americans. The redesigned model carried a lower price point to appeal to a wider variety of consumers, as well.

We got a chance to spend a week with the 2013 Passat (which carries over essentially unchanged from 2012), and realized that most likely due to that price reduction, this iteration of the Passat has lost some of its Euro-style appeal. Please don’t misunderstand – it’s still a good car. But it looks and feels almost as if Volkswagen has gone out of its way to make it feel a bit … Well, bland.

Our tester came equipped as a low end S trim plus the optional Appearance package. The S trim includes automatic headlights, keyless entry, power windows and locks, A/C, six-way manual adjustments for the driver’s seat, cloth upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, audio controls on the steering wheel, cruise control, a basic trip computer, Bluetooth with streaming audio which feeds a six-speaker sound system which also has a CD player and an auxiliary audio input. The Appearance package adds some basic amenities, including a six-speed automatic transmission, 16-inch alloy wheels and a rear-seat middle armrest. Power comes from a 2.5-liter 5-cylinder engine good for a respectable 170 horsepower.

On the outside of the Passat, design cues are fairly muted. It’s not at all unattractive or displeasing to the eye, but it most certainly blends into a crowd. Nothing controversial or polarizing. Nothing to make it stand out or look aggressive. We do have to compliment the attractive-looking taillights which bring a premium, upscale look to the back of the vehicle due to their soft glow.

Inside the cabin, the noncontroversial nature of the Passat continues in the form of the neutral beige cloth upholstery used for the seats – again, as utterly non-offensive as one can imagine. Seats are reasonably comfortable if perhaps a touch lacking in support. Controls are laid out well and easy to read and understand, but some – such as the trip computer and information display mounted between speedo and tach – look a bit dated. Another point we’d be remiss in not mentioning is the clocks. There are no fewer than three clocks visible to the driver – in that information display in the middle of the instrument cluster, on the face of the radio, and an analog one mounted above the radio. While we frequently lament cars that don’t readily inform their driver of the time through a visible clock, this feels a bit overboard, as if something were needed simply to fill the space.

As one might expect, the driving experience is fairly uninspired. Don’t get us wrong: The car will get you from A to B and will do so in relative comfort, but don’t expect any wild antics. The 5-cylinder engine provides a good amount of power to the front wheels and is fine for highway merges and passing, but gets raucous and whiny under when under strain. There is a sport mode for the transmission as well, which is nice to have – it changes shift points and makes the throttle a bit more responsive. However, the Passat’s steering effort is disappointingly light, with little feedback provided to the driver. The steering wheel itself is made from some sort of textured, rubberized material and just doesn’t feel terribly good under the driver’s hands. We averaged 30 miles per gallon overall against city / highway estimates of 22 / 31 – reasonable but not top-of-class.

Safety is an area where the Passat shines. Every Passat includes anti-lock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front side airbags, and side curtain airbags. Government crash testing yielded a perfect five out of five stars overall for the Passat, with five stars as well for frontal impact protection and five stars for side crash protection. IIHS has awarded the Passat with top marks for frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests, as well.

All told, it’s hard to come to a conclusion about the Passat. If the need is a comfortable family sedan, a highway cruiser, the Passat is worth a look – particularly considering its as-tested price under $24,000. But we cannot believe that a driving enthusiast will be satisfied by what the Passat has to offer, and we lament the loss of the more premium feel that the former Passat brought even to its lower-end trims.

2013 Volkswagen Passat S

Base Price: $20,845.00
Price as Tested: $23,975.00
Engine Type: inline 5 cylinder
Engine Size: 2.5 liter
Horsepower: 170 @ 5,700 RPM
Torque (ft-lbs): 177 @ 4,250 RPM
Transmission: 6-speed Shiftable Automatic
Wheelbase / Length (in): 
Curb Weight: 3,221
Pounds per HP: 18.9
Fuel Capacity (gal): 18.5
Fuel Requirement: Regular unleaded
Tires: Continental ContiProContact; 215/60TR16
Brakes, front/rear: Ventilated Disc / Solid Disc
Suspension, front/rear: MacPherson Strut / Multi-Link
Ground clearance (in): 5.4
Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - MPG
city / highway / observed: 22 / 31 / 30
Base Trim Price: $22,945.00

Options and Charges

Delivery: $795.00
Price as tested: $23,975.00