2013 Volkswagen Passat SE
Base price: $29,235
As tested: $30,030
MPG: 20 city/28 highway
- Level of standard equipment on SE model
- Styling has become too bland
- Cost-cutting shows in interior materials
By Mike Hagerty
Fifteen years ago, Volkswagen gave us the fourth-generation Passat, a family sedan that offered drivers quality materials and craftsmanship typical of German vehicles (think Audi) at a bit of a discount. Those who purchased the Passat loved it, but it wasn’t as commercially successful as other models of sedans. Although Volkswagen amped up the exterior seven years ago, it didn’t help with sales — consumers still opted for price over styling with models such as the Toyota Camry.
Which brings us to the current-generation Passat. It’s not only less expensive than the one before, it is — to be charitable — bland. If you removed the huge VW badges on the grille and the trunk, you’d have one of those generic “everycar/anycar” machines like the ones filmmakers use when they don’t want to plug any single brand. Once rivaling Audi, the interior is now also a cut below, clearly aiming for price point rather than pleasure.
The good news? There are several options beyond the blandness of the S base model. In fact, VW has devised 13 additional trim levels, each with its own bag of goodies, ranging from more power to nicer trim and plenty of standard equipment.
Our tester was 11 steps up, replacing the 170-horsepower 5-cylinder with a 280-horsepower VR6, which costs drivers 2 city miles per gallon and 4 mpg on the highway, not to mention an extra $8,395.
Comfort sport seats, a color touchscreen, a Fender (yes, the guitar manufacturer) premium audio system, cruise control, a trip computer, heated front seats, fog lamps, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and handbrake were included in our test model. An extra $1,600 will take you to the next level, which adds a navigation system. The top-of-the-line is the V-6 SEL Premium, which adds leather seating and costs $33,525.
Bottom line? You can make yourself comfortable and entertained in a Passat, but you’ll have to select higher trim levels. Even when you do, you won’t get back the solid, bank-vault feeling of the model two generations back. It’s a shame they didn’t sell more of those. Especially because they cost less than fully loading one of these new, cheaper models.