2017 Volkswagen Passat Highline
VW’s big-bore family sedan suddenly finds itself on the endangered species list
Words by: Adam Allen
What do you mean by endangered?
These days, big naturally aspirated V6 engines are something of a rarity. Whereas at one time your typical family sedan would have come standard with a V6 or at least offered one as an upgrade, the industry has embraced the concept of engine downsizing in the never-ending quest of fuel efficiency. It seems that everyone has a 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the hood these days. They don’t offer the sonorous song of six cylinders, nor do they supply the linear flow of power you expect without a turbo stepping in to offer some thrust. They usually have a hard time keeping their promises of fuel thriftiness- most people drive cars thusly equipped with impunity never realize the fuel savings they’ve been promised. The fine print warning of “Your Mileage May Vary” couldn’t be more true.
Didn’t the Passat get a slight refresh a couple of years ago?
It did. Usually a mid-cycle touch up involves revised wheel designs, the addition of a few more exterior colours and perhaps a few minor nips and tucks. The latter best describes what the Passat was the recipient of. Rather than have minor changes fall off the radar, the adjustments to the front and rear have made quite the impact. To our eyes, the subtle tweaks have turned the Passat into a strikingly handsome sedan. The tester we drove was furnished in a very cool colour called Urano Grey and its muted, almost matte-like hue was contrasted nicely with a liberal amount of chrome accents. Compared to its competitors, it exudes a nice Bauhaus vibe despite it being designed and built in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Is it as nice inside as it is on the outside?
Our tester had two interior colour schemes that together were quite pleasing to the eye. The combination of Golden Oak and Vienna Leather gave the Passat a distinctively upscale feel. Helping to impart the feeling of luxury are thoughtfully curated choices of plastics and finishings- actually, the whole interior leaves accupants with a sense that the good people of Chattanooga put a lot of pride into screweing the Passat together. It’s pretty refined, ideally suited for long trips and there’s genereous room to stretch out for those up front as well as those in the back. The infotainment system is intuitive and feels familiar quickly even if it doesn’t feel as cutting edge and modern as what you get with some of the other class regulars. Overall, the interior is in keeping with all other Volkswagen products, which is to say its nicely finished.
OK fine, but how does it drive?
Quite nicely, actually. The Passat’s size and dimensions give it a big-car feeling when going down the road, a sort of relaxed confidence. Like all Volkswagens, it feels right at home on the highway comfortably whittling away kilometres until you reach your destination. The ability to cruise and commute in comfort sacrifices some of the responsiveness and appetite for corners, but we suspect that pouring their Passat down a ribbon of tarmac isn’t going to be high on potential buyers wish list. Despite being assembled in the U.S. it still possesses the Germanic feeling of a car that has been thoughtfully engineered, even if a little more wind noise that you’d expect permeates the cabin. The highlight of our time spent with the Passat is surely its drivetrain. The burly V6 is lashed to VW’s excellent DSG dual-clutch gearbox meaning you can swap gears in less time than it takes to blink. The quick-acting tranny allows you to keep the V6 on boil, right in the sweet spot of its powerband. When you call for power, there’s no hesitation, no turbo lag- just chunky, linear power accompanied by a sound that reminds us of the old VR6 you’d see in so many Volkswagen products of yore.
What might go wrong?
Earlier we complimented the Passat for its Teutonic road manners, but there’s a fly in the ointment that frankly surprised us. The steering has a great sense of straight ahead- if you spend all your time highway commuting you may never notice this issue- but coax the Passat into a turn and the steering feel and accuracy you might have been expecting is largely absent. Moreover, the power steering tuning could use a little more polish because the effort is finger tip light, something we expect from a Lexus but certainly not from a VW. While we’re talking about re-jigging some of the hardware, the DSG transmission could use some time at finishing school. Its low speed behaviour is clunky and lurches embarrassingly at times. It’s hard to fault a gearbox that delivers shifts so quickly and smoothly under most conditions, but those who spend their time creeping along on their way to and from work should see if that behaviour is something they can live with on a daily basis. Lastly, there’s the price- at $39,095 it’s about $3,000 more expensive on average than many of its similarly equipped rivals.
Should I buy a Volkswagen Passat?
The Passat is designed to appeal to those would-be buyers who look to the midsize sedan segment for their next vehicle. It’s a competitive entry, but it has an advantage over its competitors with that feeling of solidity that the Germans seem so adept at imbuing their cars with. Although we’ve said so numerous times, we think the best reason to put a Passat in your driveway is attributed to the increasingly rare and wonderfully old-school formula of a big naturally aspirated engine providing the power. When you factor in the DSG’s lighting quick reflexes, it makes for an engine/transmission combination that’s exceedingly rare these days. Who knows? If the downsizing trend is here to stay you might have a candidate on your hands for the Pebble Beach Concours in 2067. We can’t say for certain, but you can probably safely say there won’t be any sedans powered by 2.0 litre turbos sharing space with you on the 18th green.
2017 Volkswagen Passat Highline — Specifications
- Price as tested: $39,095
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger sedan
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive
- Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Engine: 3.6 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves
- Horsepower: 280 @ 6,200 rpm
- Torque (lbs-ft.): 258 @ 2,500 rpm
- Curb weight: 1,613 kg (3,557 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Consumption: 12L/100km (20 mpg)