The 2012 Volkswagen Passat lineup has been completely configured compared to last year's model. It's now offered in three different trims: S, SE and SEL. Among those trims, there are three different powertrains. Base 2.5 S, 2.5 SE and 2.5 SEL models come with a 177-horsepower, 2.5L 5-cylinder engine, offered either with a standard 5-speed manual gearbox or optional 6-speed automatic. TDI SE and TDI SEL Premium models add the 140-hp, 2.0L TDI diesel 4-cylinder engine, while top-of-the-range 3.6 SE and 3.6 SEL models step up to a 280-horsepower, 3.6L 'VR6' 6-cylinder engine. Both the TDI and VR6 engines come only with a 6-speed dual clutch DSG automatic transmission that can pull of remarkably quick shifts.
Base Passats move quickly enough, and the 5-cylinder engine is quite smooth. The VR6 is the performance pick of the lineup; it's especially strong, smooth and responsive. But the TDI might put a smile on a lot of faces; with an EPA highway fuel economy rating of 43 mpg and a meaty 236 pound-feet of peak torque, this engine has more power than you might think and can move up to speed on the highway--or up long grades--without strain. The rack-and-pinion power steering is rather light in parking but well-weighted on the highway, and the Passat has a pretty nimble feel for a mid-size sedan.
The new Passat's larger cabin is now truly mid-size, if not larger, with a spacious, airy feel to the interior, enhanced by an instrument panel that doesn't swoop around but rather helps yield the most space in front of driver and passenger. The backseat is very generously sized--with enough headroom and legroom for most adults--and getting in and out is easy. Across the model line, the Passat comes with a 60/40-split folding rear seatback.
The 2.5 S model, which starts at $19,995, comes better equipped than most base models; a Bluetooth hands-free interface, air conditioning, remote locking, power accessories, a trip computer, steering-wheel controls and a 6-speaker CD sound system. The SE model adds leatherette upholstery, a power driver's seat, heated front seats, power heated side mirrors, an upgraded sound system with touch screen, and 17-inch alloy wheels. 2.5 SEL models bring a much more upscale look and feel with footwell lighting, added chrome trim, sport seats, a backseat ski pass-through and a navigation system. The SEL Premium model gets fog lamps, seat memory settings, push-button start and full leather upholstery. Appointments are similar in TDI models, only the SEL Premium Package includes 18-inch alloys and woodgrain trim. Top 3.6 SE and SEL models also get a sunroof and chrome-tipped dual exhaust system in addition to the SEL Premium equipment.
All Passat models include six standard airbags--including side-curtain airbags that cover front and rear occupants--plus standard electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes and hydraulic brake assist.
Volkswagen has completely redesigned its mid-size Passat for 2012, and while doing so, stretching it in size by several inches in overall length and wheelbase. This yields significantly more interior space--especially for backseat passengers. Ride quality is improved, too. Meanwhile, Volkswagen has expanded the standard feature list while trimming down options and build combinations--all while lowering the price significantly on some of the variants. At the same time, VW has brought an optional TDI clean-diesel engine back to the Passat.