Reviews

2012 Volkswagen Passat Walk Around

Simply put, anybody who liked the looks of the 2010 Passat will like the 2012. VW's designers say they were trying for a timeless look; if that means very little change, they succeeded. Not that's it's unattractive, only that it's not going to turn many heads, let alone snap a neck or two, neither of which it managed over a day's driving from Chattanooga, Tennessee, where it's built, to Nashville though some delightfully green and scenic countryside, including a brief dip into Georgia.

The motif for the front end was horizontal-ness, according to the designers. The inverted trapezoidal chrome grille surround of the previous Passat is gone, replaced by the Passat's version of VW's new trademark façade: the traditional VW logo centered on a simple array of three chrome-like bars bracketed by trapezium-shaped headlamp units. A bold bumper splits the fascia atop a full-width lower intake with floating wing-like braces at each end that, depending on model and trim level, give the look of cooling ducts for the front brakes or house squat fog lights. Sculptured reliefs in the hood splay rearward from the outer ends of the grille to the A-pillars (front supports for the roof), giving an illusion of width.

For lack of a better descriptor, side view is basic European sedan, that is, it could be one of any number of mid-size four doors originating from any one of four or five continental car makers. No logo or other identifiers break up otherwise mostly generic expanses of sheet metal. Wrap around headlamp housings de-emphasize the front overhang. An understated character line crease runs from the trailing edge of the headlamp housings rearward across the doors slightly above the full-round door handles and ending in the leading edge of the wrap around taillight housing. Defined blisters outline circular tire wells. On some models, thin chrome striping frames the side windows; about the only feature that stands out is a kinky rear quarter window that serves both to lessen the mass of the C-pillar (the rearmost roof support) and, along with the deep rear side doors, to hint at the 2012's stretched wheelbase (distance between the tires front to rear) of more than three and one half inches longer than the previous Passat.

Rearview, which only the 3.6L is going to display to other drivers with any regularity, is, again, relatively generic, although in this instance more Pacific Rim than Continent, save for the de rigueur VW logo. Taillight housings are 2-piece, split between the fenders and trunk lid. License plate tucks up beneath an overhang that crosses the trunk lid between the taillights. The trunk lid reaches the top of the rear bumper, itself a seamless piece that sweeps around the lower rear fascia from the trailing edge of one rear wheelwell to the other. The 3.6L gets twin exhaust tips.

Interior

When the feature that gets talked about the most at a new car's launch is rear seat legroom, it's clear not much was done to push the envelope in terms of refreshing a car's interior. Such is the case with the 2012 Passat.

The gauge cluster in the instrument panel is delightfully basic, with large round analog tachometer and speedometer, each with a small circular gauge embedded in its base, one monitoring coolant temperature, the other fuel status. A commendable addition, especially for drivers running solo, is a digital repeater for the navigation system, when equipped, in the mini-display screen, which also shows the trip computer data, centered between the two larger gauges.

Front seats, both base and Sport, are comfortable, with the Sport adding a smidgen of appreciated lateral support. The center stack, which houses the audio/navigation and climate control interfaces, stays true to the layout of the previous Passat, with the audio/navigation panels above and the trio of large knobs that manage the climate control settings below. Controls for the stereo and the very competent navigation system are unchanged from the previous Passat, consisting of two smallish knobs at the lower corners below vertical sets of four buttons on each side of the display that shows the various menus of touch-sensitive buttons, all of which work as efficiently and effectively as any our fingers have manipulated. (We haven't gotten a chance to check out the system in the base model.)

The rear seat is more bench than bucket but still accommodating, with foot wells deep enough that occupants can imagine they're seated in a chair instead of on the floor. What's most remarkable about the rear seat, however, as hinted above, is the leg room. While one inch of the lengthened wheelbase goes to the front seat, the rear seat gets almost an inch and a half, earning the 2012 Passat what VW claims is a best in class rating, bettering the primary competitors (the Chevrolet Malibu, the Ford Fusion, the Honda Accord, the Hyundai Sonata and the Toyota Camry) by between just under an inch (Camry) to more than four inches (Sonata). This is especially noteworthy because that added inch to the front seat also brings the Passat all but even with all except the Sonata, which treated the front seat more fairly, with an inch more leg room than the Passat.

Interior materials on the SE and SEL, the trim levels available at the launch event, were above average in feel and quality, with snug tolerances between panels and hard surfaces. The wood grain didn't quite pass as real but some real wood we've seen looked more like wood grain. Visibility is good, better out the front than the back, where the proud head restraint triplets crowd the view through the rearview mirror.

There are enough cubby holes and bins to satisfy the average hoarder. There's a map pocket in each door (although not the best design, as the rear-most area under the armrest pinches down to the point it's accessible only by a child's small hand, in itself not reassuring). The glove box, while basic plastic, is refreshingly spacious. The front center console bin is a bi-level set up, with an upper tray fit for cell phones (where they should stay unless the car is parked, even if you have a hands-free system; sorry, but distraction is distraction, no matter the source) and a deeper part that also holds the audio inputs. Each front seat back has a magazine pouch.

Trunk space splits the difference with the competition, with around a cubic foot more than the Malibu, Accord and Camry and about a cubic foot a half less than the Fusion and the Sonata.

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