Reviews

2014 Volkswagen Passat Walk Around

Simply put, anybody who liked the looks of the earlier (2010) Passat will appreciate the 2014. VW's designers said 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.

Passat styling is understated, but with enough trademark VW design cues to distinguish it from something imported from Japan or Detroit. Its visual proportions obscure somewhat its interior roominess, where it claims best in class rear-seat leg room.

The motif for the front end is horizontal-ness. The grille features 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, house squat foglights or give the look of cooling ducts for the front brakes. 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.

The side view is basic European sedan; it could be one of any number of midsize 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. Wraparound 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 is, again, relatively generic, although in this instance more Pacific Rim than Continent, save for the de rigueur VW logo. Taillight housings are two-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 that not much was done to push the envelope in terms of refreshing a car's interior. Such is the case with the current Passat.

The gauge cluster in the instrument panel is delightfully basic, with a large round analog tachometer and speedometer. Each has 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 so equipped) in the mini-display screen, which also shows the trip computer data, centered between the two larger gauges.

We found the navigation system slow to operate and difficult to learn to program. We spent 45 minutes trying to figure out how to program an address in New York City. The problem was that the system had been programmed to avoid toll roads, which turned a 30-minute route into Manhattan into a 90-minute journey. If we had only known. Also, you must go into the Memory feature to get rid of old destinations that the system is hanging onto. Once learned, it should work fine, but the driver will still have to put up with its extraordinarily slow operation. After starting the car, the navigation system takes forever to start up.

Programming is lethargic as well. The driver must pause after pressing each letter of an address, then pause longer between each field, and the fields don't always come up in the desired order. Then it takes a long time for the system to plot the route. Also, the screen is small. Navigation systems from Chrysler, GM, Lexus, Acura and others are easier to learn and operate. Also, we were dumbfounded to discover that the big navigation screen did not include a rearview camera function. Volkswagen is not keeping up here.

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 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 consist of two smallish knobs at the lower corners, below vertical sets of four buttons on each side of the display. That screen 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 of the 2012 Passat went to the front seat, the rear seat got almost an inch and a half. That increase earned the Passat what VW claimed was a best-in-class rating, bettering the primary competitors (Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata and 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 brought the Passat nearly even with all except the Sonata, with an inch more leg room than the Passat.

Interior materials on the SE and SEL are 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 genuine 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 cubbyholes 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 that 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 setup, with an upper tray appropriate 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 seatback has a magazine pouch.

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