Behind the Wheel: 2012 Volkswagen Passat

800 miles for $7,000 less

If you asked us how to make a car cost $7,000 less you’d probably end up missing a few essentials. Things like a back seat, the sound system and maybe even a few cylinders from the engine, but somehow VW has pulled the equivalent of an automotive hat trick with the 2012 Volkswagen Passat ($19,995). Not only is the all-new Passat priced much lower than its predecessor, but achieves better performance while delivering better fuel economy. You can thank a big part of that equation, the cost, on the fact that North American gets its own exclusive version. That means, it’s not only larger in every dimension including the (ahem) girth of the seats and the cupholders, but also made right here in the US at VW’s stunning new plant in Chattanooga, TN (more on that soon).

So, what’s it like to drive?

In a few words? Like a Volkswagen.

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Make no mistake about it, the Passat is all-new and cheaper, but it hasn’t lost any of that tasty German engineering or performance heritage we’ve come to expect. As a matter of fact, gone is its predecessor’s “everything and anything” feature list and equally portly weight and price. In exchange, this Passat has gone on a bit of a mechanical P90X and delivers everything you need and nothing you don’t. The same taut handling and driver-centric nature are all prevalent, but now you get it wrapped in handsome, dare we say, chiseled new sheet metal that not only photographs well, but should look just as sharp several years from now when you’ve finished your payments. Under the hood, the Passat will eventually be available with one of three engines, but really only two matter. Suburban speed demons will opt for a 280 horsepower (258 lb-ft of torque) 3.6 liter V6 mated to a lightning-quick DSG transmission that delivers 60 mph in a little over 6 seconds or a more interesting option, the diesel.

Yup, the diesel. Speed is all well and good, but think for a second about this figure: 800. No, not horsepower (though that would make for some pretty damn exciting stories), but rather miles. If you tick off diesel, VW will equip your Passat with a 2.0 liter TDI turbo-diesel engine that sips gas to the tune of 43 miles per gallon. That’s good for a road trip from New York to Chicago on a single tank of gas leaving all hybrids in your eco-friendly wake. It also leaves you with more time to enjoy VW’s great telematics and an all-new 9 speaker Fender audio system, which has also eschewed marketing-inspired features in favor of a live-performance focused two-channel soundstage. Trust us, it sounds great.

Here’s the skinny. The new Passat is a culmination of a few simple goals: go farther on less, and look and better while doing it. The new mid-sized vee-dub excels at all of them and even though it won’t win you a position at your Hot Import Nights event, what it will do is leave every other sucker who got stuck with a Camry or an Accord wishing they had spent less time looking at a glossy brochure and more time figuring out why it is they want to drive in the first place.

Price: $19,995

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