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Car Review

2012 VW Passat SEL: Real-World Test

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author photo by Brian Moody
  • Extra space is noticeable inside
  • Decent handling despite larger size
  •  Looks deceptively expensive

While the 2012 VW Passat spent about 10 days at the AutoTrader.com offices, every person that came in contact with it said basically the same thing. Everyone who drove, rode, sat in or simply looked at the new Passat said "That's a really nice car."

Much of the praise is thanks to a stunning new look but the car is also a little bigger which means more interior space. The 2012 Passat is less expensive than the previous Passat, too. Starting price for a base "S" model is about $20,000, that's roughly $7,100 less expensive than the base version of the previous Passat. A top of the line Passat SEL V6 is $33,000. If you're a fan of the Passat, you know a nicely equipped, V6 powered car with leather, navigation, a good audio system and Bluetooth would have been more than $40,000, and now you'll pay around $35,000.

As soon as I sat down behind the wheel of the new Passat, I couldn't help but think of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The new Passat isn't perfect but it sure does deliver that "just right" feeling only a few modern cars get exactly right - Infiniti does this very well too.

The 2012 VW Passat's cabin in noticeably wider and the rear seat has tons of legroom. There's also a generous truck that easily swallowed luggage for two adults and two kids on a two-week vacation. Although the Passat is now bigger, it still has a handling edge other sedans in its class don't have. The Passat SEL doesn't corner like a Mini Cooper or anything like that but it does feel about a sure-footed as a Toyota Camry SE. The difference is, the SE is Toyota's sportiest model and the Passat just has a certain athleticism no matter what version you pick.

The 3.6 liter V6 is smooth, powerful and quiet. The Passat's cabin also remains remarkable quiet as well, even at highway speed.

It's difficult to point out high and low points with the 2012 Passat largely because there really aren't any low points. In some instances you can tell that the plush interior materials of past VW sedans has given way to less expensive materials but you really have to be looking to find those things. Taken as a whole, the new Passat's interior looks warm and inviting and has the exact look and feel you'd expect for a $33,000 car. The 2012 Passat's exterior looks more like a significantly more expensive German sedan.

Finally, if you really want to help boost American jobs, you might be considering a Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota Camry or Honda Accord.  Thankfully, buying a Passat will help American workers too. Like many other overseas automakers, VW has factories right here in the US. The VW Passat is built in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

What it means to you: If you're planning to buy a Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion or Chevy Malibu, you owe it to yourself to test drive the new Passat. It's now competitively priced but has all the charm, attitude and style you'd expect from a German sedan. 

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.