Right up until the eve of the Detroit auto show, Volkswagen preserved the secrecy of the name of the new Passat family sedan – admitting only upon the car’s introduction that the much-anticipated name for the new car is: Passat.
The company has insisted upon using the code name New Midsize Sedan for the last couple years.
The good news is that the 2012 Passat looks promising, with smart, taut Walter de Silva-penned lines following the horizontal theme seen previously on the Golf and Jetta. VW is betting big that they can sell a bunch more Passats than they have done until now, building a new factory in Tennessee expressly for the car.
The new Passat, like the new Jetta, is also designed with VW’s conception of what American customers want in mind. We won’t know until we drive production units whether the company has hit that target any better with the Passat than with the Jetta, but indications are that the Passat’s material finish will be better, thanks to touches like the use of the instrument cluster that debuted in the still-premium Touareg and the liberal use of chrome trim.
The two overriding features that appeal to American customers, in VW’s view, are “big” and “cheap.” Considering the popularity of big box retailers, the point is hard to argue. In the case of the Passat, a starting price of $20,000 has the cheap part covered, in terms of dollars anyway. Here’s hoping there is nothing cheap about the real car once it reaches showrooms. Among the standard features are climate control and Bluetooth phone connectivity, in addition to a bevy of safety technologies like stability control and brake assist.
VW also went big with the Passat, but apparently estimated that Honda overshot the mark with its king-sized Accord. The new Passat, at 191.7 inches splits the difference between the Accord and Camry in length, directly hitting the Chevy Malibu in terms of size.
Although it is as big as a Malibu, it will offer fuel economy like an Aveo, or Sonic, or whatever the small Chevy is called now. The 140-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel engine will achieve highway fuel economy of 43 mpg, VW predicts. The TDI is matched to either a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatically shifter dual-clutch transmission. The gas-burning 170-hp, 2.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine used in the Golf and Jetta will be the Passat’s base engine and is equipped with either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The top-of-the-line 280-hp, 3.6-liter VR6 engine is the Passat’s premium powerplant uses only the six-speed DSG transmission. The company says it has solved the problem of premature clutch wear suffered in some previous iterations of this transmission.
Volkswagen of America president and CEO Jonathan Browning promises that the company will continue to embrace enthusiast drivers with its new models, assuring that the Passat will deliver a European driving experience and announcing that the Golf R model sold in Europe will come to the States. “Our focus is as much on the driving enthusiast as on everyday driving,” he pledged.
But everyday driving can still be tedious, even in fun cars, so VW has linked up with legendary guitar maker Fender for the Passat’s premium sound system.
DAN CARNEY is a veteran auto industry observer who has written for MSNBC.com, Motor Trend, AutoWeek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Better Homes and Gardens and other publications. He has authored two books, "Dodge Viper" and "Honda S2000" and is a juror for the North American Car of the Year award. Carney covers the industry from the increasingly strategic location of Washington, D.C.