The 2012 VW Passat looks and feels more like what American car buyers want than what European car enthusiast's desire. VW's new manufacturing home in Chattanooga, Tennessee is the inspiration for the Passat's surprising makeover.

The new Passat's clean bodylines are pleasing but nothing to write home about.

Aiming for a Main Street American audience that typically shops for Camrys, Accords and Altimas, the new Passat is a pretty generic looking family sedan.

But with a starting price that's more than $7000 less than the previous German-import Passat, it takes on a new kind of appeal that even goes toe-to-toe with the value-priced Hyundai Sonata.

It's clear that VW has focused on quality and details.

A well-executed fit and finish are evident from the entry-level Passat S through the range-topping V6 SEL Premium that we're testing today.

With the new Passat's huge price drop, standard equipment on the base model still includes dual zone climate control, steering wheel mounted controls and Bluetooth hands-free calling.

And a decent audio system with an in-dash CD and auxiliary audio connection.

Still, we'd opt for an SE or higher trim to get the Touchscreen Premium VIII sound system. Or the Fender Premium Audio system, like we have here, that comes standard in all SEL trims and V6 models.

Overall, we like that the controls feel solid and the layout is very user-friendly.

And the seats are remarkably comfortable throughout.

And thanks to the new Passat's increased length, rear seat legroom is now just over 39 inches...more than the Camry.

There are three engine choices for the new Passat, ranging from superbly efficient to considerably sporty. All send power to the front wheels.

The base 2.5-liter inline 5-cylinder falls in the middle. Although it sends a healthy 170 horsepower through either a 5-speed manual or available 6-speed automatic, it doesn't impress like the 2.0-liter inline-4 turbo diesel TDI.

Managing just 140 horsepower the turbo diesel moves with confidence, taking on hills with ease while getting hybrid-like fuel economy. It's mated to either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic direct shift gearbox.

On the muscular end of the engine range is the 280 horsepower 3.6-liter V6 we have in this SEL. It's coupled with the 6-speed DSG.

Unfortunately, the V6 doesn't get you good fuel economy, just 20 city and 28 highway. The turbo diesel does best, getting EPA ratings of up to 43 miles per gallon on the highway with the 6-speed manual transmission. Our AutoTrader testing actually got nearly 50 mpg.

Standard safety features include anti-lock brakes with electronic brake pressure distribution, electronic stability control, and a 6-airbag system with front and rear side-curtain protection.

The bottom-line is that the base version of this 5-passenger mid-size sedan with manual transmission has an MSRP of just $19,995. Add another $6000 for the TDI SE. Pricing tops out with the V6 SEL Premium starting at $32,950.

The 2012 VW Passat demonstrates a true desire to please mainstream America with a car made right here in the states.

And for that, it should make it to the top of the short list for many buyers.

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Scott Markle is an experienced automotive enthusiast and industry observer who is passionate about creating compelling content for car shoppers. He has fifteen years of experience building top-tier websites for the automotive industry and beyond, and was part of the team that launched

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