The 2014 Volkswagen Passat is the first German family sedan designed just for us. American drivers have quickly warmed to this bigger, cheaper Passat, with more models leaving dealer lots than ever before. Built at VW's shiny new manufacturing plant in Tennessee, the 2014 Passat is as American as a German sedan can be, yet it still offers enough of that European character to feel special.

A bit of history is in order. The Passat used to be known as the fancy European alternative to family sedans such as the Accord and Camry. If it felt more expensive from behind the wheel, that's because it was, costing much more to buy and own than comparably equipped rivals. Volkswagen realized that savvy American consumers weren't in the mood to pay a premium, so they aimed for the heart of the market this time around. Judging by the results, we'd say they nailed the target.

We especially like the unusual diesel-powered Passat TDI, which delivers great fuel economy and surprising punch, but the new-for-2014 1.8-liter turbo engine is certainly an appealing choice on the gas-powered side. Other family sedans may be flashier, but the Passat provides one of the best all-around combinations of performance, features and value.

What's New for 2014?

The 2014 Passat gets a new 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine in place of the old 2.5-liter 5-cylinder. It also boasts a new Sport trim and available VW Car-Net telematics.

What We Like

Spacious interior; excellent engines; smooth and quiet ride; perfect crash-test scores

What We Don't

Turbodiesel and V6 models are rather expensive

How Much?

TBD

Fuel Economy

All Passats employ a front-wheel-drive layout. The base engine for 2014 is a 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder rated at 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. With the standard 5-speed manual transmission, it returns 24 miles per gallon city/35 mpg hwy, while the available 6-speed automatic is virtually the same at 24 mpg city/34 mpg hwy.

The Passat TDI features a turbodiesel 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder paired with either a 6-speed manual transmission or a 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual. Output checks in at 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. Audible diesel clatter is kept to a minimum, and fuel economy is stellar at 31 mpg city/43 mpg hwy with the manual and 30 mpg city/40 mpg hwy with the dual-clutch automatic.

The Passat V6 packs a 3.6-liter V6 engine that cranks out 280 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque, transforming the Passat into an under-the-radar muscle car. The transmission is the dual-clutch automated manual, a surprisingly sporty choice. Fuel economy is another pleasant surprise: 20 mpg city/28 mpg hwy is fairly frugal for such a strong motor.

Standard Features & Options

The 2014 Volkswagen Passat is offered in different versions depending on what's under the hood: 1.8T, TDI or V6. The three main trim levels are S, SE and SEL, with a Sport trim set to join the lineup later in the year (details were unavailable as of this writing).

The base Passat 1.8T S comes standard with the 5-speed manual transmission (including a hill-holder feature), 16-inch steel wheels with plastic covers, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, cloth upholstery, a height-adjustable driver's seat with adjustable lumbar support, air conditioning, a trip computer, Bluetooth and a 6-speaker audio system with an auxiliary input.

If you want an automatic transmission on the S model, you'll at least need the optional Appearance Package, which adds the 6-speed automatic, 16-in alloy wheels, a back-seat center armrest and a healthy pile of cash to the bottom line.

The 1.8T is also offered in Wolfsburg Edition trim, which starts with the Appearance Package specs and adds different 16-in wheels, a power driver's seat, heated front seats, synthetic leather upholstery, satellite radio and iPod/USB connectivity.

The 1.8T SE boasts 17-in alloy wheels, leatherette upholstery, a power driver's seat, heated front seats, an upgraded trip computer with a larger display, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated exterior mirrors, rear climate vents, and an 8-speaker audio system with a 6-CD changer, an SD-card reader and a 5-in touchscreen interface that includes a rearview camera.

Options on the 1.8T SE include a sunroof, a navigation system (which uses the same 5-in touchscreen) and iPod/USB connectivity.

The 1.8T SEL comes standard with the sunroof, a hard-drive-based navigation system with digital music storage and a larger, 6.5-in touchscreen, better-bolstered front seats, foot-well lighting, a 9-speaker Fender audio system with iPod integration, dual-zone automatic climate control and a rear-seat ski pass-through.

The 1.8T SEL Premium tacks on fog lights, keyless entry with push-button start, leather upholstery, driver memory functions and a power passenger seat.

The diesel-powered Passat TDI SE starts with a 6-speed manual transmission, featuring the 1.8T SE's standard and optional equipment plus optional 18-in alloys. The top-of-the-line TDI SEL Premium includes a 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission but is otherwise equipped similarly to the 1.8T SEL Premium.

The V6 SE gets the automated manual transmission, 18-in alloy wheels, and most of the 1.8T SEL's equipment, although the 3.6 SE's navigation system is the SD-based version with the smaller screen. The range-topping 3.6 SEL Premium gets the hard-drive-based navigation system with the larger screen and the rest of the other SEL Premium models' equipment as well as woodgrain interior trim.

Some of these higher-end standard features can be added to lower trims via various packages or standalone options.

Safety

The 2014 Volkswagen Passat comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, and six airbags (front, front-side, and full-length side-curtain). VW's Car-Net telematics system, which includes on-the-go assistance like GM's OnStar system, is available on Wolfsburg and higher trims.

The Passat aced the government's crash tests, scoring a perfect five stars in frontal, side and overall crash-worthiness. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety similarly awarded the Passat its highest rating of Good in every testing category.

Behind the Wheel

In our interior evaluation of the Passat, we awarded points for the upmarket look of the gauges and the precision feel of the knobs and levers, even if the materials aren't quite as nice as in older Passats. The front seats offer minimal lateral grip, even with the available "comfort sport" bolstering, but we're OK with that. The new Passat is definitely all about highway cruising.

A word of advice, however: Make sure the front seats agree with your lower back. Some of us find the lumbar area, and indeed, the general shape of these seats, to be less than ideal. In the rear compartment, meanwhile, the Passat offers so much space that we think it's a viable alternative to large cars such as the Toyota Avalon and Hyundai Azera.

On the road, the 2014 Passat is like an athlete after a full-body Novocain massage. You can tell there's some real handling capability in there that a sport-tuned suspension would tease out (cue the new-for-2014 Sport model), but the default setup is definitely geared toward comfort. Nonetheless, the Passat dances well enough -- and in ordinary driving, it offers a quiet cabin and generally excellent shock-absorption. If we're picking nits, the Passat's structure feels a little less robust over bumps than its German pedigree would suggest, but by the standards of this class it's more than adequate.

Other Cars to Consider

Ford Fusion -- The Fusion combines practicality, technology and agility like few vehicles at this price. Check out the Hybrid for fuel economy that shames even the stingy Passat TDI.

Honda Accord -- The revitalized Accord is once again a strong contender, though it lacks a diesel option.

Kia Optima -- Before you drive off in a Passat, consider that you might be able to grab a 274-hp Optima SX for around the same price. The SX's fuel economy is almost as good as the Passat 1.8T's, while its smooth, strong acceleration puts it on par with the Passat 3.6.

AutoTrader's Advice

Despite its high price, we're still partial to the Passat TDI, as it offers unbeatable fuel economy and range (hybrid rivals aside) along with a healthy turbocharged shove when you goose it. Plus, even the entry-level TDI SE comes pretty well-equipped.

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