For 2012, Volkswagen has given new life to the Passat. The new one is bigger, more fuel-efficient, and - most importantly - more than $8,000 cheaper than the previous version.

First launched in the U.S. in 1988, there have been four different generations of Passat offered here. The Passat was completely redesigned for the 2012 model year, and for the first time the North American version is significantly different than its European counterpart.

Dramatically Lower Price

Passats bound for North America are now built in Chattanooga, Tenn. While the old Passat was priced well above many competitors' cars (and consumers' budgets), Volkswagen is clearly targeting the heart of the midsize sedan market with the new model. The base price for a 2011 Passat was $28,300. The 2012 Passat starts at a shockingly low $19,995. Volkswagen has made some sacrifices to achieve this low price point, but not as many as you might think. Even basic models include dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth hands-free telephone connectivity and a 3-year/36,000-mile scheduled Care Free Maintenance program.

Typically, when automakers slash the price of a vehicle, they slash the size and comfort of the vehicle as well. Not so with the 2012 Passat. Compared to the last model, the 2012 Passat is 4.1 inches longer and boasts the largest rear passenger legroom in its class. Some critics deride Volkswagen for the new Passat's interior styling, saying it cuts too many corners or sacrifices too much. We disagree. While it is clearly less refined than the previous version of the Passat, we think the interior still meets - and often exceeds - the build quality and material integrity of its competitors.

Fresh New Exterior

Aside from the extra roominess and lower price tag, many shoppers will likely pay the most attention to the new Passat's exterior styling. The Passat has always been positioned as a sophisticated vehicle. In spite of its reduced cost, the 2012 Passat continues to offer an upscale look. With the 2012 Passat, the designers started with a clean sheet, giving the new Passat a subtly muscular body. Compared to the previous Passat, which looked more wedge-shaped and less confident, the 2012 Passat appears poised to take on the road ahead.

Available Engines

The new 2012 Passat is available with three engine choices - two that run on gasoline: the base 2.5-liter inline 5-cylinder and an optional 3.6-liter V6 - and one that runs on diesel: a 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder TDI turbo-diesel.

The base 2.5-liter 5-cylinder produces 177 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque and is mated with either a standard manual transmission or optional 6-speed automatic. The last Passat featured only one engine and transmission combo: a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder that produced 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque. That engine isn't offered on the new Passat.

While the 2.5-liter 5-cylinder is peppy and efficient and the 3.6-liter V6 is smooth and powerful, the 2.0-liter TDI turbocharged diesel engine is where the new Passat really stands out from its competitors. As the only diesel offering in its class, the TDI is an excellent example of the forward thinking found in the new Passat. Producing only 140 horsepower but an impressive 236 lb-ft of torque, the TDI can get up to 43 miles per gallon on the highway while also being surprisingly powerful. The TDI engine is available with either a 6-speed manual or Volkswagen's "DSG" dual-clutch automatic transmissions.

The 3.6-liter V6 is only offered with the DSG transmission. Producing 280 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque while also achieving up to 28 mpg on the highway, the VR6 offers both power and luxury-class driving comfort.

The 2012 Passat is a game changer, not only for VW but also for the midsize sedan segment as a whole. With the 2012 Passat, Volkswagen successfully combined high-end European design and a bargain basement price. Compared with the previous model, the 2012 Passat is leaps and bounds ahead in many respects, especially where it counts. Of course, in order to achieve the new, lower price, Volkswagen had to make some sacrifices with the Passat. But Volkswagen did it smartly and made up for with added roominess, better fuel efficiency, and stylish design. Most buyers won't notice the difference - especially all of the new customers lured away from other brands by the new Passat's low price and high value proposition.

author photo

Nick Jaynes developed a passion for writing about cars working his way through Journalism School as a Volvo mechanic. When he's not writing, Nick can be seen hosting the popular automotive web-show DownForce Motoring. In his free-time, Nick collects vintage cars, trucks, and motorcycles.

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