There’s a lot to like about the 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI SEL, including its spacious interior, quiet ride and of course, its exceptional fuel economy. But, if there’s one area it seems to lag in, it is technological amenities — especially when compared to the leading midsize sedan contenders.
It Starts With USB — or Lack Thereof
For most drivers, a car’s first technological touchpoint is the connection between its multimedia system and a smartphone. Our top-of-the-line Passat TDI SEL model is equipped with streaming audio Bluetooth that mates rather easily to cell phones and manages multiple users intuitively. However, we found that making a hard connection between a cell phone and the Passat is trickier. While the Passat is equipped with Volkswagen’s proprietary MDI connector, our 2014 model car came with a 30-pin output that’s only compatible with older iPhones. While most cars offer USB outlets for cell phone charging, the Passat doesn’t have any USB options, which led us to shop for an iPhone 5 MDI connector at a Volkswagen dealership. Put off by the $65 asking price — after all, this is essentially just a short cable — we took our search to eBay, where we found an equivalent cable that claimed to be a genuine Volkswagen part for $40. The 1-foot-long cable worked well for a couple of months before the connector broke, when it simply became easier to place a self-contained battery charger in the cup holder.
In Other Techy News
Most cars in the midsize segment have a rich list of sophisticated options, but the Passat maintains a conservative, basic approach to technology. Want parking sensors? Even the top trim (SEL) doesn’t offer that feature. Looking for a blind spot monitoring system or adaptive cruise control? Forget about finding these in the Passat.
When the 2014 Volkswagen Passat TDI’s multimedia system — managed by a 6.5-inch touchscreen — starts up, the backup camera kicks in when the car is in reverse. But, it takes about 12 seconds for the image to appear after you’ve fired up the engine, which feels like an eternity when you’re ready to back out of a parking spot. The image quality isn’t particularly sharp, and though the guidelines give an accurate depiction of where the Passat’s wheels would hit the curb, they don’t turn with the steering wheel. Once you’re driving, the car’s electronic and multimedia systems are easily managed via steering wheel controls, though reverting back to the touchscreen has occasionally laggy response times. On a positive note, the optional Fender sound system produces rather high quality sound.
Bottom Line: How Much Tech Do You Need?
Cars have become havens for convenience features that make our drives safer and our cars easier to use and more convenient. But, there is a question any car buyer should ask themself: Do I need it?
We’re big fans of features like adaptive cruise control, which can make a commute infinitely easier by automatically keeping a safe distance from the vehicle ahead. But at the end of the day, adaptive cruise control is a nice-to-have item that’s not necessarily a deal breaker if a car has enough other compelling attributes. In the case of the Passat TDI, though it comes up short on the tech front when compared to other cars in its segment, the Passat’s other qualities — namely its clean design, well-insulated cabin, comfortable seats and impressive fuel economy, at least partially redeem it for its lack of advances. For buyers who can do without the gizmos, the Passat’s no-frills personality might be satisfying enough.