2016 Volkswagen Passat Review

We'll have more of the same, please

2016 Volkswagen Passat SE
2916 Volkswagen Passat SE. Photo © Aaron Gold

Meet the updated 2016 Volkswagen Passat—and if you can't tell the difference between the new one and the 2015 model, you're in good company. The changes are so subtle as to be nearly invisible, but that's just fine because the Passat is one of the best mid-size family sedans on the market.

Pros: Massive back seat and trunk, satisfying to drive

Cons: Gets very expensive when you start adding options

Larger photos: Front - rear - interior - all photos

2016 Volkswagen Passat review

I'm probably not the best person to review the new Passat because I'm a huge fan. I spent twelve months with a diesel-powered Passat TDI when the car first came out in 2012, and after 30,000 hard miles, I came away convinced that the roomy and reliable Passat was one of the best family cars on the market. Driving the updated 2016 model has not changed my opinion one bit.

What's Changed?

So what's new with the new Passat? Not much. All of the front-end bodywork (fenders, hood, bumper, lights, grille) is new, but you'd have to see the 2016 model side-by-side with the old one to spot the differences. Same for the rear (link goes to photo), which gets slightly new taillights, and the interior, which gets slightly different trim. One of the most significant changes is that VW has finally eliminated the media port (which required an expensive proprietary connector to hook up your cell phone) and replaced it with a proper USB port. Hallelujah.

Speaking of phones, higher-trim Passats are now compatible with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, making the Passat's distraction-free dash even less distracting. Another new feature, offered on SE and SEL models, is adaptive cruise control, which automatically matches the speed of the car in front; unfortunately, VW doesn't use a full-stop system (when the car ahead slows, the Passat sounds an alarm and you have to hit the brake). It accompanies a collision mitigation system, and SEL models have a lane-keeping assist that will nudge the Passat back into its lane should the car start to drift.

What Hasn't Changed?

Unchanged are the things that make this car one of my favorites: The massive trunk and the limousine-like back seat. Few cars will let you stretch out in back the way the Passat does. (My then-teenage kid sailed past six feet in height when we had the Passat, so all that room was welcome.) And I'm a big fan of the "V-Tex" (fake leather) interior found in and SE-trim cars; it wears hard and cleans up easily, which is especially nice in lighter colors.

The Passat is also a good car to drive, with a comfortable ride and the sharp, direct handling for which German cars are known (though, if I'm honest, the steering is a little light for my tastes). Most Passats will have Volkswagen's 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the hood; with 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque and a standard-fit six-speed automatic transmission, it offers good passing power and decent fuel economy for such a large sedan: 25 MPG city and 38 (!!) MPG on the highway. I took the Passat for a gentle autumn drive in Vermont and saw a remarkable 32 MPG—not far off what we see in our long-term compact Mazda3.

The Passat also offers a 280 horsepower 3.6 liter narrow-angle V6. It's a stormer, to be sure, but there's really little use for the extra power, and the trade-off is lower fuel economy—20 MPG city/28 highway per the EPA. And what of the diesel engine? In the wake of the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal, the TDI engine is on hold for now. I'm really hoping VW gets things straightened out and brings back the diesel Passat. We averaged 41 MPG in our 2012 diesel, an incredible number for a car this size.

Good Value at the Low End, Not So Much at the High End

The entry-level Passat S comes with equipment found on rivals' mid-level cars, including alloy wheels, a touch-screen stereo, rear view camera, and automatic climate control. And yet despite all the extra stuff, the price remains the same as last year's entry-level car: $23,260 (Including an $820 destination fee).

New this year is an R-Line appearance package, which jazzes up the S with 19" wheels and a body kit for $1,535. R-Line models also offer heated V-Tex seats as a $775 option—worth it if you have kids or pets. Like most VWs, the Passat gets expensive as you add options: $27,100 for the SE model with a sunroof, a better stereo, and adaptive cruise, with the Technology Package (navigation, blind-spot monitoring, heated seats, automatic wipers, and other goodies) for another $2,130. The leather-lined SEL starts at $31,315, and the all-singing, all-dancing SEL Premium V6 tops out the line at a heady $37,655.

Made in America

One last thing to know about the Passat: Not only was it designed for America (the European-market Passat is a smaller car), but it's built here as well, in a dedicated plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Volkswagen's build quality can be hit or miss depending on which factory built the car, but the folks in Chattanooga seem to be making hits—our long-term 2012 Passat never gave us a hint of trouble.

So what else is out there? Oh, there are a lot of choices. Toyota's Camry is the standard-bearer, and it's reliability is almost legendary. And the same can be said for the Honda Accord (also updated for 2016). The Accord rivals the Passat for back-seat legroom, but I don't think the ride is as comfortable as the Passat's. Chevrolet has a new Malibu in the wings, which is a promising up-and-comer. I'd consider all these cars, but given my past experience, I'd very likely buy the Volkswagen.

While Volkswagen may call this the new Passat, but the truth is that not much has changed—and that includes my opinion of the car. The Passat is big, roomy, and comfortable, easy to drive and relatively cheap to run (if not cheap to buy). The car may have changed, but my opinion hasn't: It's still one of the best family sedans on the market. – Aaron Gold

Disclosure: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. Travel, accommodations, meals, vehicles and fuel were provided by Volkswagen. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.