Against an ominous backdrop of impending EPA regulatory Armageddon, Volkswagen staged a Super Bowl-style Rock 'n Roll reveal of the 2016 Passat sedan in Brooklyn, New York on Monday, with the Manhattan skyline shimmering across the harbor.

VW is looking at the probability of heavy penalties for alleged emissions violations involving its 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbodiesel engines, a story that broke two days before the New York introduction. Nevertheless, the company went ahead with its New York extravaganza, topping off the Passat reveal with a performance by rocker Lenny Kravitz.

The only reference to impending official scrutiny of the purported skirting of EPA emissions regs was made by Volkswagen of America CEO Michael Horn, who acknowledged that "our company was dishonest. We must fix these cars and prevent this from ever happening again. We are committed to restoring your trust."

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Passat at center stage

The centerpiece of the evening's activities - the 2016 Passat - would have seemed an unlikely focal point for so much hoopla, even without the distraction of EPA storm clouds and owner dismay. This is not a major redesign; dimensions of the front-drive mid-size sedan are unchanged, as are powertrains-with the exception of the 2.0-liter turbodiesel, which has been on the Passat option list but is suspended until Volkswagen can resolve the emissions system problems.

On the other hand, as updates go, it goes further than many. The sheetmetal from the windshield forward is all new, the grille is more assertive, and the lighting array now includes the option of LED headlights, fog lights, and taillights. Bumpers are also new, front and rear, as is the trunklid.

According to VW design chief Klaus Bischoff, the sum of the styling updates adds up to "a dynamic presence and more sophisticated look." While the dynamism is a little hard to perceive, and the updated Passat is still basically a conservative design, it does seem to have a more upscale presence than the current car.

New R-Line trim

We should note that the conservatism is likely to be mitigated by a new R-Line trim, a sporty option in other VW models and a first for the Passat. The R-Line wasn't on display at the Brooklyn soiree, but expect to see a revised front bumper, rocker panel extensions, a rear diffuser, black accents, and 19-inch alloy wheels wearing 235/40 tires with a ZR rating (good for 186 mph).

Like the exterior, the inner Passat has a more upscale look and feel, with upgraded materials, a new dashboard, new instruments, new steering wheel, new trim, a big new center-dash touch-screen that's home for the second generation of VW's infotaintment system (MIB II, not to be confused with Men In Black), and of course enhanced connectivity via VW Car-Net with App-Connect that allows integration with three different smartphone platforms-Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Mirror Link.

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Enhanced safety

New safety features include VW's post-collision braking system, and a number of available driver assistance programs: forward collision warning; autonomous emergency braking (a feature that NHTSA may soon mandate in all cars); adaptive cruise control; lane departure warning and assist; blind spot monitor; park assist; and rear traffic alert. A rear view camera is standard in all trim levels.

Powertrains carry over from the current Passat: a 170-horsepower 1.8-liter turbocharged gasoline 4-cylinder and VW's unique narrow-angle VR-6, rated for 280 hp. VW offers a choice of 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission for the 4-cylinder, whereas the VR-6 is paired with the 6-speed auto. VW listed a highway fuel economy of 38 mpg for the 1.8-liter engine with automatic transmission, up 2 mpg versus the 2015 model.  

Complete pricing, like fuel economy ratings, will be released nearer the freshened Passat's on sale date in late November or early December. However, VW did commit to a base price of $22,440 for a 1.8-liter automatic, which is the same as the 2015 model.

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